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, July 18, 2003
At last - an undeniable victory in the war on statues! "With a thunderous explosion from 12 pounds of plastic explosives, the U.S. military toppled a 30-foot statue of Saddam Hussein on horseback from its perch overlooking the dictator's hometown Friday." As the aardvark has always maintained, statues are the greatest menace facing America today, which is why the toppling of the Saddam statue more than validated the invasion of Iraq for me. It was never about WMD or ties to al-Qaeda, no matter what the President said. It was always about the statues. And now we got another one. Let's see what those objectively pro-statue critics of the war are going to say now!

Thursday, July 17, 2003
The members of the new task force to rethink public diplomacy in the Arab and Islamic world have just been named. There is no question that the Bush administration needs to completely rethink its approach to dialogue with Arabs and Muslims. I might even have a few thoughts as to the form that rethinking might take (just maybe, you know). So naming a task force is a good start, if it has the right composition and the right mandate. Here's the roster assembled by Ambassador Ed Djerejian: Ambassador David Abshire (President, Center for the Study of the Presidency); Dr. Steve Cohen (Israel Policy Forum); Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan (Chairman, Cyber Century Forum and CSIS Senior Adviser); Dr. Mamoun Fandy (President, Fandy Associates); Mr. James K. Glassman (Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute); Malik Hasan, M.D. (Chairman, Health Trio); Dr. Farhad Kazemi (Professor of Politics and Middle Eastern Studies and Vice Provost, New York University); Ms. Judy Milestone (Former Senior Vice President, CNN); Mr. Harold Pachios (Member, U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy; Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau, Pachios & Haley); Mr. George R. Salem (Akin Gump Strauss Haver & Feld, LLP); Dr. Shibley Telhami (Anwar Sadat Chair, University of Maryland); Mr. John Zogby (Zogby International); Mr. Fareed Zakaria (Newsweek). If the aardvark were naming a task force, he would include four, maybe five of those people; a few of them I don't know and they might have useful things to contribute - I just can't say; and then there's the rest. I won't say who falls into which category (although I will say that I think that Telhami rates a first round draft pick, and Zogby probably has some interesting data to share). Let's just hope that this group can between them come up with some new ideas, actually have an impact on policy, and maybe even keep an eye out for any new ideas which might be coming out in various foreign affairs journals.

I confess to being baffled at the response to the WMD-deception issue on much of the right. Some are essentially saying that Presidential lying is okay (as long as it is by a Republican presumably, since Clinton's lies sure did seem important back in the dark ages of American peace and prosperity). If they really want to take that line of defense, okay... I think most reasonable people would be willing to enter into an argument on those terms. Heck, with half a brain tied behind our backs. Others are saying that the verdict is not yet out, and that WMD might still be found. This kind of misses the point - even if WMD programs are found, it still would not prove Bush's case, which was that there was an urgent, imminent, existential threat. And it also wouldn't respond to the specific instances of lying which can be documented, including, yes, the Niger references in the State of the Union. Still others want to reduce this to just a partisan issue - as if Republicans or Bush voters shouldn't care if we went to war on false pretences? I have greater respect for Republicans than do their spokesmen, I guess, because I think that the vast majority on the Right, just as on the left and in the center, are fair-minded and honest, and have the national interest at heart. This isn't a partisan issue, it's an issue which cuts to the heart of the legitimacy and integrity of our political institutions - and that concerns everybody.

But the line of argument which most intrigues me is the one that says "it doesn't bother me, because that wasn't my reason for supporting the war." I hear this all the time from bloggers, from columnists, from "liberal hawks." Not to put too fine a point on this, but who gives a flying fruitbasket about their reasons for supporting the war? Self-important, much? The issue at hand is the President's stated reasons for going to war - not the reasons that the bloggers and columnists gave for supporting the war. Maybe they "really" supported the war to spread democracy through the Middle East, or to get our troops out of Saudi Arabia, or to capture the secret dilithium crystal mines hidden in the Iraqi deserts... but that is not the reason that Bush gave the country. The record is crystal clear: Bush told the American people that Iraq posed a mortal threat to the United States because of his weapons of mass destruction and his ties to al-Qaeda. It was a pre-emptive (preventive, really, but let's not get all semantic) war to defend the security of the United States. Yes, there were occasional references to democracy and to liberating the Iraqi people, particularly the AEI speech, but those were always tangential and secondary, aimed more at select elite audiences than at the American public. Anyone who claims that Iraq's WMD and al-Qaeda related threats were not the President's primary stated reasons for war is just not being honest. But then, we *are* talking about the Bush administration here, so maybe that wouldn't be taken as an insult?

According to the LA Times, the US is reconsidering its attitude towards a UN role in Iraq: "Faced with mounting casualties and costs, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it was talking with foreign leaders about broadening U.N. authority in Iraq, even as a key commander said the Pentagon would extend the tours of war-weary U.S. troops to a full year to fight what has become a guerrilla war. Until now, the administration has sought to limit U.N. activities in Iraq to humanitarian relief and has sought assistance from other countries on a nation-by-nation basis. A U.S. decision to go back to the United Nations would mark a fundamental shift in an approach that now gives the United States full control — and blame — for whatever happens in the volatile country."

Gee whiz, who would have thought that a UN role would be important? That "an international mandate would legitimize the occupation, give an interim government credibility, and reduce the risks of Americans being targeted. It would defuse many of the suspicions and fears about American intentions, and increase the chances that the postwar Iraqi government could enjoy widespread international acceptance."? That a UN role would "give other states a genuine stake in seeing the new Iraq succeed"? That it might help share the burdens and share the blame? Gee, nobody I know. I sure wish somebody, anybody, had made an argument along these lines before the US blew off the UN, so that we could have avoided some these problems.

According to David Corn at The Nation (via Calpundit), the Bush team is coming after Joseph Wilson with a typically nasty smear campaign (remember Max Cleland? John McCain?). One piece of this has been a direct attack on Wilson's credibility. Another, incredibly enough, has been to out his wife as a CIA agent - which, if true, would represent an actionable breach of national security and could compromise the lives and careers - and ongoing operations - of both her and other agents. But the Bush people will stop at nothing. We already knew that.

It reminds me of the climactic scene of the brilliant X-Files arc, Redux II, where Mulder faces down a Senate intelligence panel. Mulder is asked why he went outside normal channnels. He then launches into this:
MULDER: "Because I had evidence of a conspiracy. A conspiracy against the American people.

SENIOR AGENT: We've already heard testimony to these allegations, Agent Mulder.

MULDER: AND a conspiracy intended to destroy the lives of those who would reveal it's true purpose.... Without morals or conscience... Men who pretend to honor as they deceive.. The price of this betrayal, the lives and reputations of those deceived..... By these same men who are trying to cover their tracks who suborn and persecute the same people they've used in their plot I will now call by name!"

It is high time for someone to Mulder the people responsible for the Iraq fiasco. The difference between Mulder's quixotic quest to discover a truth which even the writers of the show seemed a bit fuzzy about and the current scandal is that in the real world we know who they are, what they did, and why they did it - there is nothing particularly secret about who is responsible: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Chalabi, Wolfowitz, Perle. All that is needed is the political, the moral, will to act on that knowledge.

UPDATE: Calpundit updates the story with this bit taken, I believe, from the Washington Post: "Sen. Dick Durbin, who was present for a 4 1/2-hour appearance by Tenet behind closed doors with Intelligence Committee members Wednesday, said Tenet named the official. But the Illinois Democrat said that person's identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings. ....Durbin, appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," said that Tenet "certainly told us who the person was who was insistent on putting this language in which the CIA knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa."
So, I might as well update with the rest of Mulder's tirade: "I will answer that question after I name the man who's responsible for Agent Scully! The same man who directed that my apartment be surveilled by the DoD. A man I want to see prosecuted for his crimes! Who's sitting in this very room as I speak!"

Can we have a little drama here, Senator Durbin? Can you name the man, and see him prosecuted for his crimes?

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Al-Jazeera runs regular internet surveys, along the lines of Wolf Blitzer's. For the last three days, they've been running this question: "Will the Iraqi Transitional Governing Council satisfy Iraqi aspirations in the current period?" Right now, with 29,111 votes cast, 16.5% say yes and 79.3% say no. As they say, this is not a scientific poll, so do with it what you will.

I've been mulling over an exchange that took place in the first meeting of the Iraqi Governing Council. I don't have the text in front of me, and don't have the time to hunt down a link, but here's the gist. Members of the Council were arguing over the source of the Council's legitimacy. One member said something like "our legitimacy derives from our representation of the Iraqi people." Ahmad Chalabi responded angrily with words to this effect: "no, our legitimacy derives from our long years of struggle against Saddam Hussein and our contribution to the liberation of the Iraqi people." I've been thinking about this, because Chalabi's position is so deeply troubling. This is exactly the political rationale behind the Arab authoritarian regimes that have proven so miserably ineffective. The FLN's legitimacy comes from its long struggle against the French, Nasser's legitimacy came from the "revolution" which drove out the British, Arafat's legitimacy comes from the "struggle," and so forth. Such a legitimacy requires the construction and enforcement of a single official historical narrative, one which validates the efforts of the "opposition" and discredits other contenders for power who do not share such "revolutionary" legitimacy - which makes it authoritarian in both principle and practice. Such a politics is, it should go without saying, profoundly anti-democratic. If this is really Chalabi's position, then, completely apart from his extraordinarily irresponsible role in deceiving the American people and the American government about everything to do with Iraq over the last decade (which should be enough to disqualify him from any role in postwar Iraq), Bremer should immediately remove him from the Council. Such a breathtaking- almost neo-Baathist - claim is a forthright repudiation of the principle of democracy, and arguably represents more of an ideological challenge than do the Shia religious parties. If the US is serious about creating a democracy in Iraq, it must firmly and clearly reject such nonsense about revolutionary/oppositional legitimacy and insist that legitimacy derives exclusively from representation as determined through competitive elections.
UPDATE: I tracked down the quote. It was from the New York Times, July 15: "At one point Mahmoud Othman, the elderly Kurd who was an adviser to Mustafa Barzani, the late leader of the Kurdish revolt of the early 1970's, asked the group where it derived its legitimacy, a sensitive point. Mr. Hashemi, a seasoned diplomat under Mr. Hussein, replied that the interim government's legitimacy was derived from a United Nations resolution that called for an interim administration. Mr. Chalabi objected, and said the new government had to assert its independence from both the occupation powers and the United Nations. The interim government's legitimacy, he said, according to those present, arises from "the struggle of the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein and our participation in that struggle." "

Juan Cole has a nice review of the Shia parties in Iraq in Le Monde Diplomatique. His comments on SCIRI are the most interesting, I think: "The US-Sciri relationship has had a bumpy ride. They are partners of convenience, and each has been willing to betray the other. Why the hawks in the Pentagon have wanted such a partner remains mysterious; probably Ahmad Chalabi gave some assurance of the group's moderation and broad popularity among religious Shia. The organisation does not represent many Iraqi Shia. Sciri political workers have fanned out through the south, but their presence is broader than it is deep. Most mosques and hospitals in east Baghdad, Kufa, and other cities are controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, which has steadfastly refused to have anything to do with the US. Muqtada implies that the al-Hakims are cowards who ran away from Saddam to the safety of Tehran while the Sadr family risked everything by staying. Though Sciri is a pragmatic party, willing to make deals even with the US, ultimately its goals are similar to those of al-Sadr. Both want an Islamic Republic of Iraq under Shia religious control. Neither can probably have what they want, given Iraq's large Sunni minority and the US's dislike of a theocracy. The dance of cooperation and disengagement between the US and Sciri may continue for a while, but it seems likely that this odd couple, which once flirted ardently between spats, is doomed to early divorce."

Nicely done piece in the Post - just as the aardvark urged a few days ago, Walter Pincus goes back to the "whole tapestry" rather than just those sixteen words. And, predictably, it is not pretty for the administration: "But a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq. By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa -- although now almost entirely disproved -- was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration's case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program."

The 16 words really did matter, it seems, in the blatantly dishonest effort to make a case for something they knew to be untrue. And I'm sorry, Mr. Bush - maybe you've moved on, maybe you think it's over, but a few of us out here still have some questions. Like, why did you lie to us? If you thought you were telling the truth but you had bad information, why haven't you fired the aides that lied to you? If you honestly don't know the difference between falsehood and truth, shouldn't you be in prison rather than in the Oval Office? Of course the irony is that if Bush did the right thing and stepped down from office, the new President would be Cheney, who is almost certainly the real villain in the whole sordid Iraq affair.

Meanwhile, John Bolton, the neocon advance man at State, wanted to testify that Syrian WMD posed a threat to the US. (The CIA wouldn't let him.) To echo the smarmy right-blogosphere's tired rhetoric about the New York Times, isn't it time for someone in the Bush administration to start exercising some adult supervision?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Soon to be available online from MERIP, here are some highlights of an interview with Saeed Razavi-Faqih, a student at Tarbiat-Modarres University in Tehran and a member of the steering committee of the main national student organization, the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (OCU). The interview was carried out by Kaveh Ehsani by telephone on July 8, 2003. It offers some useful perspective to counter the "student voices" which appear elsewhere with such frequency. And note that Razavi-Faqih's interview contradicts some of the aardvark's arguments about the reform movement, even if he supports other parts of the analysis - we don't speak with a single voice here in aardvarkostan. He is more disenchanted with the reformists, but at the same time recognizes that the student movement can only succeed in a coalition with them. He sees little hope of internal reform, but he also considers the Bush statements extremely unhelpful, playing into the hands of the conservatives.

Q. What was the source of the June 2003 disturbances around the universities in Tehran and other cities?

A. The June clashes around the universities should be seen as linked to similar events that occurred in the late fall of 2002, when the death sentence against Prof. Hashem Aghajari [on charges of blasphemy] led to an unprecedented explosion of spontaneous student protests across the country that lasted for more than two weeks in December. Aghajari's sentence was reduced, but he was kept in jail. By the time the February 2003 elections for local councils took place, a noticeable shift in attitude had taken place. For the first time in the past six years, the student organizations refused to nominate candidates or to actively campaign in the elections. The main reason for this apathy was that rank-and-file university students no longer believed that reforms or elections could bring about the political changes they desire. Mohammad Khatami, the elected president, is not effective, and the parliament has not been able to implement its reformist agenda. So by the time the universities were engulfed yet again in a wave of national protests this June, the students were no longer willing to accept that working within the framework of the reformist movement would satisfy their demands.

Q. Do you believe that the recent clashes signal a new political situation?

A. What we have realized is that the majority of students no longer want to maintain any dialogue with the regime. Previously, the students distinguished between the reformers in government, whom the students helped to elect to office and with whom they shared many concerns, and the hardliners, whom they had not elected and who were intent on maintaining their authoritarian grip on power. But the events of the past months, and especially these past few weeks [as supra-parliamentary conservative bodies have blocked legislation enhancing Khatami's powers], have deeply changed this attitude. Students believe that some of the government reformers are sincere in their commitment to change, but are simply powerless to deliver on their promises. Their presence in the government only prolongs the life of a system that is incapable of reform. Following the recent attacks on students by vigilantes and thugs, the students wrote a frankly worded letter to Khatami, challenging him either to stop these violations and punish the culprits, or to resign and avoid legitimizing this regime. This is an important new step for the student movement, because prior to this point the student movement acted within the system, as a part of the reform movement. Following these recent events, the student movement has disassociated itself from the regime altogether. Some of us even do not want to stay within the existing framework of the Office for Consolidation of Unity (OCU) [an Islamic students' association, and one of the few autonomous political organizations allowed to operate in universities], because it is an official institution sanctioned by the regime. I think these recent confrontations contained a serious warning from the people to the government of the Islamic Republic. It was really significant that, for the first time, ordinary people started really to get involved on the side of the students. Masses of ordinary people were present well into the early hours of the morning around the student residences of the University of Tehran. This presence of ordinary people, hanging around peacefully, and often with their families, lasted for a whole week.
Q. What is the next step for the student movement?

A. It is not clear yet. Civil disobedience, strikes and peaceful protests in various locations...all these measures are being considered. The student movement is not prone to violence, although anger and frustration may lead to isolated incidents of violent reaction by students. We realize that violence will destroy our hard-won gains of the past few years. That is why we are moving toward connecting our movement to the demands of other social groups, like workers and even families. What is clear, though, is that we no longer feel there is any use in continuing a dialogue with the regime, even with the elected reformers. In realizing this, the student movement has shown itself one more time to be a step ahead of the rest of society.

Q. So what are the prospects that the student movement can organize a wider social coalition aimed at applying the necessary pressure?

A. By themselves, students cannot lead a social movement. We have distinct strengths: we have an extensive network of student associations in every town where there is a university campus. All the local branches have delegates in the OCU, so we are constantly in touch with the general mood and demands of the student population, nationwide. Nevertheless, there are limits to what the students can do by themselves. What we can do is be effective in a wider collective front. Look at the reform movement of the Second of Khordad. The OCU was one of three legs that Khatami's reform movement stood on, the other two being the Participation Front and the Mojahedin-e Enqelab Organization. The same is true today. A new coalition has to emerge and gain the trust of the population, and the student movement can play an important role within that coalition. I see signs of the emergence of this coalition in the recent flurry of open letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei protesting the current situation. Those who have signed these letters range from the extra-parliamentary opposition that supports the reform movement to those elected reformers who have consistently defended the rights of those opposing the regime. My hope is that the student movement consolidates its own place within this emerging coalition, without allowing itself to be manipulated or used by anyone.


Q. How have Bush administration statements affected the situation in Iran?

A. Recent US positions have seriously complicated the position of the reform movement in Iran. Some reformers are highly sensitive to the issue of the territorial integrity of the country. The aggressive US postures encouraging internal disturbances and courting separatist figures [among Iran's Azeri minority] will stir a strong reaction among liberal and nationalist-religious forces, who find themselves walking a tightrope between two right-wing threats -- hardliners at home and the Bush administration abroad. Given the unpredictability of the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, the US may at any moment commit one of two strategic errors. A US military attack or a threat against the country's territorial and national integrity will create a strong nationalist reaction. One thing is certain: Iranians will not forgive the US if this were to happen. The second error the Bush administration may commit is to prioritize its own short-term interests and sacrifice the reform movement and the future of democracy in Iran by making a deal with the hardliners, in exchange for certain significant concessions. This would also cause a deep negative reaction among Iranians and bring about a serious backlash.

Q. Then what should the US do with regard to Iran?

A. The best thing the US can do is to avoid what they did over the past few weeks. Rhetorical provocations coming out of Washington about "regime change," the saber-rattling over nuclear reactors and the depiction of student protests as a revolution in the making all played into the hands of the conservatives. After all these cacophonous provocations, when the crunch came and the student protests were repressed, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the US would not get involved in the domestic affairs of Iran! Perhaps it is naïve to expect more from the Bush administration. But we can at least expect the American public, the press, intellectuals and fellow students in the US to defend the democratic struggle and human rights in Iran. We expect them to support the democratic reforms in Iran. The Congress can and should come out and defend its fellow Iranian parliamentarians in their attempts to pass democratic laws, instead of adding fuel to the fire by passing provocative resolutions about "regime change." Such declarations of solidarity on the part of American public and elected figures do not carry the stigma of the US government meddling in the internal affairs of Iran. Nor will the Iranian public and democrats feel used and left to face repression on their own.


Q. How do the Iranian public and the student movement view the occupation of Iraq?

A. I have to say that people have a lot of sympathy for Iraqis, and see the occupation as ultimately a positive thing. Iranians were deeply happy about the fall of Saddam Hussein. The hardliner-controlled TV constantly attacks the occupation of Iraq, but because the population absolutely distrusts Iranian TV they end up believing the reverse of whatever it says. One even hears rumors spreading that are completely false, like the rumor that US soldiers acted very bravely and heroically to stop the plunder of museums and resources in Iraq. This sympathy is understandable. We had a debate among students, and some delegates were citing the example of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim [leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq], who was exiled from Iraq for 20 years, but now has gone back, is quite active and can say anything he wants publicly, even against the US. People see this as a sign of democratic behavior on the part of the US, and believe that overthrowing the Baathist regime in Iraq, or even previous US interventions, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan against the Taliban, were positive accomplishments. Having said this, Iranians will not welcome a US military intervention in Iran itself.

Q. What have been the effects of satellite broadcasts from abroad upon recent events? Do these media contribute to the democratic cause in Iran?

A. I have to confess that there is a big gap between the content of satellite TV and radio broadcasts and the needs and demands of the vast majority of Iranians. Most of these stations are based in the US or operate from there. By the virtue of the continued muzzling of the press in Iran, and the total control of domestic radio and television networks by hardliners, these foreign satellite broadcasters enjoy a monopoly of providing alternative information and programming for the public. As a result, they do have an audience. But neither the content nor the way they cover the news accurately reflects what is taking place here, nor do they analyze popular demands with any real insight. We really suffer from a serious gap in that regard, as aside from a few surviving newspapers and some Internet sites, we have nothing to satisfy the reformist middle class. Recent restrictions on Internet providers and political sites have limited even that source of information and analysis and debate.

Reuters: "Some 350 reformist intellectuals urged Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Tuesday to end repression and free political prisoners, saying the Islamic Republic must choose between democracy and despotism. The politicians, academics, activists and lawyers said Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure, should overhaul the hard-line judiciary and conservative institutions that have blocked much of moderate President Mohammad Khatami's reforms." These are the people that the United States should be supporting - not a phantom revolution in the streets, not a return of the Shah's men, but the reformers around Khatami, even if Khatami himself is a spent force. These reformers reject repression, reject violence, and reject despotism, but they do not reject the broad conception of an Islamic republic. If they could succeed in transforming Iran into a stable, democratic but Islamic republic, this would be the best thing that could happen for the Islamic world. But the more that the US listens to the Ledeens and pursues a neocon inspired campaign of subversion and aggression against Iran, the stronger the hard-liners will get, the more justified their repression will seem, and the less chance there will be for these reformers to push for change from within.

It's fascinating that, according to al-Hayat, the first order of business for Iraq's new Council was to blast the Arab satellite networks for not sufficiently supporting the opposition to Saddam. As the New York Times reported it, "The strongest comments were directed at the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera. "The satellite channels are expecting Saddam to come back, but he is in the trash can of history," Mr. Uloum shouted after someone else questioned the legitimacy of the interim government. "I am very sorry these Arab channels betrayed their Arab brothers."" Is this really the most urgent business facing Iraq today? Does al-Jazeera matter so much? I actually think it does matter, even that much, and the last thing the Council should be doing is making enemies of the media which will largely determine how the entire Arab world perceives the Council. It could be the reckless settling of old scores so typical of the Iraqi opposition in exile over the years. But it could also be an example of the "working the refs" strategy that, as Alterman has so effectively shown, the American Right has used so effectively against the media here. Is the Council tring to work the refs, attacking al-Jazeera in order to influence its coverage down the road? Stay tuned.

This is getting surreal: does Bush even know what happened? The Post: "Bush said the CIA's doubts about the charge -- that Iraq sought to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore in Africa -- were "subsequent" to the Jan. 28 State of the Union speech in which Bush made the allegation. Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." Bush's position was at odds with those of his own aides, who acknowledged over the weekend that the CIA raised doubts that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger more than four months before Bush's speech. The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective." Headless chickens... if the discipline of Team Bush keeps breaking down, and various Cheneys and Rices (just for instance) put their own butts first, this so-called President could be in even more trouble than we thought. Mr. Bush, it's your war, damn it - at least try to remember why we fought it, okay? CONTINUED: (sorry - hard to type with a sleepless cub on your lap). Is it really possible that Bush didn't know, or didn't care, that UNMOVIC was on the ground? The one diplomatic success Bush had in the entire run-up to the war was the unanimous passage of Resolution 1441, which returned the inspectors to Iraq. The only one. And apparently he has either forgotten it, or it was just so insignificant to him that it might as well have not happened.

Monday, July 14, 2003
How much does Jordanian foreign policy cost? " All told, Jordan received more than $1 billion — $406 million to buy and refurbish a new set of F-16 airplanes and $700 million in funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development — to supplement budget shortfalls stemming from lost tax revenue. Combined with previous military and aid grants totaling $400 million, Jordan wound up with promises of $1.5 billion for the year, vaulting over Colombia to become the U.S.' third-largest recipient of aid, behind Egypt and Israel." For many students of Jordanian foreign policy, such as Laurie Brand, this is the end of the story: Jordan is essentially a prostitute, putting its foreign policy up for sale to whoever will fill its perennially empty coffers.

Whoops, is "prostitute" a strong word? Well, it isn't mine: ""What name can you give this but prostitution?" asked Laith Shubeilat, a conservative member of the nation's Islamic party and author of the petition. "Our sovereignty boiled down to how many millions of dollars? It's like 'Indecent Proposal.' How much will you sell yourself for?" Shubeilat has long been one of the most popular (and populist) opposition figures in Jordan. In order to push such an unpopular, and nakedly, um, prostituted, foreign policy through, King Abdallah has needed to keep a firm lid on the political system, which means less democracy, fewer public freedoms, a more tightly controlled press, and less legitimacy for the government. The gerrymandered elections last month did not help fill this legitimacy gap. And some of you might remember the Pew Global Attitudes survey a few months ago? Jordanians, who used to be among the more pro-American of Arab societies, gave the United States an approval rating of 1% - down from just over 50% two years ago. American money will definitely come in handy to smooth over the immediate crisis, but it won't fix the structural problems of the Jordanian economy. Life isn't going to be easy for this working girl over the next few years, as her charms fade and her benefactor finds her less productive and less profitable... and when she tries to go home to her people, she just might find that they have lost respect for her and don't necessarily welcome her back.

A few weeks ago, the aardvark raised questions about the inclusion of India in the list of countries soon to join the United States in its occupation of Iraq. Today, the Post reports that India will not, in fact, send troops.: "India said on Monday it would not send peacekeeping troops to Iraq without a United Nations mandate, rejecting a request from Washington for help in the war-torn nation. The decision came after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist coalition government failed to build a domestic consensus in support of sending troops to Iraq, an old friend of India. New Delhi had earlier opposed the U.S.-led war against Iraq. "Were there to be an explicit U.N. mandate for the purpose, the government of India could consider the deployment of our troops in Iraq," foreign minister Yashwant Sinha told reporters after a two-hour meeting of the cabinet's security committee. "Our longer-term national interest, our concern for the people of Iraq, our longstanding ties with the Gulf region, as well as our growing dialogue and strengthened ties with the U.S. have been key elements in this consideration," Sinha said."

What? A formal UN mandate, he wants? Oh come on, how silly. The UN proved itself irrelevant, right? The UN is history, isn't it? Who needs the UN? Who needs allies? And who remembers what Rumsfeld said a few weeks ago, anyway?

News from Nablus of a very disturbing incident: "A mob of about 100 Palestinian refugees stormed the office of a Ramallah polling organisation yesterday to stop it publishing a survey showing that five times as many refugees would prefer to settle permanently in a Palestinian state than return to their old homes in what is now Israel. The protesters pelted Khalil Shikaki, the director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, with eggs, smashed computers and assaulted the nine staff members on duty. A female worker was treated in hospital for her injuries. "This is a message for everyone not to tamper with our rights," one of the rioters said. Dr Shikaki, a leading West Bank political scientist, was undeterred. He said he was still putting the survey results on the centre's website and seeking the widest possible exposure. "These people," he said, "had no idea what the results were. They were sold disinformation." The poll, conducted among 4,500 refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan, was the first to ask where they would want to live if Israel recognised a right of return. Only 10 per cent of the refugees chose Israel, even if they were allowed to live there with Palestinian citizenship; 54 per cent opted for the Palestinian state; 17 per cent for Jordan or Lebanon, and 2 per cent for other countries. Another 13 per cent rejected all these options, preferring to sit it out and wait for Israel to disappear, while 2 per cent didn't know."

I've known Shikaki for years - not well, but well enough to speak to his integrity and his courage. I met him, ironically enough, while doing some research in Nablus about Palestinian public opinion on the refugee issue. As I expected, I found an incredible (and to me understandable) passion for a formal and real acknowledgment of the right of return, which in turn means an acknowledgement of Palestinian identity, history, and rights - and any acceptable resolution would have to include this validation. But on the pragmatic questions of who would actually want to return to what is now Israel, far fewer seemed inclined to exercise the right. That roughly coincides with Shikaki's findings in this survey. At any rate, it is outrageous that Shikaki and his people should be attacked like this, even in the current climate, and I hope that whatever lingering authority remains in the PA acts decisively to reaffirm the principles of free speech and internal self-criticism.

Sunday, July 13, 2003
Team Bush is now running around like a bunch of headless chickens trying to get out of the Niger uranium mess. Most of their excuses are either pretty silly, manifestly false, or self-contradictory - it isn't important, the British said so, it was only 16 words, we didn't know. But one point is worth engaging - the claim that this was only one piece of a much larger puzzle, which overwhelmingly supported the claim that Iraq posed a threat via WMD and links to al-Qaeda. That one has to be rebutted hard and fast. Yes, Niger is small, if prominently placed, part of a larger case. But the point is that the larger case is overwhelmingly suspect, a web of exaggerations, misrepresentations, and alarmist sleight of hand. The Niger lie is simply the one that can most clearly at this point be proven. But if Team Bush wants to shift the focus to the wider case, and present all of its intelligence for inspection, well, to quote a very dim and hopefully politically doomed man, "bring it on." It won't be pretty for the administration.

Oh, one other point. How come conservative bloggers got so much credit over Lott and a few other episodes, but nobody seems to be interested in crediting the left side of the blogosphere for pushing and forcing the issue of Bush's lies on WMD? I don't think the aardvark has been particularly influential (though who knows, really), but Josh Marshall and Daily Kos (and Billmon) between them probably did more to keep this story alive than any of the mainstream media or Democratic politicians. So come on, let's give some credit where it's due, and stop pretending that the only blogs that matter are conservative ones like Sullivan and Instahack.

This is a disaster: "Iraqi leaders and the U.S.-led occupation authority agreed today to give a slight majority of seats on a 25-member governing council to people who had lived outside the limits of ousted president Saddam Hussein's government, Iraqis involved in the process said. The makeup of the council, which will have broad executive powers during the postwar occupation, is a significant victory for political groups that had opposed Hussein's government from exile. But it is a reversal for the authority, whose leaders had planned to give Iraqis who lived under Hussein a majority on the council. U.S. and British officials here have been concerned that granting former exiles and ethnic Kurds a majority could weaken support for the council among the many Iraqis who view the former exiles with suspicion."

It was bad enough that they decided to appoint a council rather than allow elections; to let it be dominated by exiles is a victory for the folks who brought you "cakewalk" and "hugs and puppies." A council which gives a leading role to the INC in any form will be seen in Iraq and in the Arab world as a major setback for Iraqi democracy - the sidelining of the Iraqi people in favor of a puppet regime of unrepresentative and unpopular American figureheads. From what I hear, Bremer understands this, but couldn't resist the pressures from various directions - none of those pressures being Iraqis themselves. Just the other day it looked like Bremer had succeeded in getting a council with a majority of local Iraqis and Shia; I thought that the role granted the exiles was too large even in that formulation, but what is being announced today will be indefensible, confirming every suspicion in the Arab world about American undemocratic intentions.