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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Saturday, July 12, 2003
Here's a shocking, shocking story: "The small circle of senior civilians in the Defense Department who dominated planning for postwar Iraq failed to prepare for the setbacks that have erupted over the past two months. The officials didn't develop any real postwar plans because they believed that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader. The Pentagon civilians ignored CIA and State Department experts who disputed them, resisted White House pressure to back off from their favored exile leader and when their scenario collapsed amid increasing violence and disorder, they had no backup plan. Today, American forces face instability in Iraq, where they are losing soldiers almost daily to escalating guerrilla attacks, the cost of occupation is exploding to almost $4 billion a month and withdrawal appears untold years away. "There was no real planning for postwar Iraq," said a former senior U.S. official who left government recently. The story of the flawed postwar planning process was gathered in interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior government officials."

This is a major, major story for which people should be held accountable. The story does a great job of naming names, and putting the blame where it should lie - with the people who allowed themselves to believe Chalabi and the INC, or else who just couldn't be bothered. It would be more shocking, though, if people (such as the aardvark) hadn't been saying and warning of the exact same thing since roughly November of last year.

Friday, July 11, 2003
Steve Gilliard sure does write well. :
""Have you no sense of decency, sir?" were the words Joseph Welch used to ruin Joe McCarthy, who went a witch hunt too far.

It is time for ALL Americans to ask the same question of the President and the men around him.

He lied to the American people to get them to endorse a war they would not have otherwise.
An adminstration so inept that is unable to live up to the duties of the Occupying Power in Iraq while now begging the Allies we so casually disdained in starting this war. Suddenly we now need old Europe to help us control the Iraqi beasties. They just won't have a nice, docile colony for us and seek to express themselves. It's time to bring back the days of Mad Dogs and Englishmen and disciplining the wog.

They were told this is what would happen. Only Ken Pollack, who people still, unaccountably cut slack for, said differently. Every other Iraq expert, every one, said this adventure would end badly. Anthony Cordesman, a former Army officer, said without planning for the peace, disaster would strike. Former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, a man who lost his leg in combat, was humiliated by Rummy and the PNAC gang for telling the truth.

Bush and his men are liars. Inept, bad liars. Men who told transparent lies. Who slandered others, from Scott Ritter to Hans Blix, because they did not share their world view and delivered what is apparently the truth.

But unlike blowjobs, or even Watergate, Bush's lies are far, far worse. Because he lied about war and 1250 families will live with that lie forever.

Based on biases and lies, starting with the trickster Chalabi, who needs to be dragged before a US Senate or House committee under penalty of perjury, to tell the truth, Americans were sent to die in the Iraqi desert. Because lies were the only way he could get his war.
It is now clear that the President and those closest to him either disregarded the truth or purposely ignored it. They have misused the Armed forces of this country for a fantasy of empire and children are dying for it. We are at the begining of a series of lies to be revealed, Niger is just the start. We may find, at the end of this process, that nothing Bush said about Iraq, other than Saddam was a murderer, was true. Nothing.

For we can now no longer believe him about anything. A man desperate enough to lie to get us into war would lie about anything, for any reason. Bush and the men around him have betrayed this country with these lies. As surely as Benedict Arnold. But their betrayal was not for greed or born of avarice or malice, but of hubris. They thought our power was unlimited and that we could remake the world. Unfortunately, like King Canute and the tide, some things are beyond us. Like running Iraq.

Decent people would, after looking at the horror of their work apologize and resign in disgrace. I expect these people will have to dragged out by their heels."

I would only say that, in Ken Pollack's defense, he explicitly and repeatedly warned that the US needed to build a multilateral coalition and plan carefully for the postwar scenario. He was not one of the INC hacks, and in fact clashed with Chalabi and the INC openly over the years (remember "The Rollback Fantasy" article in Foreign Affairs?). You can find plenty of people who did say these things, but I'll continue to defend Pollack on this charge. Otherwise, Gilliards' piece speaks for itself.

Why does the crusade against Middle East studies matter so much? David Ignatius points to the incredible shortage of Arabic speakers in the US occupation authority. "For until recently, fluency in Arabic was often suspect in Washington, a sign of potential pro-Arab sympathies. It could be dangerous to your career health.... But during the past two decades, the Arabists began to fall into disrepute. They were accused of being too sympathetic to the culture they had mastered, and they were attacked for having an implicit bias against Israel..... In his 1993 book "The Arabists," Robert D. Kaplan quoted a particularly vitriolic assessment from former State Department official Francis Fukuyama, who said the Arabists "have been more systematically wrong than any other area specialists in the diplomatic corps. This is because Arabists not only take on the cause of the Arabs, but also the Arabs' tendency for self-delusion." Not surprisingly, when fluency in a foreign language came to be equated with "self-delusion," the Arabists' ranks began to thin, as ambitious CIA and State officers looked for other billets. Both agencies tried hard in the 1990s to expand their Arabic training programs, but the stigma remains, as does the dearth of officers who can really thrive in the local culture. We are paying the price for demonizing specialists who knew the Arab world -- whose expertise could be helping the United States in Iraq. We are also paying for America's decades of neglect, in government and outside, of foreign languages and area studies. It's not a question of pro or anti, but of having the skills to get the job done. I can't think of anything more dangerous to America's national security, or Israel's for that matter, than to have American officers in postwar Iraq who can't find the bathroom without asking an interpreter for directions."

In such circumstances, I find it mind-boggling that anyone could seriously argue for reducing funding for Arabic language training or for the serious study of the Arab world. I don't really want to get into another debate with Martin Kramer today - not that it wouldn't be fun, I'm just really busy for the next few days and couldn't do it justice - but Ignatius gives us a useful reminder that the new attack on Middle East studies isn't really new. It hurt American interests before, and it will do so again if it is allowed to go forward. I'd like to think that good sense - and frank recognition of necessity - will prevent reckless and self-destructive actions at the governmental funding level.... but then, I would have liked to have thought the same thing about an invasion of Iraq, and here we are.

Washington Post: "President Bush, visiting the country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world, today pledged U.S. help in fighting a pandemic that is killing millions on this continent. "This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced, and you will not face this enemy alone," Bush said in a toast to Botswana's president, Festus Mogae."

You know what? I don't care if Bush hasn't appropriated a third of the available funds for fighting AIDS in Africa. I don't care if certain politically connected corporations are getting an intriguing share of the funds. I don't care if Bush is just trying to rebuild some international appeal after the Iraq fiasco. I don't even care - well, maybe a little - that ideologues on the Christian right are forcing a third of the funds to be wasted on abstinence programs that don't work. Any attention by an American president to the AIDS problem is a positive thing. Bush's feet should be held to the fire to make him live up to his promises, and to spend the money effectively, and to do this right - but I wholeheartedly applaud Bush for highlighting the AIDS issue and for giving it at least the rhetorical attention it deserves.

UPDATE: Oh, criminey. I try to be all generous and stuff, and then read this oped by Paul Zeitz and Jeffrey Sachs.: "WITH PRESIDENT Bush on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, his State of the Union pledge to deliver an emergency response to global AIDS is falling dangerously short on delivery, jeopardizing the lives of millions of Africans battling the disease. Bush signed legislation authorizing $3 billion this year to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Yet his budget contains funds for only half of this goal. Moreover, there is little actual planning underway to implement a program that is already years late in being launched. ...Recently he set the standard by which America's efforts against AIDS should be judged: ''We care more about results than words. We're interested in lives saved.'' Since that speech, a million Africans have died of the disease while Bush has dithered on the emergency. ... This week Bush named a coordinator of the new program. Randall Tobias, the former chief executive of Eli Lilly & Co., a major American pharmaceutical company, is a large campaign contributor and has no apparent experience in Africa, AIDS, or public health management. This appointment seems to constitute an abdication of real responsibility.... Bush's AIDS initiative calls for the creation of a new US delivery system to get US aid to about a dozen countries in Africa. There is a much more direct and meaningful way to give the aid: directly to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Instead of trying to create a new agency, the United States should leverage the global activities that are already underway. This is especially true since the administration has a weak track record in actual delivery of AIDS services in Africa. For example, in June 2002 Bush touted an initiative to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns, yet after a year this ''effort'' has yet to provide a single mother with the needed medication. The Global Fund is already supporting programs in dozens of countries and has proven itself to be the most dynamic and flexible AIDS control organization in the world. For the first time, people with AIDS are getting antiretroviral treatments that are pulling them back from death. Bush unwisely has rejected multilateral approaches to combat infectious diseases even though multilateral efforts have been the most successful in the past, such as in the control of smallpox, African river blindness, and polio. The problem, from the administration's perspective, may be that the Global Fund is not run by the US pharmaceutical industry. Under Bush's AIDS initiative, the United States is pledging $200 million to the fund in the next fiscal year- just 70 cents per American, representing only 6.6 percent of the $3 billion the fund calculates that it needs in 2004 to respond effectively to the AIDS emergency. The consequences are especially severe for the dozens of countries that will not be touched by the president's limited 14-country initiative. The United States should be giving at least $1 billion to the Global Fund in 2004, helping to leverage another $2 billion from other countries. Bush promised that the AIDS funding would not come out of other assistance programs, but even this promise is not being fulfilled. His budget actually cuts other important global health and development programs rather than providing new money for AIDS, and Congress seems set to cut some of these programs even more steeply. Bush's budget includes cuts to refugee assistance (2.8 percent), development assistance (2.5 percent), other global health programs (14.3 percent), and international disaster assistance (18.3 percent). These cuts hurt the AIDS effort because AIDS is closely related to other health crises and rooted in poverty, but more important, these cuts cripple the overall effort to help impoverished countries escape from the trap of poverty and disease. If Bush really means what he says about battling AIDS, he will support the full $3 billion that has been authorized for spending on AIDS in the 2004 budget, with at least $1 billion of that going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Otherwise his trip could be a cruel illusion, heaping US ''spin'' on top of Africa's massive suffering."

Well, I still say that any attention to AIDS as a major issue by an American president is a good thing. Too bad the president had to be Bush, who appears incapable of telling the truth about anything, or doing the right thing even when he does correctly identify a problem.

I find this funny, even if nobody else does, so here goes: for the last week or so, I've been trying to link to The Invisible Adjunct. It's in my template, with the same format as all the other links - right between Busy Busy Busy and Crooked Timber. But - on the blog itself, the link doesn't appear. I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how I had messed up the coding, when suddenly it hit me: it's *invisible* - that's why I can't see it. It's INVISIBLE, get it? Okay, back to our regularly scheduled Middle East politics. But, c'mon, it's funny - it's invisible, so you can't see it! Okay... no more jokes for you people today.
UPDATE: mystery solved! I still think it was funny.

Thursday, July 10, 2003
CBS News poll: "With U.S. troops continuing to take casualties in Iraq, less than half of Americans now believe the U.S. is in control of the situation there -- a dramatic decline from April, when 71 percent thought it was. Less than half now say Iraq was a threat that required immediate action. And while 54 percent still believe that removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the costs of war, that figure, too, has declined from 65 percent in May."
Other findings:

Telling most or all of what they knew about Iraq’s weapons 36%
Hiding important elements of what they knew 45%
Mostly lying about Iraqi weapons 11%

Yes 45%
No 45%

There's a lot more. Opinion is clearly shifting on this , as reality sinks in. Good.

Busy today... sorry for not posting. But here's one little piece of good news: the Christian Science Monitor reports that the Bush administration has opted for a multilateral approach to the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Two bits worth noting emerge in this graf: "The administration seems to have concluded, at least for the time being," she says, "that working with the European Union and Russia in particular, both of which do substantial business with Tehran, is the way to go about it." And part of the formula, adds Ms. Rajkumar, is for the US to play down its image as a threat to Iran. "That would be key to getting Iran to back off its nuclear program."
The article goes on to note that "The European Union is indicating that trade cooperation with Iran hinges on the country verifiably giving up any ambitions of developing nuclear arms.... Moscow, which is helping Iran build the first of several planned nuclear reactors in southern Iran, is increasing pressure on Tehran for assurances that the plant is meant for peaceful energy-generating purposes.... Europeans and Russians are calling on Tehran to accept tougher international inspections of its nuclear facilities to erase the darkening clouds of suspicion.... At the same time, the US State Department is pressing for a crackdown on the US operations of the leading Iranian opposition organization, which the Bush administration lists as a "foreign terrorist organization." Curtailing the activities of the People's Mujaheddin would be well-received by a Tehran regime wary of American intentions. Going farther to squelch Tehran's concerns about US interventionist behavior, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday the US should "not get in the middle of [Iran's] family fight too deeply," signalling intentions to stay out of the ongoing tug-of-war between the elected reform-minded faction of President Mohammad Khatami, pro-democracy students who have protested recently for expanded rights, and the conservative mullahs who largely run the country."

Point one: the countries that trade with Iran seem to have leverage over it. Go figure. So maybe those unilateral sanctions that the US has on Iran weren't such a great idea after all? Maybe Iran would listen to us more if they had something to lose by angering us and something to gain by pleasing us?

Point two: working with those countries, all of which share a common interest in preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation, is far more effective than browbeating them, ignoring them, or insulting them. It's called diplomacy for a reason.

Point three: threatening Iran with intervention and trying to foment revolution is counterproductive. It strengthens the hardliners and weakens the moderates. And by making the regime feel less secure, it makes it far less likely that they will consider foregoing what they (and, scarily, a lot of other countries) now see as the only effective defense against an American invasion or intervention. Engagement is more effective than belligerence, no matter how satisfying such bluster might be to the ideologues.

So, still waiting for the National Review to admit that yesterday was not, in fact, judgment day. In the meantime, I'm off again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Did I miss the revolution? Yesterday, the aardvark offered to make today, July 9, a test of two competing propositions: one, from Michael Ledeen and others at the NRO, that today would be judgement day for the Iranian regime, as the Iranian people began to rise up and bring down the Islamic Republic at last; the other, from me, was that whatever protests took place would be met with effective regime repression, and would have little impact. Well, the day isn't over yet, but it looks like the regime has, in fact, effectively - and rather brutally - shut down whatever scattered protests took place. This is no cause for celebration. The cause of the Iranian reformers is a worthy one, especially if it could demonstrate the real compatibility between Islamism as a form of government with democracy. But the regime's ability to repress protest is cause for realism. As I've been saying, pushing for a "revolution" is not costless. It actually undermines the prospects for reform, and discourages prospective reformers from stepping forward against a hyper-vigilant conservative regime. Pursuing this phantom not only weakens reformers, it also makes the US look weak: "[F]ormer president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani boasted that Britain and the United States had failed in what he said was "pre-planned strategy to topple the regime." He said the June protests -- which drew messages of support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush -- only required a minimal response by security forces before being put down, and were "a good test for regime's power and showed how much weight the US carries."

Hearings of the 9/11 commission today heard two stupid things.

Stupid Number One: "Although we are winning the war against the organization called al-Qaida, we seem to be losing the cultural war," said Mamoun Fandy, senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. Fandy said leaders of other countries, particularly in the Middle East, should be expected to express public gratitude for U.S. help. "Somehow we tolerate Arab leaders telling us something in private rooms and then dealing with their public the way they want to," he said."

Why is this stupid? Not because of the speaker, who is a very sharp observer of Arab and Islamist politics, and who wrote a great book about dissent in Saudi Arabia. And not because of the claim that we are losing the cultural war - this is exactly right, although I wouldn't call it a "cultural" war exactly. The stupid part is the demand that Arab leaders be called on to express public gratitude to the US. Given that most Arab leaders find themselves desperately trying to justify their relations with the United States despite American policies which infuriate most of their publics, "grateful" would not be the first sentiment that they would express if they were truly allowed to speak openly. And that is what we should be pushing for: not expressions of gratitude, but greater transparency and honesty in public debates within the Arab world and between the United States and the Arab world. Coerced public expressions of gratitude... well, go read either of James Scott's classic books, Weapons of the Weak and Domination and the Arts of Resistance (or Vaclav Havel's Power of the Powerless) for how well that is likely to go.

Stupid Thing Number Two: " Laurie Mylroie, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said major terrorist attacks. beginning with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, can be blamed on Iraq "working with and hiding behind the militants." My god, why does Laurie Mylroie keep getting invited to these things? We know that Paul Wolfowitz finds her theories intriguing, and of course you've got to have your AEI representative at any hearing like this, but I would hope that the commission has more important things to do than to listen to Mylroie rehearse her crackpot theories. Don't they? Or... could the point of getting her on the witness list be precisely to take up time and divert attention from those more important and more serious questions? Stop me before I go all Mulder here.

UPDATE: I just looked at the whole witness list. It isn't only Mylroie... they invited Steve Emerson too. Steve Emerson. Man, put Emerson and Mylroie in a room together and you can get a whole lot of hot, steamy baseless speculation, bizarre argumentation, and reckless incitement going on! Hope the estimable commission is ready for that kind of action.

The transcript has just been posted for a very, very interesting program broadcast on al-Jazeera on July 5 on how Arabs and Iraqis have perceived (and misperceived) each others' opinions over the years. Several Iraqi guests blasted Arab public opinion for being ignorant of Iraqi reality and for supporting Saddam Hussein's regime. Hilal Idris, representative of the Arab Socialist Party, said that the Iraqi street despised the Arab street for treating Saddam as a champion against imperialism rather than as a tyrant over his own people. A number of indignant Egyptian and Lebanese guests responded that their publics were not at all ignorant of Iraq, and had always carefully distinguished between Saddam's regime and the Iraqi people; Tariq Tahami of the Egyptian newspaper al-Wafd was particularly dismissive of the accusations. It is easy to understand the frustration of Iraqis about how Arab public opinion neglected their voices - and equally easy to understand how people who spent years campaigning against the sanctions get angry at being accused of insensitivity to the Iraqi people. One Iraqi casually described Arab journalists as being in Saddam's pay, and the host Ghassan Bin Jadu grilled him for his sources (the response: all Iraqis know this. The host was not impressed with the answer). Another Iraqi said that "we are all both against Saddam's regime and against the American attack and occupation" - the gap between Iraqi and Arab views of the crisis shouldn't be exaggerated, just as it shouldn't be underplayed. Anyway, the program went on for an hour with guests from a number of Arab countries, arguing vigorously and directly, disagreeing in reasonably constructive ways, and exposing audiences to a pretty wide range of political opinion. This is what "the Arabs" are watching.

Eric Davis has an interesting article on HNN which I missed when it came out about "why
Iraq might be a better candidate for democracy than you think." Going back to Iraq's historical experience with civil society in the 1920s, and intense political party activity in the 1950s, he emphasizes the resilience and depth of Iraqi society even after decades of Baathist rule. Davis isn't overly optimistic about the current state of affairs, but he does a service with this well-written piece by reminding us of what Iraq used to be and potentially could be.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Very interesting Iraqi public opinion poll published in today's Al-Zaman (Saad al-Bazzaz's newspaper which relocated back to Iraq and has established itself as one of the leading Iraqi papers). Can't speak for its methodology (sample size of 300), but here are the key findings: On the question of what kind of political system Iraq should have, 52% say democracy, 20% say constitutional monarchy, 10% say federal republic, and 8% say an Islamic state. The most interesting findings are the last two, I'd say. The very low support for an Islamic state does not surprise me, but might offer some perspective on the surprising political power of Islamic groups, both Sunni and Shia. The very low support for federalism also does not surprise me, but can offer some perspective on the unreality of the fantasies of the INC, which advocates a federalist system. The other interesting finding: 42% consider the American presence in Iraq necessary at the present time, while 58% consider the American presence an occupation which they reject. That's sobering - but, again, not surprising.

David Corn tells us what we missed over the holiday: "The day before Independence Day, Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who is leading a review of the CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq's unconventional weapons, held a series of interviews with journalists and revealed that his unfinished inquiry had so far found that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been somewhat ambiguous, that analysts at the CIA and other intelligence services had received pressure from the Bush administration, and that the CIA had not found any proof of operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. In other words, Bush lied."

How did we miss this? Blame the Liberal Media! Corn: "So did front-page headlines scream, "Former Deputy CIA Director Contradicts Bush's Key War Claims"? Nope. Kerr's remarks were treated more as a hiccup than a bombshell. A search of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database turned up only three stories that were published; they appeared in the Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune. And the headlines focused on Kerr's rah-rahing for the CIA. "Basis for Arms Claims Affirmed" (the Post). "Official Backs Prewar Claims" ( The Los Angeles). "Internal Review Backs CIA on Iraqi Weapons" ( The San Diego Union-Tribune). Each piece emphasized Kerr's endorsement of the CIA's analysts, rather than the fact that his findings revealed that the Bush administration had misrepresented the work of the analysts. As of this writing, The New York Times has not published a word about Kerr's preliminary findings."

It all goes into the "preponderance of evidence" trash can. Which preponderantly says that Bush lied - the Niger story (can you believe that they actually admitted that they lied about something? Tipping point?) is just the tip of the iceberg.

Over at NRO, Pooya Dayanim is willing to go on record with a Ledeen-esque prediction about Iran: "Tomorrow is Judgment Day for the terrorist mullahs that run the Islamic regime in Iran. July 9 is the four-year anniversary of the beginning of the student uprising that has now matured and has begun to shake the foundations of the Islamic regime. Iranians all around the world are holding rallies in support of and in solidarity with the pro-democracy supporters and freedom fighters inside Iran who are about to begin a movement to liberate themselves from one the darkest chapters in the history of Iran. So what is going to happen tomorrow in Iran? ..... The people of Iran (inside Iran and outside) want an end to this evil regime. Freedom will prevail. There will be demonstrations. The regime with attack, but the people will fight back. .... Judgment Day is approaching for those who have shed the blood of tens of thousands of innocent Iranians. ....Judgment Day is approaching for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It may not be tomorrow, but soon this evil regime will join the other evil regimes in the dustbin of history. Judgment Day will come."

Despite the hedge at the end there, the author seems fairly confident that tomorrow will represent a kind of tipping point in the collapse of the Islamic Republic under massive protest from below. This seems to be a fair test of the Ledeen Thesis: will tomorrow be a judgement day for the Iranian regime? The Ledeen Thesis says "yes": tomorrow will see massive protests, a frightened regime cracking down hard, giving clear evidence that a new Iranian revolution is nigh. I will say "no," and predict that whatever scattered protests take place, they have little impact and are easily contained, and that Iranian politics will continue as normal -- sadly for the reformists, who really do deserve better - demonstrating that a new Iranian revolution is not likely any time soon, and that we should be concentrating on strengthening reformers rather than chasing a phantom revolution. If I'm wrong, wonderful - I didn't see it coming; wouldn't be the first time. If I'm right, will the NRO say the same?

This is probably of little interest to most of you readers, but it's therapeutic for me: AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGH!! The cub has been averaging something like four hours of sleep per 24 hour period. How long can she go on like this? Is she some kind of superbaby? Maybe an X-Men mutant, "Awake Girl" or "Madam NeverSleeps"? The aardvark is very, very, very tired, even if his cub doesn't seem to be.

Monday, July 07, 2003
Via Atrios, another depressing account of the struggling-to-emerge Iraqi media. According to the story, "The print press is booming here as newspapers rose from five government-run papers during Saddam Hussein's regime to around 150 now. But U.S.-led forces are dampening the mood of the free press by censoring it. The U.S.-led administration here last week threatened to fine or close down any newspapers that incite violence or endanger the security of coalition troops or any ethnic or religious group. They will also shut down any publications supporting Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Coalition forces last week raided a distribution center of Sadda-al-Auma newspaper in Najaf, two hours from the capital. They questioned the staff and seized copies of an edition that ordered Iraqis to join the resistance against Americans.... Administrator L. Paul Bremer claimed at a news conference last week that Americans were not trying to hamper free speech. "It is intended to stop ... people who are trying to incite political violence, and people who are succeeding in inciting political violence here," he said. The Iraqi press has had different reactions to the order. Sadda-al-Auma has continued to publish anti-imperialist and anti-American articles after the raid.Other, more moderate papers like Al-Zaman in Baghdad said they're taking the ban in stride. "Of course this limits the freedom of the press, but Americans have reasons for this. We can't just print whatever we want and increase the problems here," said Neda Shawkat, one of the editors of the daily. Whether the papers in Baghdad actually obey the order remains to be seen. Since the decree was issued last week, political papers affiliated with the numerous Iraqi factions continue to criticize American actions and occupation, at times demanding a violent resistance. Other editors have toned down their condemnations."

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I do have some sympathy with the idea that it is important to promote some kind of moderation in the press, but long, long experience with Arab regimes using this excuse to shut down any political opposition press leaves me deeply skeptical. Remember - the whole Arab world is watching the American occupation to see how it behaves given the chance to run an Arab country. Our appeals for greater democracy and public freedoms will be even more easily dismissed if we show that we, just like they, are willing to impose censorship over political opinions we dislike. A worse lesson for an Arab world that we say we want to democratize is difficult to imagine.

One other point - for all the significance of new Iraqi papers, the free entry of non-Iraqi Arabic newspapers might be even more important. In the picture accompanying the Village Voice article, I could make out al-Rai (from Jordan) and the major pan-Arab dailies al-Hayat and al-Quds al-Arabi, along with what looked like al-Nahar (Lebanon) but I couldn't make it out clearly. The circulation of these papers will keep Iraqis well within the mainstream Arab debates - and if those debates turn sour on American "democracy" rhetoric (as they already have, for the most part), it will be reflected inside of Iraq. No incitements to violence, just the shaping of opinion towards the occupation... "just" public opinion.

The new argument ricocheting around the blog world, initially suggested by Andrew Sullivan and since then repeated by several others with or without attribution [UPDATE - Instapundit, someone called David Warren, Drezner - the usual folks quoting each other], goes like this: Bush's "bring it on" statement is brilliant, because by attracting all the terrorists in the world to Iraq, they won't be attacking Israel or the United States, plus they (the terrorists) will be easier to find and kill. Now - while this is admittedly an open competition and I wouldn't want to offend any of the other contestants - this has got to be one of the stupidest arguments ever made. I mean, really, perhaps the silliest proposition ever put forward in a war, and a blogworld, full of silly propositions. Set aside the obvious outrage over the invitation to kill and wound Americans - one of the odder invitations ever issued by an American president. Let's look at the argument itself.

What would have to be true for this strategy to work? Well, first of all there would have to be a fixed, limited pool of "terrorists," so that if they were all in place "A" they could not be in place "B." If something like, say, the American presence in Iraq inspired local Iraqis to take up arms against the occupation, then the "pool of terrorists" just expands, it doesn't relocate. Second, these "terrorists" would have to be a free-floating bunch rather than tied to local fights and specific issues. While this might be true of the "Arab Afghans," they represent a very small group, relatively speaking. Sure, a few bored Hizbollahis might migrate over to Shia Iraq to stir things up - but the idea that Hamas or Jihad men will leave Palestine to fight Americans in Baghdad? Um, why? Accepting the American terminology of "terrorism" confuses far more than it illuminates here - it's a guerrilla resistance to opposition, folks, even if it uses terrorist methods. And third, this assumes that the US has a tactical military advantage in Iraq that it lacks elsewhere which will allow us to then fight the "terrorists" on our own terms. But who is falling into whose trap here? The "one dead American a day" policy, combined with the growing sophistication and boldness of the guerrilla war, as well as what appears to be growing popular support - or at least acquiescence (a gunman shoots an American guard in the head and then just melts into the crowd) - suggests that the US does not have such a tactical advantage. So on those terms, pretty stupid.

You could easily go a step farther. The so-called "rationalist" theory of terrorism argues that small extremist groups use violence precisely because the general population does not share their extreme views. Extremists use violence to provoke a disproportionate response, preferably collective punishment, against the general population by a frustrated government/occupying authority. This collective response angers and alienates the mainstream, empowering radicals over moderates, and driving out the possibility for reconciliation or peaceful co-existence. In other words, even if Bush were engaging in a brilliant tactic here to draw in the terrorists so that we can fight them on our own terms - he isn't, but if he were - then it would be too brilliant by half... because it would in fact be the single approach most likely to turn moderates into extremists and to unite the mainstream with what had been a small extremist minority. Didn't these people ever watch The Battle of Algiers?

Lordy, lordy, lordy... people do come up with the stupidest ideas. It's like Wile E. Coyote (did I spell that right) - that bird is falling right into my trap! Again!

UPDATE: As I anxiously await certain emails from certain editors, and even more anxiously await the inevitable sound of a cub waking up yet again: since Tommy Franks just repeated Bush's Kirsten Dunst moment (Bring it On!), does that support the "strategy" theory? Well, I think the last year has proven rather convincingly that a policy's being bonecrushingly, mind-numbingly stupid does not mean that Bush won't do it - heck, it's almost a prerequisite. But, even so, no. This is not what's going on, no matter how many bloggers cite each other saying so. Can you imagine the White House meeting? "Okay, here's the plan: we deposit our troops in Iraq, fail to create public order, attract a guerrilla insurgency which will draw lots of terrorists to attack our soldiers, making sure that we average at least one dead American a day, and then - just when they least expect it - we... hey, let go of me! Where are you taking me? Take that straightjacket off of me! This is a brilliant plan, I tell you, a brilliant plan! It can't fail!"

More bad news on that whole "kill Saddam, democratize the Arab world" front. First, Jordan. The Jordanian elections were a humdrum, routine affair, carefully gerrymandered in order to produce results that King Abdullah could live with while providing just enough opposition deputies to let them air some steam - a textbook liberalized autocracy, or controlled decompression... not really going anywhere close to democracy, but taking on some of the forms. In particular, the resort to profoundly anti-democratic "temporary" laws, an increasingly ethnically informed state-driven national identity, and an almost absurdly well-tailored electoral system render the outcomes of the elections almost insignificant. Could have been worse, could have been a whole lot better from a democracy front. Here's what Toujan Faisal, one of the most outspoken of Jordanian opposition figures and a real liberal, had to say over the weekend: "These were important developments, but Jordan is still a long way off from embracing true democratic reform. In June 2001, when the prime minister disbanded the last parliament, he hijacked the legislative process and began governing by fiat. He put politics and dissent on a short leash and refashioned the electoral process so that it would be far from representative. Consequently, although Jordan has finally returned its parliament to session, the country is in many ways further away from being a functioning democracy than it was two years ago. At the heart of the problem are the "temporary laws" the Jordanian government has decreed over the last two years at dizzying speed. These laws are constitutionally permitted only when parliament is not in session and the "essential security needs" of the nation demand them. By disbanding the parliament and putting the country into a sustained state of high alert, the present government opened the way for unfettered drafting of these laws. Between 1930 and 1999, only 60 such temporary laws were decreed. In the last two years, the government has implemented 184."

And then, Kuwait. Elections there over the weekend, to the surprise of some, saw pro-American liberals get eviscerated: "Kuwaiti liberals, hopeful that the downfall of Saddam Hussein would strengthen their efforts at modernization, suffered a stunning setback in weekend Parliamentary elections, with traditionalists winning a
sweeping victory. The Islamic traditionalists, both Sunni and Shiite, took more than a third of the seats in the 50-seat Parliament in Saturday's voting, according to early unofficial results made public today. The liberals, meanwhile, were almost wiped out. Most of the rest of the seats appear to have
gone to other groups that are supporters of the royal family."

I want to be clear about my point here - it is NOT that removing Saddam makes democracy worse (although in the short term it does, because the war alienated public opinion so profoundly that governments everywhere are terrified to allow genuinely open expressions of public sentiment, whether in the media or in rallies or in elections), it is that removing Saddam has very little to do with the success or failure of democracy in Arab countries. The Jordanian and Kuwaiti elections were both dominated by local issues, shaped by local institutional and political history, and responded only at the margins to what is going on in Iraq. And Jordan and Kuwait are two of the Arab countries most directly affected by Iraq - will its impact be any greater, or more positive, in Egypt or in the Maghreb?

Sunday, July 06, 2003
Spinning so hard, even Ari's dizzy. Here's the lead on today's Times Israel story: "While meeting with Palestinian leaders a week ago, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, listened intently to complaints about the Israeli fence walling off Palestinians in the West Bank. The next day, she raised objections to the fence with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. American and Israeli officials say Mr. Sharon politely rebuffed Ms. Rice, at least for now."

The spin: "The exchange, administration officials say, illustrates their new willingness to prod Israel and to get involved in the minutiae of the negotiations. A senior official said that in fact more pressure on Israel to stop construction of the fence is certain in coming weeks. "The very fact that Condi Rice raised the issue of the fence with Sharon is significant," said an administration official. "We will be back on this issue if things don't improve.""

If the Times were really as anti-Bush as the wingnuts rave, mightn't a more accurate reading than the one transcribed from the administration itself have been "Rice timidly asks Sharon to do what he promised; Sharon says no; Rice lets it drop"? Or maybe "The Bush administration dramatically failed to compel Israel to live up to its commitments today; might try again later"? Just an odd bit of reporting here.

Don't miss Josh Marshall's interview with Ken Pollack. I think Josh goes a bit easy, but Pollack has thoughtful responses to the obvious questions; it would be a good starting point for more (and Josh has two more segments in the can). Double kudos to JM for publishing the transcript itself.