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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Tuesday, August 05, 2003
One really, really last thing, and then... well, at this point I've got the credibility of a Condi Rice, but I really do mean it this time.

AARDVARK'S NOTE: I have deleted the text of a post here, because I felt that measures I had taken to ensure the anonymity of my correspondent weren't adequate.

Okay, okay - three quick hits before I leave:

The Arab League has decided to not recognize the Council of Bremer, and will leave Iraq's seat empty until it has a "legitimate government." Now, I actually agree with the skeptics here who call the Arab League a bunch of hypocrites, seeing as how none of those governments are democracies either. But this is significant, even if glaringly hypocritical, for two reasons. First, it denies what would have been a very helpful dose of legitimacy for the CoB, and makes it much less likely that there will be any Arab peacekeepers forthcoming any time soon. And second, this plays very well with Arab public opinion - and believe me, very few things that the Arab regimes or the Arab League do actually win much approval in that arena - and it reinforces what seems to be the emerging consensus about the CoB's shortcomings.

The lead editorial in al-Quds al-Arabi today is "The Arab satellites and the American challenge." It once again picks up the theme of American "terrorizing" and "repression" against the Arab media, and lambasts American hypocrisy on the whole free speech and democracy thing. It accuses the United States of attempting to cover up the reality of what is happening inside of occupied Iraq - "like any third world country, it does not want the truth to reach viewers or readers." It claims that the Arab stations (like al-Jazeera) are already practicing considerable self-censorship out of fear of American retaliation. It goes on at some length. I just want to point out again the incredibly short-sightedness of such policies towards the Arab media. If the US wants to be taken seriously in its calls for liberalization and free speech, it is going to have to be willing to accept criticism and meet it directly rather than try to suppress it. Arabs are not stupid, and these kinds of policies just reinforce already deep skepticism.

Second thing: they are saying that the Bush administration might withhold aid from Israel to force it to back down on the wall. Uh huh. And Eliza Dushku might be coming along on my vacation. Sorry, don't mean to be *quite* so skeptical, but really - I will believe that Bush will really withhold aid from Israel when I see it (and if this is being leaked for the benefit of Arab public opinion, well trust me - they too will believe it when they see it). (Oh, and I think Mrs. the aardvark has already made clear her opinion about the whole Eliza thing - sorry about that too, kinda!)

Anyway, this time I'm out of here for real. See you August 12.

And with that long and somewhat rambling post, I bid you all a happy, hot mid-August week. The aardvark is leaving for a much deserved vacation, and will return on August 12.

Good story in the New York Times about a subject dear to the aardvark's heart - the Arab media, this time inside of Iraq. The Times notes a major boom in the purchase of satellite dishes. The article notes something which the planners of the new American Arabic language satellite television station should take very much to heart: "Iraqis say they are mainly watching the Arabic language networks like Al Jazeera, though they have mixed opinions about whether they like what they see.... One outlet that does not appear to have won over most Iraqis is the occupying powers' own Iraqi Media Network, a $5 million-a-month effort. Many Iraqis complain that the network's televised programming is dull and repetitive. The network, which is managed by a Pentagon contractor, has been criticized by some of its own officials, who contend that its credibility has been hurt by meddling by occupation officials and a bare-bones budget. Its television director, Ahmad al-Rikaby, said he quit in protest last week over the network's limited resources. "You cannot make television if you do not spend money," he said an interview from London. Don North, a television producer who has just returned to the United States after serving as an adviser to the network, said he grew frustrated by orders to run programs that in his view were not sound journalism, as well as a slim budget. "Its role was envisioned to be an information conduit, and not just rubber-stamp flacking for the C.P.A.," Mr. North said, referring to the civilian authority. In response, a senior Iraqi Media Network official said that the network had been spending lots of money on new equipment to ease a shortage that he said was partly due to difficulties getting the staff to agree on what was needed. The official also acknowledged that new programming was needed, saying the network was working to develop some new shows quickly. Officials say that some form of propaganda was always part of the plan. "I would not deny that they are in many ways a mouthpiece for what the coalition has done," including the broadcasting of public service announcements, said Charles Heatley, a spokesman for the civilian authority here."

Credibility is a major problem, as is the innate skepticism of the audience about all sources, not just American ones: "The nascent Iraqi media offers evidence that a free market can thrive here. Yet it has also left Iraqis in Baghdad and in other cities overwhelmed by the choices and struggling to figure out which news sources are believable....Iraqis are known as voracious readers, but for 35 years they had little access to news — except for Saddam Hussein's version. As a result, Iraqis tend to be highly skeptical of newspapers and official pronouncements..... Mr. Rashid noted that many journalists now working for independent papers used to work for those sanctioned by the government. "Some of them are liars," he said. "They used to work for Saddam.".... The skepticism extends to the slick Arab satellite television networks, notably Qatar-based Al Jazeera. A common complaint from Iraqis is that Al Jazeera is too sympathetic to Mr. Hussein and too eager to inflame Arab conflicts with the United States." For more background on the emerging Iraqi press, check out Kathleen McCaul's article in Baghdad Bulletin, which similarly notes that "despite the popularity of these newspapers, many readers distrust them."

Add these together, and they should throw some cold water on the excitement about this new American satellite station. If it broadcasts news which is blatantly pro-American, it will be dismissed as propaganda. If it is dull and worthy, nobody will watch it. With its government funding, and with its programmers always looking over their shoulders at Congressional overseers, it is likely to lack the market-driven edge of its Arab satellite competitors. If I could give recommendations on this, I would urge Congress and Bush to drop the plans for an American satellite station and concentrate instead on pushing its views in the existing Arab media which people already watch. I would also urge them to be really sensitive to anything which looks like propaganda or press censorship in Iraq -- that's just the sort of thing Iraqis and Arabs expect, and it tends to confirm their worst beliefs.

And, to beat a now very dead and buried horse, spectacles like the Uday and Qusay gore-fest pictures have proven to be counterproductive. An Al-Ahram Weekly piece says that "the televised images of the corpses of Saddam's sons shocked and horrified many Egyptians." The author claims that "almost all those interviewed.. -- ranging from intellectuals to students, housewives, and taxi drivers -- expressed similar disgust at the release of images of the dead men." And Salam Pax quotes a friend of his that "People are boiling over because of the whole Uday/Qusai saga... I mean give me a break- something like 400 troops for 4 guys??? You'd think they'd want them alive with numbers like that! People are infuriated because of the whole commotion- planes flying, Apaches hovering and freaked-out troops shooting right and left (yes, they shot civilians). Then, on top of all that crap, they decide to show the pictures on tv to 'prove to the Iraqi people' the deaths of Uday and Qusai... Pleeeeease... those pictures were obviously Bush's war trophy. And could they have come at a more convenient time for the nitwit??? I think not..." (by the way, what a shame that his hitcount is way, way down ... partly because the end of the war slowed traffic to most warblogs, but also, I suspect, because his commentary these days - very skeptical towards and damning of the occupation - isn't quite as congenial to the Instas of the world as was his prewar commentary.)

At any rate, here's the upshot: any expert on Arab politics could have told the administration that this would be the reception. It was obvious in advance to anyone who really knows the region, but this administration's (and its ideological supporters) contempt for academic Middle East studies, and for so-called Arabists in the State Department and the CIA, regularly leads it to ignore the advice of those who know what they are talking about, in favor of the wishful thinking of ideologues... no matter how many times they are proven wrong. This is only one small example of a larger and more important point: the conservative myth that it is the pernicious influence of academic Middle East studies which keeps misleading American Middle East policy is almost exactly wrong. Indeed, the persistent attacks against Middle East studies by its critics can be said to have directly contributed to the current problems in Iraq. Many of the problems of postwar Iraq can be traced to the Bush administration's preference for ideologues with little real experience in the region over experts, whose advice and prewar planning might well have helped to avoid much of the current ongoing fiasco.

Monday, August 04, 2003
Hesiod over at Counterspin has laid out his case against those who now justify their support for the war exclusively on humanitarian grounds. Worth a look.

If it's true, as the Arab press is reporting, that it was Ayman al-Zawahiri's voice on the latest al-Qaeda tape, then that would seem to cast some doubt on the earlier story that Iran was holding Zahawiri in custody. So what's the truth here?

With apologies to Elton Beard...

Shorter Victor Hanson: Because some wars which were described as quagmires ended well, so will this one.

Wow, that didn't take long. Norm Geras, a British self-proclaimed Leftist and a fellow political scientist, started off his blog with a tedious, repetitive recitation of the left-hawk Hitchens line about the war - Saddam is really bad, I was shocked to see THE LEFT opposing the war which objectively supported Saddam, so I took the moral high ground and really showed them! - and, lo and behold, got a bunch of links from the usual suspects and started off with a bang. I read it - via one of those links - and said something like "yawn, here we go again. I'll bet this shows up in the Weekly Standard or NRO or the Wall Street Journal within a week." I didn't blog it even though I thought it - hard to believe, I know! - but I swear on the almighty Cerebus that I really did think it. And here we are, within the week, as the featured oped in the online Wall Street Journal... which can never get enough of repentant leftists whacking THE LEFT for its moral obtuseness. I'm delighted to see the right wing echo chamber smoothly hitting on all cylinders - and Geras must be very proud, as getting an article attacking THE LEFT into the Wall Street Journal is of course the leading career goal of every self-proclaimed Leftist.

Who let an aardvark infiltrator into the Weekly Standard? Max Boot, member in good standing of the dark side, sounds a lot like an aardvark here:

"The United States is finding itself short of soldiers and money as it tries to bring democracy and stability to Iraq. It has deployed nearly 150,000 soldiers, many of whom have been there since last year, and some are openly grumbling that they want to go home. But given the demands of deployments in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, South Korea and elsewhere, there are few if any replacement units available. There is also not much money available to cover reconstruction efforts that will most likely cost more than $100 billion. With the United States spending almost $4 billion a month on its Iraqi military operations, and with this year's budget deficit ballooning to more than $450 billion, neither the Bush administration nor Congress is eager to tap the Treasury for more reconstruction aid. Yet only $2.5 billion has been appropriated so far — a grossly inadequate amount given the desperate need to modernize basic services like electricity. The White House would love to get more help, financial and military, from our allies, but so far they are coming up with only a pittance. There are just 13,000 non-American soldiers in Iraq, most of them British. A Polish-led polyglot division of 9,000 more is set to arrive in September. But potential major contributors like Egypt, Germany, India, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey — to say nothing of France — have hinted they would help only if the occupation carried more of a United Nations imprimatur. Are they serious? Who knows? They may not want to get involved at any price as long as a nasty guerrilla war is going on. But there's no harm in testing their sincerity. If another United Nations resolution could reduce the strain on American forces and wallets, why not seek it? We have worked well with the United Nations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and many other places. Why not in Iraq?"

No further aardvark comment - let's hope that Team Bush will listen to good advice when it comes from his own side, even if he ignores it when it comes from less imperially pure sources.

Alexander Cockburn's attack on Rolf Ekeus in Counterpunch is really misguided, and is exactly the kind of thing which can make critics of the war look silly (speaking as such a critic, as you all know). Cockburn argues that Ekeus, "exuding disinterested integrity as only a Swede can," deserves a large share of the blame for the Iraq fiasco because during his six year tenure at UNSCOM, he "insisted that Saddam Hussein was surely pressing forward with the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. It was Ekeus who played a pivotal role in justifying the continued imposition of sanctions, on the grounds that these sanctions were essential as a means of applying pressure to the tyrant in Baghdad." Cockburn claims that "In fact Ekeus was perfectly well aware from the mid-l990s on that Saddam Ussein had no such weapons of mass destruction. They had all been destroyed years earlier, after the first Gulf war. Ekeus learned this on the night of August 22, l995, in Amman, from the lips of General Hussein Kamel, who had just defected from Iraq, along with some of his senior military aides. Kamel was Saddam's son-in-law and had been in overall charge of all programs for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems..... Did Ekeus immediately proclaim victory, and suggest that sanctions could be abated? As we have seen, he did not."

Cockburn's essential point is to blast Ekeus for insisting on the facts of Saddam's weapons program despite all the harm caused by the sanctions - the implication being that Ekeus should have declared Iraq free of WMD because it would be a good thing to do, rather than it being the truth. But this is exactly wrong, it seems to me. What made Ekeus effective was precisely his overt commitment to UNSCOM's mandate, which led him into several confrontations with the Clinton administration over the years - in sharp contrast with Richard Butler, whose open alignment with Washington cost him (and UNSCOM) much of its credibility. Ekeus's job was not to find ways to lift the sanctions, it was to find evidence of Iraqi WMD programs. Cockburn's blithe "of course he knew" assertion is simply ludicrous. Whatever the truth about Iraqi WMD programs - and we still don't know - there is absolutely no question - none - that Iraq maintained a vigorous, brutal, and effective concealment operation aimed at deceiving, bullying, and misleading UNSCOM. The testimony of dozens of former inspectors makes this absolutely clear (antiwar hero Scott Ritter's main innovation at UNSCOM was to concentrate on breaking precisely this concealment operation, which would then lead UNSCOM to the weapons). Anyone who really cares about these issues should go read James Sutterlin's oral history of the UNSCOM experience, Defanging the Viper. So Cockburn's charge that Ekeus knew that Iraq had no WMD and lied about it to keep the sanctions in place is just absurd. Ekeus knew no such thing, and his years of experience with the Iraqi regime would have to make him deeply skeptical of any such claim - even made by Hussein Kamel. At a minimum, a professional like Ekeus would insist on proof of Kamel's claims - as would the Security Council, and the United States.

It is true, I think, that the Clinton administration did roughly fit Cockburn's profile - it wanted UNSCOM to find reasons to maintain the sanctions, and took a tough line towards any Iraqi disclosures. But unlike Butler, Ekeus refused to take American intelligence or claims at face value, and insisted on UNSCOM's neutrality. If Ekeus had allowed his moral qualms about the sanctions to lead him to distort or slant the inspections process, then he would have been as guilty of ends-means thinking as was the current Bush administration. If he had done so - without providing convincing evidence for his claims - then the United States would have forced him out of his job, the sanctions would have remained, and someone else (like Butler) would have taken over a crippled inspections process devoid of credibility. He could have resigned, as did several directors of the humanitarian program, but doing what Cockburn seems to want would have been a travesty. Let's try to keep our criticisms a bit more grounded, shall we?

Sunday, August 03, 2003
Mrs. Aardvark has never quite gotten the whole blogging thing - easy enough to understand, given Mr. Aardvark's constant complaints about overwork, tight deadlines, and general exhaustion. But, thanks to Jim at Rittenhouse, I've just discovered the blog that might change her mind - Jennifer Weiner, author of many books that Wife of the Aardvark has read and loves (the aardvark himself hasn't read them, but suspects that he is not the target audience) has a blog. And she has a baby, about 2 months younger than the aardvark's own cub, and writes about it a lot. So maybe this will finally turn this into a whole family blogging affair!

While on the subject of this whole Philadelphia blogging mafia, the aardvark is going to be in Philadelphia at the end of the month for a few days - any Philly bloggers (or readers) have any good restaurant or bar suggestions? And now, back to weekend isolation.