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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Friday, July 25, 2003
One last bit before I'm out of here - Salam Pax disagrees with me about the question of displaying the bodies: " It is so unbelievable how they have wasted a chance to show Iraqis they really are doing something. ....It is so easy, all it takes is to show us the friggin’ corpses. They do have them. Someone did see them and when asked why it wasn’t sown to the public they came up with the moral issues stuff. Habibi it didn’t bother you that all those Iraqis, Americans and British are being killed for dubious reasons, so why suddenly become so squeamish? Give the Images to Jazeera, moral issues have never stopped them from showing gruesome images, let them do your dirty work. All I care about is knowing, seeing, being 100% doubt free and that press conference proved nothing." Point taken, but I'll stand by my position for now - and anyway, saying that it's a moral issue (as American officials apparently did at that press conference) and then changing your mind 12 hours later (or less) makes you look like, um, what's that word? Oh yeah, a hypocrite.
He also has this to say about al-Jazeera: "And I would like to add that Jazeera is the worst ever. They should be banned under Mullah Bremer’s Fatwa banning all pro-saddam/pro-ba’ath propaganda. That political analyst they have, something al-ani, is a fucking saddamite." This is a fairly common attitude about al-Jazeera among Iraqis, actually - as I've written about several times over the last two weeks, many Iraqis have long borne a grudge against the Arab media in general and al-Jazeera specifically. This disconnect between Arab public opinion and Iraqi public opinion did not begin on April 9 - it has been one of the more interesting political trends for students of Arab public opinion for the last decade. Well worth watching how this develops.
Dick Cheney launches a full-scale assault from his safe haven at AEI, denouncing critics of the war: "How could any responsible leader have ignored the Iraqi threat?" asks Cheney. Never mind that the point the critics keep making is that there was no serious Iraqi threat - and forget that the main defense offered by most of the war's defenders these days is something along the lines of "sure the threat was overblown, but that's not why we fought the war - it was to liberate the Iraqi people." I'm glad that Cheney has at least set that canard to rest. The war was fought to protect the United States from the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons - the rest was secondary. Okay. So now let's get on with arguing on the terms that Cheney has, to his credit, forcefully restated.
But not until Monday. I'm off - have a nice weekend!
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Quote of the day, from "a US official who worked in the initial postwar effort and is still in Baghdad": "We fooled ourselves into thinking we would have a liberation over an occupation. Why did we do that?"
For answers to this question, let us turn to Bill Kristol? Mr. Kristol, do you have any idea why we might have been fooled into expecting a liberation over an occupation? No? Hm. What about you, Richard Perle? Any ideas? Hm. Danielle Pletka, want to jump in here? Doug Feith? Dick Cheney? Anyone? Stranger and stranger. Hey guys, if you want to give Ahmad Chalabi a call, that's okay with me - he can answer the question as well as anyone, I would think. No comment? How odd. Well, I'm sure we'll get to the bottom of this mystery some day... bet on it.
NOTE: NewBlogger apparently ate the first version of this post for breakfast. Dammit. So here it goes again:
So it now looks like the US is leaning towards not releasing pictures of Uday and Qusay's dead bodies. I'm going to break with some people I usually agree with here and endorse this as absolutely the right thing to do. Displaying the bodies of the enemy is the sort of thing that Saddam would have done. The United States is, or should be, trying hard to demonstrate to Iraqis and to Arabs that the American administration of Iraq is fundamentally different. I would go a step farther: American officials should be going out of their way to explain, clearly and forcefully, to the Arab media that the US could certainly have gained some short term advantage from displaying the bodies, but has chosen not to because it would be wrong... America does not do that kind of thing, even when it is useful, which shows how different we are from Saddam. We need to restore civility to Iraqi life, and this gesture might be a good way to begin. Anyway, the action won't speak for itself, so it's important that American officials get out there onto al-Jazeera and explain it in these terms, before other interpretations of American motives harden into the conventional wisdom.
UPDATE: Okay, where in the news cycle am I, exactly? Now this AP story says that the US will release the pictures: "The United States, trying to prove to skeptical Iraqis that two of Saddam Hussein’s sons are dead, soon will release photographs of their bodies, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says. Some Iraqis have called on U.S. authorities to prove that Odai and Qusai Hussein were killed in a shootout with American forces in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday. U.S. officials debated whether to release the photos, likely to be gruesome because of the way the two men were killed. "The disbelief runs very deep, and it goes to the level almost of paranoia," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday on PBS’ ‘‘NewsHour With Jim Lehrer’’ program. "One of the great effects of yesterday for Iraqis is to demonstrate our seriousness." Rumsfeld, speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill after briefing members of Congress, said he had not decided when the photos would be released. But he said it would be ‘‘soon.’’ "
If this is the case, and the US now is planning to display the dead bodies, then I reverse my endorsement from the original post and will chalk this up as another administration blunder. Wolfowitz is repeating the classic error of the hawks, that the American problem is a perceived absence of "seriousness," so that demonstrating more power will win more support. This has been proven wrong repeatedly, and yet the neocons stick blindly to this core tenet of their faith. I had hoped that the withholding of the pictures marked the beginning of a change in that perspective. I guess I spoke too soon... one of the dangers of blogging, I suppose.
Judith Miller says: ""I believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was actively developing them and it is only now the coalition is becoming serious about looking for the weapons of mass destruction." Oh wait, no. That was Ahmad Chalabi in his press conference at the UN yesterday (transcript via Washington File). Sorry, easy mistake.
Via Josh Marshall, and coming soon to a media outlet near you: "The report of the joint congressional inquiry into the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, to be published Thursday, reveals U.S. intelligence had no evidence that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, or that it had supported al-Qaida, United Press International has learned. "The report shows there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaida," said a government official who has seen the report."
This is not news - every serious analyst of Middle East politics has been saying so ever since Team Bush started making the allegations as an excuse to get its war against Iraq - but if the report proves that they had no evidence at all, then it should generate an explosion will make the Niger episode look like a firecracker. Before the war, I argued that Iraq had no nuclear weapons or significant WMD (though I expected some CW to be found); I feel pretty solid about that right onw. And I argued that there was no connection to al-Qaeda, and I've yet to see anything to change my mind. There is a key difference between uncertainty and knowledge, though - and if the report shows not just that there was no evidence of a positive connection but that they had solid evidence of no connection, then it becomes yet another confirmed lie - and hardly just a "data point." The report should be interesting.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
On the subject of the censorship of the Iraqi media, editor in chief Abd al-Bari Atwan's editorial in today's al-Quds al-Arabi argues that the old practice of censoring the media is simply "wearing new clothes and has new descriptions more in keeping with the happy American era. The Arab satellite stations, which we thought were breaking down the walls of censorship and ending the Arab censors who had previously ruled, have become one of the first victims of the crude American staff, becoming submissive [entering the bayt al-ta'a, literally the house of the husband to which the woman must return] to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Bremer and all the current symbols of media and political repression which justify their repression in the name of fighting terrorism and dictatorship. Hardly a day goes by when we do not read a story of the arrest of the correspondent of an Arab station in al-Ramadi or al-Jazira or al-Faluja... All of these repressive practices come in the name of preventing incitement.. " And so forth. As I've written before, the Arab media is watching Iraq very carefully to see if the US is serious about creating democracy. Closing down newspapers and censoring the media tells them, in no uncertain terms, that the US is not serious. So come on, Bremer - prove them wrong. Please.
This is a huge mistake: "A local [Baghdad] newspaper has been shut down and its manager arrested because of an article that U.S. occupation authorities and Iraqi officials considered an incitement to violence and a threat to human rights in Iraq." If the US wants to be taken seriously in its calls for Iraqi democracy, it is going to have to cultivate a very thick skin in allowing freedom of the press. This kind of forced closure of a newspaper for "incitement" is just the sort of thing so drearily familiar to Arabs all over. This is the kind of thing which will reinforce every cynical expectation about American hypocrisy with regard to promoting "democracy." I really hope that they don't make a habit of this - especially if the Council of Bremer, and Chalabi in particular, gets real power to enforce such press restrictions.
A new strategy: "After weeks of difficult searching for the top targets on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted Iraqi fugitives, U.S. military commanders two weeks ago switched the emphasis of their operations, focusing on capturing and gathering intelligence from low-level members of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who had been attacking American forces, according to military officials." Ah yes, the Battle of Algiers revisited - remember that scene were the French commander lays out the strategy against the FLN? Breaking the cell structure from the bottom up, going after marginal people and turning them to construct a map of the organization, using whatever means necessary - torture, whatever - to relentlessly close in on the FLN leadership? And remember how France's glorious success in the Battle of Algiers allowed it to overcome the terrorist challenge, thereby ensuring another fifty years of French rule in North Africa? Just think, if France hadn't adopted this kind of strategy, the Fourth Republic might have fallen, Algeria might have become independent under FLN rule, the French population of Algeria and its collaborators might have fled to France, and then after years of authoritarian rule by the FLN the rise of a powerful populist Islamist movement might have led to a brutal civil war in Algeria through much of the 1990s. Good thing that France avoided this and held on to its colony through its brilliant counter-terrorism strategies. And I'm sure that it will work just as well for the US in Iraq!
It looks like the UN is taking a cautious approach to the Council of Bremer, neither endorsing nor rejecting it. According to the Times, "The United Nations Security Council extended a qualified welcome to the new leadership of Iraq today, hailing three members of the nine-day-old Governing Council there as informed citizens but not, as they had requested, as representatives of a legitimate government." This is what the aardvark had predicted, you might recall. Kofi Annan clearly wants to find some formula by which to get the UN into Iraq and to expedite an American departure. Annan doesn't really call the shots, though, and it will be up to the Security Council (and to a much lesser extent the General Assembly) to make this determination. And few in the Council are eager to endorse the American flaunting of the UN's authority. It doesn't look like anyone is eager to begin wrangling over a new Resolution just now - Negroponte's line seems to be that earlier resolutions already legitimize the Council of Bremer, a line which others seem prepared to politely ignore.
Not to go all Sullivan here, but this is kind of weird: the New York Times headline and the story totally disagree with each other. The headline says: "With U.S. in Neighborhood, Syria Eases Its Grip." But the story says: "One Damascus businessman, who said he routinely paid bribes to secure government contracts, said he thought the government had begun to reform itself here in part to keep the Americans at bay. "When the Americans are breathing down your neck, you start moving," he said. But the reality in Syria is perhaps more complicated than mere cause and effect, and the future may hold something less than a democratic contagion." The article describes some reforms, which are not insignificant but which are also well within the bounds of previous episodes of reform under Bashar. It then says: "Syrian officials insisted that the changes ordered by Mr. Assad, as well as the dropping of Mr. Maleh's case, had nothing to do with the recent American pressure on Syria or the invasion of Iraq. "Americans tend to see things only in their own terms," Bouthaina Shaaban, a government spokeswoman, said in an interview. "These changes would have happened anyway." In fact, the limits of the Syrian experiment are already becoming clear. The hypersensitive atmosphere created by the war appears to have prompted the Syrian government to crack down on at least some of its enemies." It then goes on, at some length, to describe how various instruments of the Syrian regime went after a journalist/cartoonist who wrote about the invasion of Iraq, and concludes with a quote to the effect of China being the best model for Syria to emulate.
I'm sure that Sullivan and Reynolds and Kaus and Drezner will be as quick to attack the Keller Times over this obvious editorial distortion of the story as they were to attack Raines, even if in this case the "bias" seems to be a pro-administration line.
So Uday and Qusay are dead. Good. More vile thugs the world has rarely seen (as vile, sure... it's a tough world out there), and nobody will miss them. Iraqis celebrating? Doesn't surprise me. Even back when Saddam was still around, people would sometimes risk the very real dangers to complain about Uday in particular.
I don't know if this is true, because I saw it on CNN while flipping through looking for a baseball game or Buffy reruns, but I heard a Pentagon spokesman say that they are going to parade the bodies in front of the television cameras to demoralize their enemies and put to rest any doubts that they are really dead. Hey, sounds good to me - parading dead bodies in front of the cameras to demoralize the enemy is a time honored strategy... of dictators, totalitarians, and mafia dons. Maybe we could put their heads on spikes and display them outside the Palace of Bremer as an ostentatious display of the king's (um, administrator's) earthly dominion?
As good as it is for Uday and Qusay to be out of this world, I don't think it's going to make much difference in the ongoing guerrilla war, though. I don't buy the Baathist remnants explanation, and I don't think that suppressing resistance has ever been a matter of just finding the remaining Saddam loyalists and killing them. That has always been a convenient excuse, which masks the deeper realities of the tenuous American position in occupying Iraq. With these deaths, that excuse will grow thinner if the violence continues.
One more reminder why Josh Marshall (TPM) really is the one essential blogger: "Again and again we hear the refrain that this single instance of mentioning discredited intelligence about Iraqi uranium purchases pales in comparison in the much broader set of reasons why the United States invaded Iraq. In one sense this is certainly false. The possibility that such a hostile and threatening regime could acquire nuclear weapons is sui generis. You simply can't compare it to this or that many liters of VX nerve gas or botulinum toxin. Seemingly strong evidence that Iraq was well on its way to producing nuclear weapons isn't just one "data point" as Condi Rice put it recently. In another sense, though, it is just one small question or small issue. And if it were taken in isolation or without a broader context, it would hardly be generating the intensity of criticism and scrutiny that it is. The reason it is generating this level of scrutiny is that this one instance of bad faith is of a piece with so much of what went on in the build up to war. It would be one thing if the administration had pursued this war because of weapons of mass destruction and, in so doing, pumped up the evidence to strengthen the case. Perhaps, one might hypothesize, they knew there was a lot of chemical and biological weapons production underway and the beginnings of a major push for nuclear weapons and, to seal the deal, said the nuclear program was further along than it was. But this greatly understates the scope of the problem. Not only was the WMD issue (and the allied issue of Iraq's connection to al Qaida) systematically exaggerated, the entire WMD issue -- and the nexus to non-state terrorist groups like al Qaida -- wasn't even the main reason for the war itself. So the case for war amounted to one dishonesty wrapped inside another -- not quite Churchill's "riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma" but not that far off it either. Now some people on the left are saying, well, the real reason was the possession of Iraqi oil. Or, the real reason was to seal the 2002 election or the 2004 election. Various other real reasons have been and are being proffered. But these are at best secondary or tertiary reasons. Karl Rove certainly exploited the Iraq debate and the war on terror to the hilt in 2002 -- and to great effect. But he was only taking advantage of a situation that had come about for reasons entirely different from his own narrow political ones. Now, the series of neoconservative rationales for invading Iraq well predate 9/11. And as I've written before I think the desire to achieve this goal -- overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- became such a guiding star for many regime-change advocates that the desire become the parent of the rationale. This was one of the reasons why there was, in the end, such a curious multiplicity of rationales for doing it. But over time after 9/11 one overriding theory of the war did take shape: it was to get America irrevocably on the ground in the center of the Middle East (thus fundamentally reordering the strategic balance in the region), bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism. That is why we are in Iraq today. That is the theory of this war." He goes on, at some length. Best thing you'll read today.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
For more on the UN's role in Iraq, see the Secretary-General's just-released report (it's currently the first one, pursuant to Res 1483).
Good piece in the Christian Science Monitor about the American return to the UN. India's decision to not send troops apparently is convincing even the skeptics in the administration that they do, in fact, need the UN - more than ever. It will be very interesting to see how the UN treats the delegation from the Council of Bremer today - does it allow them to speak as representatives of Iraq or only as individuals? Including Chalabi in the delegation was a mistake, if an entirely predictable one. Chalabi's presence is a red flag to skeptics about the war (i.e. most of the world), and his inclusion seems to be a coercive attempt by the US to force the UN not only to recognize a provisional administration, but to endorse the most controversial and indefensible component of that administration (well, maybe not the *most* controversial and indefensible... there are all those no-bid reconstruction contracts, and ... whatever. It is controversial.) Doesn't it matter that Chalabi poisons everything he touches, from intelligence about WMD to the hopes for Iraqi democracy? Doesn't it raise any eyebrows that Chalabi, unlike all the other carefully selected delegates to the Council of Bremer, intended to provide a representative if not democratically selected cross-sample of Iraqi society, represents nobody and would be missed by nobody (outside of Washington) if he resigned?
This is an incredibly bad idea.: "Relying on the help of an Iraqi political party, the United States has moved to resurrect parts of the Iraqi intelligence service, with the branch that monitors Iran among the top priorities, former Iraqi agents and politicians say. The Iraqi National Congress, which is led by Ahmad Chalabi, the longtime exile who is now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says its senior officials have met with senior members of the so-called Iran and Turkey branch of the Mukhabarat, or Iraqi intelligence, over the last several weeks."
It's hard to know where to start with this. Working with the mukhabarat will reinforce every growing resentment of the Bremer Administration, as it lives in Saddam's palaces and appoints unelected councils and, if this is true, works with the hated and feared intelligence services. The call to de-Baathify Iraq - which, ironically enough, was always the INC's slogan, at least until now I guess - never made much sense with regard to lower level people, who had little choice about party membership. But it absolutely did make sense with regard to a few key institutions - and the mukhabarat would have to be at the forefront of those institutions. I hope that having this published in the Times will be enough to trigger a climbdown.
There's one other reason that this is a horrible idea: the INC. Giving Chalabi a privileged position with a not-really-reconstructed Iraqi mukhabarat resonates surprisingly well with the authoritarian tendencies in Chalabi's political discourse. As I mentioned last week, Chalabi - faced with the reality of his almost complete absence of real political support inside of Iraq - is resting his claim to power on two basic pillars: his close relationship with the United States, which he hopes to leverage into control of patronage; and "revolutionary legitimacy," based on his long years of struggle against Saddam (*cough* *cough*). The latter claim, as I argued, is deeply anti-democratic, and alarmingly closely replicates the "revolutionary" claims of too many authoritarian, repressive Arab regimes. What could be worse than giving a power-hungry politician with no realistic hopes of winning any genuinely democratic election, but who nevertheless is widely seen as an American agent and who claims to be the only authentic carrier of revolutionary legitimacy, privileged access to the mukhabarat intelligence services? The potential for abuse is mind-boggling. It is bad enough that Chalabi was appointed to the Council of Bremer - a choice dictated by Washington politics, not Iraqi politics. Let's hope that this power play is stopped in its tracks, and that Bremer is able and willing to do what is necessary to keep Chalabi under control.
Monday, July 21, 2003
Everything is fine - sorry for the non-posting today. Busy. If I *had* posted, I no doubt would have commented on the Weekly Standard's studiedly nonchalant dismissals of the Bush scandals .... which aren't fooling anybody (Bill Kristol AND Fred Barnes, both writing about something which doesn't matter? It answers itself.). It is a scandal, folks, and it does matter.
I would assuredly have commented on Safire's reprehensible suggestion that anyone questioning Bush's lies is aiding and abetting Saddam's strategy - which Saddam no doubt outlined for old Bill in one of those famous Safire phone calls. Ah yes, political opposition equals treason. It's so charming to see the neo-Nixonians joining hands with the neo-Reaganites, proving that we really all can just get along.
I probably would have had something to say about Moqtada al-Sadr's bid to whip up opposition to Bremer's Council (or is it The Council of Bremer? I forget). Tomorrow, I probably will.
How could I have avoided commenting on Judy Miller's writing about the reasons for the failure to find WMD? Going round and round the obvious here... don't look at the man behind the curtain!
There's not a chance in heck that I would have missed commenting on Paul Wolfowitz's moment in the sand. You know, all those "Wolfowitz of Arabia" quips seem to forget that Lawrence actually, well, spoke Arabic and spent lots of time in Arab countries and supported Arabs politically and in the end deeply resented British and French colonialist policies. Anyway, I loved the part where he said that it was so cool to see these places that he had only read about in books. I really loved Jim Hoagland's explaining that Wolfowitz really does love Arabs- why, in his spare time he "reads Arab writers." Heck, it beats reading CIA or State Department intelligence briefings which prove that what you are saying is untrue - because how inconvenient would that be? And I really, really loved the part where he said that other countries should stop meddling in Iraqi affairs. Ha!
But alas, no time to talk about any of those things. See you tomorrow!