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!

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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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Saturday, August 02, 2003
Wow, that's humbling - get a link from Atrios, and a follow-up from Hesiod, and watch your hitcount quintuple. Thanks guys! As regular readers of the aardvark know, I don't really blog on the weekends, so new readers feel free to come back on Monday for new content.

Thursday, July 31, 2003
In his excellent article about the security impact of the invasion of Iraq, Eric Boehlert concludes with this puzzler: "On "Meet the Press" this week, Wolfowitz suggested that by trying to contain Iraq during the 1990s instead of invading to topple Saddam, at least 50 American lives were lost, in terrorist incidents like the bombings of the USS Cole and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. How were those related to Iraq? Incredibly, Wolfowitz told NBC's Tim Russert that he didn't know who was responsible for the Cole and Khobar Tower attacks. But on that question, the agreement is all but unanimous: It wasn't Saddam, it wasn't Iraq. It was Osama and al-Qaida."

What is Wolfowitz talking about? Boehlert doesn't speculate, but I'm happy to. I would never presume to know the mind of the Wolfowitz, but I have a pretty good idea what is going on here: Wolfowitz is loyal to his friend Laurie Mylroie. Mylroie, for those who haven't come across her before, has long been kind of the "crazy aunt" of Iraq policy. Obsessed with the idea that Saddam Hussein was behind most of the world's evil, Mylroie has spun an astonishing web in a series of articles and a very odd book to "prove" that Iraq was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing - as well as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (you may have thought it was Timothy McVeigh, but hello - pay attention, okay?), the 1997 Luxor attacks in Egypt, the Cole bombing, the anthrax attacks, and the cancelation of Firefly (well, maybe not that last one, but he probably *wanted* Firefly canceled).

In her brand new book, "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror" (yes, you read that title right), Mylroie goes even farther, entering into tinfoil hat-country. According to Mylroie, Iraq was responsible for September 11 - not working with al-Qaeda, not coordinating with al-Qaeda, but actually responsible for it, while cleverly setting al-Qaeda and bin Laden up to take the fall. Yes, Mylroie (who was invited to testify before the 9/11 commission, co-authored a book with Judith Miller, is affiliated with AEI, is good friends with Ahmad Chalabi as well as with Paul Wolfowitz) denies bin Laden's responsibility for 9/11: "On September 11, much of America was convinced that the shock and horror we suffered that day had been the work of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network"(p.43)... but, she asks, how did the US know so quickly that al-Qaeda was to blame? Wasn't this based on a lot of disinformation? You bet - "the information may have been calculated to direct the United States to look at one culprit rather another: at al-Qaeda, not Iraq." (p.51) The book repeats (again!) her Ramzi Yousef theories; and then extends the same analysis to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (really an Iraqi agent under deep cover). (She quotes - without a hint of self-awareness or irony, Admiral Hyman Rickover saying "we should not love our opinions like our children" (p.48). Most egregiously (although this is of course a tough call, given the bewildering web of hypotheticals, possibles, speculatives, and unsourced allegations), she argues that the CIA and the State Department (along with pretty much everyone else) intentionally covered this up for careerist reasons - they were all so wedded to defending Saddam (!) that they wouldn't admit the evidence put before them (it is true, of course, that these people wouldn't pay attention to Mylroie's theories or evidence, because, well they aren't insane or political hacks, which explains her resentment... but not why anyone else should take it seriously).

Anyway, the book is pretty embarrassing, and I wouldn't be surprised if most hawks politely cough and pretend that it wasn't published. Or will they? Check out the blurbs on the back cover: Jim Woolsey, Richard Perle, Danielle Pletka, and.... Christopher Hitchens (how are you enjoying life on the dark side, Hitch? Did you ever imagine that your journey would lead you to blurbing the ravings of Laurie Mylroie?). So, here are some interesting questions: do Jim Woolsey, Richard Perle, Danielle Pletka, and Christopher Hitchens all agree that Osama bin Laden was not responsible for 9/11? Does Paul Wolfowitz share that belief? Will they make this argument in public, denounce those who have foolishly supported a war in Afghanistan and a wider war against terror, and apologize to all those (formerly considered to be) wacky French conspiracy theorists? What does this mean for their arguments about "Islamofascism" (Hitch) and a fourth world war gainst Islamism (Woolsey) - seeing as how Saddam was no Islamist, and now he's out of power?

I think Ruben Bolling has been reading too many blogs.

Congress did a good thing by refusing to vote to confirm Daniel Pipes as a USIP fellow - a show of good sense which should never have been needed.

The Washington Post points out that Iraqi scientists still seem to be unanimously saying that Iraq had not restarted its nuclear weapons program.

Jim Wolfensohn at the World Bank says that Iraq needs a legitimate government before he can loan them money, and they don't have one yet.

The Christian Science Monitor interviews Hassan Nasrallah of Hizballah, who claims that his movement might disarm if genuine peace is achieved. Fascinating interview, well worth reading. By the way, I still haven't seen any major media follow-up on the Monitor story about al-Zawahari being held in Iran. Seriously, what is up with that?

Paul Bremer says that he can easily see elections within the year and his job ending by 2004 (wow, just in time for the election campaign - how convenient is that?); the AP article notes dryly that he may be overoptimistic about the prospects of a quick constitutional consensus, given that it took the Council of Bremer two weeks to come up with a terrible compromise non-solution about a president.

Eric Boehlert has a great story on the question of "are we safer now?" (Hint - no.) It's worth sitting through the silly Sprint commercial to read it, because then you can also see that Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon.

And there's lots of other stuff I'm sure.

Plus I've received a surprising amount of email about the David Rieff sanctions article. I hope to talk about that in more detail soon, maybe even today, but can't promise anything.

Because, my friends, today will likely be a slow day for readers of the aardvark, and a great day for baby aardvark cubs!

Wednesday, July 30, 2003
For a thoughtful debate about Iraq between two people who know what they are talking about, don't miss Juan Cole and Helena Cobban, having a little dialogue about Cole's hope that the US "succeeds" in Iraq. Cole posted a couple of days ago about his frustrations with the American administration to this point and his hope that it would turn things around; Cobban posted a series of probing questions about just what he meant by "success"; and today Cole provides a lengthy and thoughtful response. Actual respectful, rational debate about real issues by informed, experienced analysts... what a pleasant change from the usual blog v blog pyrotechnics, which I more or less completely ignore these days.

Update - Agence France Presse picks up the story of Iran apparently holding Ayman al-Zawahiri in custory. But it still doesn't seem to have cracked the American media. Have I (and Yahoo and google news searches) just missed it?

The Council of Bremer is not off to a good start. After days and days of hard-knuckled negotiating, the 25 members finally agreed on a "president." Their solution? Nine different members would each be president for a month. Hey, here's an idea - why not have each member be president for one day a month, and they could have their kids come visit on that day to get their pictures taken on the big throne? No, seriously, this was a resolution which failed to resolve any of the underlying issues, and will guarantee ongoing divisions and jockeying for power inside the Council for the next, well, nine months.

Equally disturbing is the composition of the nine member rotating "presidency" - almost all exiles, with the "insiders" appointed to the Council virtually shut out. Here are the members: Ahmad Chalabi (INC), Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim (SCIRI), Jalal Talabani ( PUK), Massoud Barzani (KDP), Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Dawa),
Iyad Allaw (INA), Mohsen Abdel-Hamid ( Iraqi Islamic Party), Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum (Shiite; highly respected cleric), Adnan Pachachi (foreign minister in government ousted in the 1968 Baath Party coup). The exiles dominance of the intra-council skirmishes shouldn't be surprising - the exiles have a decade of experience with this kind of infighting and jockeying for power, both within the INC framework and outside of it. Chalabi's one talent has been for exactly this kind of infighting, leveraging his Washington connections into influence within these little groups of self-proclaimed leaders. That's great for this sort of thing, not so great for running a country, managing a painful political transition, establishing independent legitimacy, or competing in democratic elections.

Here's how the Post describes it: " Officials with the U.S.-led occupation authority refused to comment on the council's selection of leaders. Earlier this summer, the U.S. civil administrator here, L. Paul Bremer, called the exiles unrepresentative of the Iraqi population and said he supported giving non-exiles a greater role in the interim administration. But several of the exile groups lobbied hard, both in Baghdad and in Washington, to play a central role in the council, arguing that their support for the U.S.-led war should be rewarded by the Bush administration." Got that? They "lobbied hard in Washington" that they should be "rewarded by the Bush administration." This is not the stuff of which new democracies are made. I can see Bremer's problem here - if he intervenes to get a more reasonable and useful result, then everyone complains about American micromanagement of the supposedly independent council; if he doesn't, the exiles play their little games and end up hamstringing the council. Of course, if he hadn't created the council in this way in the first place, and hadn't put exiles without a domestic constituency like Chalabi and Allawi on it, then he wouldn't be having these problems.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Once more on the publishing pictures of Qusay and Uday issue: Al-Jazeera just published the results of one of its internet polls. With 71,304 respondents, 67.6% opposed the American decision to release the pictures and 29.4% supported it.

More on the developing tussle between the US and al-Jazeera. According to reports out of Qatar, "Nawfal Al-Shahwani, a reporter of the Arabic Al-Jazeera TV channel, was held by US forces Sunday for filming a civil Iraqi car coming under the heavy fire of a US patrol. The reporter was taken to hospital after going on a hunger strike." The story also reports that "The Arabic 'Al-Jazeera' TV channel Monday refuted the accusations made by the US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz that the broadcaster was 'running false reports,' saying that it stands by its reports and accuses US officials of being misinformed. 'In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Wolfowitz said that, ''Al Jazeera ran a totally false report that American troops had gone and detained one of the key imams in the holy city of Najaf, Muktad Al Sadr (sic). It was a false report, but they were out broadcasting it instantly,'' Al-Jazeerah recalled in its statement faxed to the Qatar News Agency (QNA) on Monday. 'Al Jazeera never stated at any time that Muqtada As-Sadr was detained. Our correspondent Yasser Abu Hilala, a reporter with thirteen years experience reporting in the Middle East, stated he had received phone calls from Muqtada Al-Sadr's secretary and two of his top deputies saying, the US forces surrounded the imam's house after he called for the formation of an Islamic army. The phone calls were not only made to our offices but to all the offices of Al-Sadr's followers in Baghdad trigerring a massive demonstration in front of the republican palace within 45 minutes, which we reported, along with the New York Times, CNN and a host of others. When Mr. Abu Hilala attempted to contact the US military's public information center they did not even know about the demonstration going on in their own backyard, let alone what was happening in Najaf. When the US military finally got around to denying the encirclement of Al Sadr's home over 24 hours later, we duly reported it,' the statement said. 'Al Jazeera is accused of making outrageous and irresponsible statements we never made at all. We attribute the incredibly poor understanding and chronic misrepresentation of our reporting to the fact that almost no one actually watches Al Jazeera because they do not understand classical Arabic therefore they rely on information from 2nd, 3rd and 4th hand sources - half truths and total falsehoods about our reporting then make the rounds in Washington, Baghdad and elsewhere. In the past month alone, Al Jazeera's offices and staff in Iraq have been subject to strafing by gunfire, death threats, confiscation of news material, and multiple detentions and arrests, all carried out by US soldiers who have never actually watched Al Jazeera but only heard about it,' the broadcaster explained. 'We can say that the mischaracterizations of our reporting made by Mr. Wolfowitz and others are a form of incitement to violence against Al-Jazeera, the first Arab television channel to practise professional Western-style journalism free of the government censorship that is very common in the rest of the Middle East,' the broadcaster said. 'Clearly, Mr. Wolfowitz was not informed of the difference between the (Arabic) word 'hisar' - (embargo or encirclement) and ''mu'taqal'' - (detained), and this misunderstanding resulted in the accusation of fabrication. Al Jazeera requests a retraction of this statement by the deputy secretary, and an apology,' the statement said. In its statement faxed to QNA, the broadcaster also refuted as untrue the accusations of biased reporting made by the US Deputy Secretary of Defense, pointing out that its reporters have been subject to various sorts of pressure, including death threats, physical harassment and expulsion because they dared to tell the truth. It finally invited US officials and the media to visit its website on the Internet to review Abu Hilala's report on 19 July and decide for themselves the objectivity of his reporting."

The wisdom of antagonizing the news station which is the single most important source of news and opinion for the Arabs that the US hopes to win over to its side frankly escapes me. I took them up on their offer and checked out Abu Hilala's report, and it does say what they says it does. (full disclosure - I actually know Yasser Abu Hilala a little, though I haven't seen him in about a decade, and he's a nice guy and very serious - good for him getting a gig on al-Jazeera!) On the other hand, to be fair, the story could easily have been misinterpreted, given the chaotic situation and the readiness of most Arabs to believe the worst about the American occupation. But these misinterpretations don't just happen - they are almost predestined given the incredible weakness of American efforts at public diplomacy in the Arab world. Instead of making threats against the network, the administration should be trying to address its concerns - which are widely held throughout the region.

Tony Cordesman, the astoundingly prolific Middle East military guy at CSIS, has just released as assessment of the military aspects of the occupation of Iraq. He offers a long list of "avoidable problems" made by the occupation, some the result of inadequate numbers of troops, but more the result of conceptual failings. Overall, he emphasizes the failure to learn from earlier peacekeeping and post-conflict situations, which proved the importance of, for example, quickly introducing a trained police force into urban areas to prevent looting, unrest, and acts of revenge. Among the avoidable problems, he notes that "at least some US political leaders ignored warnings from intelligence, military, and regional experts that the coalition forces would not be greeted as liberators" (note 1 - Cordesman was one of those experts; note 2 - what is this "coalition" you speak of, senor?), and slams the Office of the Secretary of Defence for "staff[ing] its nation building effort as a largely closed group composed of members who had strong ideological beliefs but limited practical experience and serious area expertise." He bluntly says that the National Security Council failed in its mission, and failed to enforce interagency cooperation, which undermined the postwar planning process - particularly wasting State's Future of Iraq Project. After the war, he is particularly scathing about the choice of headquarters for the occupation authorities; taking over a luxury suite in the center of Baghdad, he argues, replicates a classic American mistake, the "downtown palace" syndrome. There's more, much more, and it's worth the read.

Why is Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard apologizing for Saddam's regime? In his latest piece from liberated Iraq, Hayes tours the horrific Abu Ghirab prison. He notes the large number of executions there, citing them - correctly -as evidence of the brutality of Saddam's regime. But then he writes this: "The prison closed on October 10, 2002. Saddam Hussein issued a decree freeing nearly all of the common criminals--some 70,000 from Abu Ghirab alone--and some of his political prisoners. There are many things that might explain postwar looting and security problems. This is one of them. "Many of those prisoners were charged and imprisoned for very, very serious crimes," Irvine continues. "Especially in Baghdad, the military forces have been arresting people who were actually released here. So we believe that a high percentage of the people who were released are actually involved in criminality now in Baghdad.""

Does Hayes realize what he is saying here? In his eagerness to account for the chaos of occupied Iraq, he leaps at the idea of the released prisoners as the root cause of looting and criminality. But if that is true, if the prisoners there were violent criminals held for serious crimes (rather than political prisoners, for example), then it puts Saddam's executions in a very different light. Is Hayes saying that Saddam's executions were little more than a more accelerated version of George Bush's Texas-style death penalty? I've never heard the Weekly Standard object to the American death penalty before, so why would they object to an Iraqi death penalty for violent criminals held for serious crimes? I want to be clear here - I do think that the executions were a horrible violation of human rights and were one of many, many horrific aspects of Saddam's regime. But in his eagerness to exculpate the current occupation, Hayes is unwittingly venturing into some pretty shaky territory here, in effect justifying those very executions. But I'm sure that's not what he meant.

Monday, July 28, 2003
The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that Iran is holding a number of senior al-Qaeda figures - including not only Sulaiman Abu Gheith and Saad bin Laden, but also Ayman al-Zawahiri himself. If this is true, then this should be an enormous story - probably the biggest news in the war on terror since, well, Tora Bora maybe? So why isn't anyone else reporting it? I saw an AFP story, and a Reuters story, but that's all that is turning up on a news search. Does the major media doubt the truth of the story? Are they waiting to hear what the official Bush spin will be? Is it just too early in the news cycle to show up yet? Or is this just too complicated, that Iran is the one holding them? That Iran - member of the axis of evil, and the target of the impending popular revolution - might have done the United States the greatest possible service in the fight against al-Qaeda? Anyway, I'm sure that there is no media bias here, and that everyone will catch up by the time I read tomorrow morning's papers.

Middle East Quarterly publishes a genuinely odd article in its current issue. It's a kind of ritualized confession - well, actually, it's called "Confessions of an Anti-Sanctions Activist," so I guess it's more than "like" a confession. The author, Charles Brown, purports to be offering the inside story of the anti-sanctions movement, and lo and behold - it conforms with every stereotype and slander offered by the right wing. Ignorant of Iraq and Arab politics? Check. More concerned with being anti-American than with helping the Iraqi people? Check. The anti-sanctions movement played right into Saddam's hands? Check. Mysterious sources of funding? Check. Internally non-democratic? Check. Vaguely smelly, with funny hair and bad clothes? Check. The actual argument, to the extent that there is one, is a really odd one for someone to make - essentially, his point is that "I was really naive, stupid and ill-informed, and too lazy and self-righteous to learn any better, I did some stupid things, and now I'm really embarrassed. And everyone else should be too." There is little point in actually engaging with the content of the article, since it is so formulaic - it reads like a particularly stilted self-critique as the price of admission to a new group, which I suppose is exactly what it is. He failed to do any background reading about Iraq - and his intellectual laziness is somehow supposed to reflect badly on the anti-sanctions movement? He claims to have seen the light when he read Amatzia Baram's article on the sanctions in Middle East Journal. Well, I read that article too, and it was well done and honest... and still left it clear that the sanctions had contributed to horrifying suffering inside of Iraq. Why that article would have shaken his tender faith, I'm not sure. Personally, I hold no brief for Voices in the Wilderness - but that group is only one of many which protested the sanctions. Trying to accuse the British group CASI of ignorance of Iraqi society or ignoring the nature of Saddam's regime is just silly, though - go to their website and see for yourself. Anyway, it's an odd and embarrassing performance, kind of sad. And I'm sure that it will be quoted and cited by the usual suspects eager to discredit the anti-sanctions movement (still!), regardless of its actual content. For an actual, serious engagement with the questions raised by the sanctions, go read the David Rieff piece in the Times Magazine - as with many things Rieff writes, I don't necessarily agree but I respect his tough-minded and honest approach to difficult foreign policy issues.

The always touchy relationship between the US and the Arab media seems to be taking (another) turn for the worse. Al-Quds al-Arabi leads today with an angry story about Paul Wolfowitz "threatening" the Arab media (especially al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya) for false reporting and incitement against American forces, and for supporting Saddam when he was in power. The paper reports that he issued warnings to the states which fund or host those stations. This is not what I meant when I suggested that the US should be dealing more positively and regularly with popular Arab media.... The really funny thing is that Wolfowitz said these things while appearing on Fox - a station which really is guilty of many of the things that he accuses al-Jazeera of (blatant political bias in its reporting, too close a relationship to a single political party, pandering to raw nationalism) -- really quite the mirror imaging going on here.

Sorry - still really busy.. might be able to blog this afternoon, might not.

A few quick notes - it looks from press reports like displaying the Qusay and Uday bodies has not really persuaded anyone, but has infuriated a lot of people. Yup. No more aardvark comment.

Japan's decision to send troops to Iraq is interesting - highly unpopular in Japan, not enough troops to make much difference (1000, which have to be kept out of harms way out of fear of inflaming Japanese public opinion), but a real contrast to the India decision. While an interest in pleasing the US is obviously important, my sense is that this is more about Japan's ongoing rethinking of its security posture, one which has grown more intense over the last few years. The question is this: should Japan be a "normal" great power, with commensurate military capabilities? Or should it hold onto its post-World War II identity as a peaceful power? For a great overview of these debates, I recommend Peter Katzenstein's co-authored piece in the journal International Security a year or two ago (sorry, no link).

Hopefully more later.

Sunday, July 27, 2003
I'm not really here - it's an illusion - but wanted to be sure to draw attention to David Rieff's discussion of the sanctions on Iraq.