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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Recent Aardvark Comments On MEMRI
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A new cub, or why we blog

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Friday, August 15, 2003
I just realized that Tuesday will be the six month blogoversary of Abu Aardvark (2nd Edition). The Aardvark (1st edition) went for a few months last fall, never had a Sitemeter, and then took some time off. Abu Aardvark (2nd) relaunched February 19, with a Sitemeter this time. For some unknown reason, shortly after the relaunch AA got mentioned by a Washington Post as one of the better warblogs, alongside a bunch of far more widely read blogs, which was really cool. I really do appreciate all the emails that I've received (and hopefully responded to) over the last six months - I've often been surprised, sometimes very surprised, at who is reading. Thanks to everyone who has blogrolled AA - especially to Max at MaxSpeak and Jim at the Rittenhouse Review (who gave me some of my earliest links), to Eric Alterman for encouraging me to do the blog in the first place, and to recent linkers Body and Soul, BusyBusyBusy, and Juan Cole's Informed Comment (because I really love their blogs - with no disrespect or lack of love meant for anyone I didn't mention). And special thanks to a certain editor who took a flier on a genetically unique, and anonymous, African mammal.... someday that story will be told.

I'm always amazed that anyone reads this at all, but apparently a fair number of people do. Must be the Eliza Dushku jokes. I'm about 2000 unique visitors away from 15,000 for my half-year blogoversary, which may be small potatoes in the blogosphere (heck, that's probably what Atrios gets in a day), but it seems like a lot to me. I probably won't get to 15K by my blogoversary without another link from Atrios, especially since I don't blog on the weekends, but that's okay. Just happy to be here. And on that shamelessly self-referential note, I'm off to spend the weekend with the cub. See you Monday!

Very busy today, so no posting. I did want to just quickly mention a really interesting exchange which has taken place in al-Hayat over the last few days between two very sharp Arab public intellectuals, Raghida Dergham (columnist and New York correspondent for al-Hayat) and Saad al-Din Ibrahim (Egyptian human rights activist). Last week, Dergham wrote a critical piece about her experience at a workshop which brought together a bunch of Arab and American journalists to discuss the prospects for reform in the Arab world. In that piece, Dergham warned that any change forced from the outside would almost certainly fail. Meaningful reform had to come from within the Arab world itself, she argued, and Americans who thought that they could quickly redesign the Arab world were likely to be dangerously disappointed. On Wednesday, Ibrahim shot back with a series of pointed questions. If the Arabs have failed for thirty years to resolve any of their own problems, why expect them to do any better in the future? Why not use the power of the United States, focused for now on Arab regimes as a threat to its own security, to bring about what Arab reformers have long demanded anyway? Ibrahim also sharply criticized Arab intellectuals for succumbing to triple failings - failing to regularly critique their own societies, which he sees as the prime duty of any intellectual; focusing their energies on external enemies, real or imagined, rather than on internal problems; and too often turning into apologists for ruling regimes, or into defenders of the status quo. As Ibrahim witheringly writes, it is understandable - if not defensible - that Arab regimes resist change. But what could possibly excuse the same resistance to change from supposedly critical intellectuals? Today (Friday), Dergham responds by again insisting that change must come from within. She asks pointedly how positive initiatives can be expected from an extremist conservative American regime which has demonstrated its hostility to and contempt for Arabs repeatedly. While sympathizing with Ibrahim's frustration, she warns against giving in to the delusion that Arabs could ride the American tiger. At any rate, I haven't really done justice to their exchange, but I wanted to at least draw out some of its contours to show how some of these issues are being debated right now in the elite Arab media.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
Interesting piece heralding the performance of the Washington Post (news division, not editorial) in the Iraq war. Wouldn't mention it except for this paragraph: "The Post also had a secret weapon, a previously unheralded reporter named Anthony Shadid, an Arabic speaker recently hired from The Boston Globe. In Baghdad from the war's start, Shadid filed a long string of gracefully written, richly detailed stories that had jaws dropping all over the media business -- including some, I happen to know, at The Times. Conventional wisdom says he's a lock for a Pulitzer next year." Let's hope so - Shadid is a fabulous reporter, who would richly deserve the honor.

Robert Satloff has an interesting piece in the Weekly Standard about the failures of American public diplomacy in the Middle East. I find myself rather surprised to agree with much of what he has to say - we agree on the inadequacy of the Radio Sawa approach; we agree on the need to recognize that Arab elites are smart, savvy, and proud; we agree on the need for the US to be straightforward about its interests rather than trying to conceal them behind sweet talk; we agree that simply exerting power won't do the job.

On the other hand, I disagree on a great deal of the substantive content Satloff would endorse (he includes a few gratuitous cheap shots against an American official calling for 'forgiveness' in Lebanon, and an American radio station suggesting that pressuring Israel might help America's image in the region) - and I disagree emphatically with the idea that there is no need to change American policies. More fundamentally, I disagree with Satloff's portrayal of Arab politics, and of who the United States should and shouldn't be talking to. He dismisses US efforts on the internet, for example, because of the low rates of internet access in the Muslim world - but this misses the point that internet access is far higher among precisely the media and intellectual elites who are most likely to have influence over mass attitudes. Reach them, and you reach a far wider second-order audience through their position in the media, political and cultural arenas. Satloff says nothing about the existing Arab media, such as al-Jazeera and its competitors, but these are among the most important current sources of information and opinion shaping mass attitudes today - so isn't that where the US should be directing its attention?

I think that Satloff gets to a certain point - the need to seriously engage with Arab elites and to give up on some ineffective or misguided ideas - but then shies away from some of the implications of his own argument which he finds politically unpalatable. This part, for example is dead wrong: "Instead of investing money and effort to help millions of secular, liberal Muslims who fear the spread of Wahhabi radicalism, we spend our time searching under every rock for elusive "moderate Islamists." Incredible as it sounds, the U.S. government also spends tax dollars to subsidize study visits to the United States by radical Islamist journalists, to send outspoken critics of U.S. policy on speaking tours abroad, and to teach anti-American Islamist parliamentarians how to criticize pro-Western governments more effectively." Engaging with mainstream Islamists is one of the most important things the US should be doing on Satloff's own terms, I would think - they represent an influential and potentially sympathetic interlocutor. Satloff is blinded here by a refusal to entertain the possibility of moderate Islamists in favor of a less textured conception of an undifferentiated radical Islamist enemy. But if the US isn't willing to talk to moderate Islamists, despite their great weight in Arab societies and politics, then what incentive do they have to take American arguments or positions seriously, or to refrain from criticism?

The Times tells it straight: "Many of today's problems in Iraq can be traced to the Bush administration's tendency to credit what it wants to believe rather than more realistic accounts. It exaggerated the evidence on Iraqi unconventional weapons and links with Al Qaeda, underestimated the potential for chaos in a country that had endured years of war, sanctions and dictatorship, and misjudged the patience of the Iraqi people for putting up with postwar disruptions and an occupying army. All those delusions find uncanny echoes in the 100-day report. In the real world there have recently been some hopeful signs that administration policies are beginning to reflect a more sophisticated understanding of Iraq. Future White House reports should describe that world, not wishful fantasies."

Sounds about right. One would have hoped that the crashing down of reality around the neocon fantasy world would have restored some sanity, but these people, like all good ideologues, tenaciously hold on to their beliefs, discounting all contradictory evidence and endlessly finding justifications of how events really do confirm their theories.

On that front, the recent events heating up at the UN bear some attention (most of what I'm about to write comes out of a conversation I had with a journalist yesterday - today's Times story makes some of the analysis appear redundant, I guess, but you'll have to take my word that it was in fact prescient). The Bush administration was driven to the UN despite its intense ideological aversion out of real need - the skyrocketing costs that neither Iraqi oil nor the devastated American budget can meet (does anyone remember a few weeks ago, when Bremer begged Congress for more money and they said no?), the unwillingness of other states to send significant military contributions to the peacekeeping efforts, the shaky legitimacy of the Council of Bremer, escalating guerrilla warfare. My sense on the US activities at the UN was that Team Bush thought it might be useful to get a UN mandate, but it wasn't necessary or particularly urgent. I think that there's a widespread belief in Washington that other countries aren't serious when they say that they won't send troops without a UN mandate - that it's just a useful fiction to avoid sending troops, which they don't really want to do under any circumstances. A resolution can call their bluff, then, and might even shame a few of them into ponying up some troops. But this isn't worth making any real sacrifices, such as giving the UN any real authority inside of Iraq. On the other side, the key Security Council players are demanding a real UN resolution which will give the UN real authority, but aren't really willing to go to the mat and start another big international fight over it. So what seems likely is a weakly worded consensus document, a SC resolution which recognizes the existence of the Council of Bremer but doesn't confer any great legitimacy upon it. Today's Times story suggests that it will "welcome" but not "recognize" the Council, which fits this analysis. How much any of this matters will become more clear at the donor's conference, and in the response to expected American post-resolution requests to a bunch of countries to reconsider their refusals to send troops to Iraq. Don't be surprised if we end up with a resolution that the US claims grants the Council of Bremer real legitimacy, and exposes the hypocrisy of everyone else, while everyone else sees the resolution as falling short of the real UN authority that they demanded. In other words, the resolution won't really resolve anything.

Josh Marshall gets it exactly right in his comments today on David Kay's forthcoming September report. As the aardvark has consistently argued, the question has never been whether *any* WMD or WMD programs existed in Iraq - I've always assumed that they did. The question must be whether those programs constituted a threat which could not be met short of war. Marshall speculates that Kay might try what he calls a "1990s style intel dump" - an enormous load of documents, with a footnote mentioning that this all had gone defunct by 2002. He also worries that some critics of Bush have been complicit in defining the standard down - so giddy about the total failure to find any WMD that they will now allow Bush to get away with 'winning' by producing evidence of WMD programs which don't meet the real standard (threat). That would be a mistake.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
One last time on the Charles Brown "confessions of an anti-sanctions activist" article. A friend of Brown's has written several times in his defense, so here's my response:

"... But I'm happy to comment on your defense of Charles Brown (who I don't know, and don't know anything about other than what he wrote about himself in the MEQ article). He may well be an honest, smart, open-minded, thoughtful scholar - I really don't know. In the pocket of the Pipes cabal? No idea. My only interest in the matter is the article itself, which serves only one purpose as near as I can see: to discredit the anti-sanctions movement by offering up "insider's evidence" that every conservative attack and innuendo against the movement was correct. Again, I don't know if that was Brown's intention (though it is hard to see what other intention he might have had), but that was certainly the intention of the editors of MEQ. And it is already being used that way - I've seen it cited a half-dozen times as "proof" that the sanctions critics were naive, dupes, liars, or worse. And it's hard to plead ignorance about that. It is possible - again, I have no idea - that the editors "sexed up" the article to make it fit their agenda, but ultimately the author has to be accountable for his own piece.

You mention this disjuncture between the European and American left on the question of sanctions - I'm not sure that I fully agree with this. Certainly Halliday was hawkish on the question, but the anti-sanctions movement was far stronger in the UK than in the US, and French leftists were virtually unanimous in opposing the sanctions. I suspect that Brown's experience may have followed from this American/European split. The Brits, especially (such as Herring, and Colin Rowat and Glen Rangwala, among others), I have found to be smart, level-headed, analytical, and well-informed. Even the more hotheaded types in Voices UK did their homework - they just bear no relation to the caricatures presented in Brown's article. Now, it's conceivable that the Americans Brown experienced really were this more naive, ignorant, manipulable group - I don't know the Voices US group as well. At any rate, I appreciate that you want to stick up for your friend. But this doesn't change my mind about his 'confessions.'"

So sayeth the aardvark. Bored now.

So the word now is that Bush is planning to appoint Daniel Pipes to the USIP during the Senate recess. If so, this is an affront not only to Middle East scholars, not only to all Muslims, but to the very mission and mandate of the USIP. It hardly bears repeating the charges against Pipes, a radical extremist who has been agitating against Islam and against Muslims for many long years. Daniel Pipes is the functional equivalent of Osama bin Laden, a peddler of hate and divisiveness who openly aspires to create open conflict between Islam and the West. Pipes doesn't simply reject the possibility of co-existence between the West and Islam, he rejects its desirability. He has made a career of emphasizing the worst about Islam to American audiences, while attempting to intimidate and silence moderate voices on both sides. His contempt for the very possibility of peace renders him unfit for a position at the US Institute of Peace. If Bush does go ahead with this recess appointment - and there is still hope that he can be dissuaded - it will cripple one of the few avenues still open for promoting American-Islamic understanding. And it will stand as a stunning rebuke to all of Bush's lofty rhetoric about wanting to promote such relations. Let's hope that it doesn't happen.

Christopher Hitchens, perhaps desperate to purify his soul after the infamy of endorsing Laurie Mylroie's book, comes out against one of the warhorses of his new team, Daniel Pipes. He does so because he sees Pipes's extremism, as well as his intellectual style, as compromising what Hitchens sees as a necessary battle against Islamic extremism: "I believe that Islamic nihilism has to be combated with every weapon, intellectual and moral as well as military, which we possess or can acquire. ... Pipes, however, uses this consensus to take a position somewhat to the right of Ariel Sharon, concerning a matter (the Israel-Palestine dispute) that actually can be settled by negotiation. And he employs the fears and insecurities created by Islamic extremism to slander or misrepresent those who disagree with him. This makes him a poor if not useless ally in the wider battle." Hitchens, whose gift for twisting the knife has never been in doubt (as opposed to his political judgment or his consistency), gets this one exactly right: "The objection to Pipes is not, in any case, strictly a political one. It is an objection to a person who confuses scholarship with propaganda and who pursues petty vendettas with scant regard for objectivity." Yup.

The Times reports that : "In much the same way as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan stirred an earlier generation of young Muslims determined to fight the infidel, the American presence in Iraq is prompting a rising tide of Muslim militants to slip into the country to fight the foreign occupier, Iraqi officials and others say." While the administration will probably try to spin this as retroactive evidence of some kind of Saddam-al-Qaeda link, it is of course nothing of the sort. On the contrary - Iraq now becomes an opportunity for Islamists - not only recruitment, but training and networking and operational experience - which could easily metastasize in unpredictable ways, just as did the Afghan jihad. In the words of one expert, who suggested just this possibility a few weeks ago: "It would be more accurate, perhaps, to say that the American occupation of Iraq has presented Islamists with an opportunity.... It is even possible that Iraq could develop, in the next few years, into something comparable to Afghanistan in the 1980s -- a training ground for a new generation of Islamist radicals and a rallying point for Islamist ideologues."

Some other folks are spinning it as evidence in favor of the 'flypaper' thesis - the US really is drawing Islamists in to Iraq to fight them more effectively there. Once again, this is profoundly silly - it assumes a constant number of 'terrorists,' which makes little sense, and it infers intentions from outcomes, a basic logical error which an introductory social science methods course might help with. It also assumes, for no clear reason, that Iraq is a favorable battlefield for this showdown. At any rate, it does not bode well for the restoration of normality and order inside of Iraq - and against what worthies such as Josh Marshall, Martin Walker, and Michael O'Hanlon have been arguing, I'm not at all sure that just throwing more troops at the problem would solve it. The occupation of Iraq remains a fundamentally political problem, which will require a political solution, not just more policing or more military presence.

A couple of people have written to object to my dismissal of Charles Brown's "Confessions" (I think I described it as 'pathetic' and 'a bit sad,' and 'a particularly stilted self-critique as the price of admission to a new group, which I suppose is exactly what it is.'). The gist seems to be that there is more going on than meets the eye. Well, maybe, but I only see what meets the eye. Whatever Brown's intentions - I don't know him, and it's entirely possible that the Middle East Quarterly somehow editorially distorted what he wrote or something, in which case I look forward to his letter of protest - his 'Confession' is already being used, as expected, to again discredit the anti-sanctions movement. In response, I turn the floor over to Colin Rowat, one of the smartest and most level-headed of the anti-sanctions campaigners in the British group CASI, who posted this reply to one of these attacks on the CASI listserve (I post it here because it deserves a wider audience, without Rowat's express permission or encouragement, so comments should come to me, not to him):

"I apologise in advance that my summary and response is brief: much of this, as Gabriel notes, has been well covered over the years on this list, and these issues are occasionally thrown around like hand grenades - less to further understanding than to cause trouble; when this is the case, time spent in response is not necessarily well spent. The thrust of Charlie Brown's argument, as I understand it, is:
1. the Iraqi government sought to distort data on social conditions in Iraq under sanctions;
2. responsibility for suffering in Iraq was the sole fault of the Iraqi government, and attempts to argue otherwise offered the Iraqi government solace;
3. Voices in the Wilderness (US) entered into a tacit agreement with the Iraqi government not to criticise it, in return for which its members were allowed to visit Iraq;
4. Voices (US) was not interested in discussing the complexities of the situation in Iraq, or properly addressing issues such as those raised by Prof. Baram or Michael Rubin;
5. the Christian pacifist agenda of Voices (US) was partly responsible for its stance.

[Rowat goes on to respond:]

1. yes: the Iraqi government sought to distort data on social conditions in Iraq. Its Ministry of Health data, in particular, were based on non-transparent methodologies.
2. the first part of this claim is clearly incorrect. To argue that suffering in any country reflects a single cause is absurd; this holds in Iraq as well. Further, Iraq was subject to economic sanctions, which are imposed with the intent of inflicting economic harm, and therefore forcing political concessions. This is why the UN Charter includes them in Chapter VII, which deals with coercive measures. Was Saddam's dictatorship insufficiently responsive to Iraqi needs? Of course - only a small number of people argue otherwise. Indeed, this argument was addressed by the UK's International Development Select Committee report on the Future of Sanctions some years back: if one imposed sanctions on Iraq, knowing its leadership to be brutal, then one becomes somewhat responsible if that leadership does not take all possible steps to reduce suffering caused by those sanctions.

"The second part of the claim is more complicated: did anti-sanctions activists provide support for the Iraqi regime? This, of course, is what the regime wanted, and it sought to bend groups to its support. I remember the CASI committee receiving photos of horribly deformed Iraqi children from an Iraqi government source, with a request for support. The committee wisely steered well clear of this. My most uncomfortable experience in Iraq during my first visit was my one substantial meeting with an Iraqi official, who sought to convince me that chlorine was banned under sanctions, etc. Anti-sanctions groups clearly ranged in their responses to such pressure. Groups like CASI were very careful in their positions, not opposing the no-fly zones, military activity or military sanctions. CASI's stance may have been wrong - it certainly has been criticised. Even with this careful stance, did CASI end up helping the Iraqi government? Views around Iraq are sufficiently polarised that it's possible to find people who believe CASI to be a tool of the Saddam regime, and others who view it as one of MI5 or the CIA.

"The question is, however, only partly the right one: the omitted part is whether anti-sanctions groups also helped Iraqis, and whether that help outweighed whatever support Saddam might have derived from their work. The answer to the first part of this is almost certainly positive. During my last trip to Iraq, in May 2002, I was amazed to discover the number of Iraqis in the blocks around the Al-Fanar Hotel, where members of Voices (US) stayed in Baghdad, whose faces lit up when Kathy Kelly's name was mentioned. Other Iraqis, whom I knew socially through friends in the UK, told me how impressed they were by her living through a summer in Basra on OFF rations. Clearly, some 'ordinary Iraqis' drew moral support from the knowledge that they had not been abandoned by all Americans.

"Politically, it is harder to say what the consequences of lobbying were. It's certainly the case that the initial Security Council resolutions offered Iraq were brutal in the extreme; SCRs 706 and 712 have been analysed in various CASI documents. The original OFF resolution (986) was at least in part a response to growing concern at the horrible fall in living conditions in Iraq resulting from the halt to all official trade. The years immediately following this began to see more concerted pressure for improvements in the humanitarian aspects of the sanctions. This became particularly obvious when Madeleine Albright and other members of the Clinton administration were shown, in a 'town hall' meeting, not to be able to articulate a clear Iraq policy. SCR 1284 - an imperfect resolution, but an improvement - was a partial response to this pressure.

"What is the relative importance of these two half questions - supporting Saddam and helping Iraqis? I will not try to offer an answer to this, but do think that the balance implied by Albright in her famous claim that the deaths of a half million Iraqi children were 'worth the price', is very widely viewed as abhorrent.

3. I cannot comment on Voices' (US) tacit agreements, but would not be at all surprised if there was one of this sort. Nor do I regard this as extraordinary: political action necessarily involves compromise. The question, in all cases, is whether the compromises are acceptable. Again, this is a question to which there cannot be a clear answer. I would be uncomfortable if Voices (US) was actually consciously presenting arguments
that it knew to be false (a standard that the British and American governments seem to accept). Having not followed their work closely, I do not know if this is the case: it's certainly the case that I've been impressed over the years with the high evidential standard required by Voices UK. The charge of not focussing campaigns on Iraqi government human rights abuses seems to me a much lesser one: these are well attested to, widely known, and have long been the subject of intensive lobbying; groups expressing concerns about the humanitarian effects of the sanctions, however, were far fewer - in part because of the political effectiveness of the charge of being a supporter of Saddam.

4. again, I cannot comment on Voices' (US) internal conversations. I do know what these issues have been discussed over the years on the CASI discussion list in a vigourous fashion. Further, the staunchest opponents of the 'Iraqi government line' have often been members of Voices (UK) or CASI. I would direct list members to archival entries on the Halabja gassings, or the presentation of Iraqi government figures as UN figures.

5. finally, Voices' (US) work clearly reflected its Christian pacifist stance. Other opponents of non-military sanctions on Iraq had other stances. CASI list members will know that this list receives contributions from across the religious and political spectrum; Iranians have been active CASI committee members over the years, including as co-ordinator. Thus, Brown's remarks on the philosophy of Voices (US) should not be taken as applying to all groups.

"As a concluding comment, I was saddened when I first read Charlie's article: his experience has been very different than mine. During my involvement with CASI, I have met some of the finest people that I know: intelligent people committed to honesty, and courageous enough to face political attack when challenging their own governments on an extremely divisive issue. They have given up their own time and resources to do this, often hindering other aspects of their life. Sometimes they have made mistakes, whether through inexperience or failures of courage. These have been painful, but do not overshadow the pride that I feel to know them. Churchill said that the price of democracy is constant vigilance; I agree, and am glad to have seen this embodied in people that I have met through CASI over the years."

That's Rowat's response - keep in mind that Rowat was not affiliated with Voices (US), of course.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Before the aardvark and his family, including my beloved five month old cub, went off for vacation, an astonishing number of friends and correspondents assured me that traveling with a young infant would be a piece of cake - one might even say a "cakewalk." That the baby would just sleep the whole flight. That baby's ears could be kept pressure-free just by nursing. That I shouldn't worry so much. That a mild dose of children's tylenol would put the cub to sleep if there was any fussing. And that the whole thing would be a jolly adventure.

I now refer to these people as the neocons of baby advice. While clearly well-intentioned, and displaying absolute certainty - even moral conviction - about their advice, things went so totally, so accursedly awry, in such painfully predictable ways, that in the aftermath rational observers could only scratch their heads and wonder why anyone took them seriously. Don't worry, there was no serious damage - the cub is fine. The cub's parents, on the other hand, would probably have accepted an assignment to Baghdad (or Basra) by about 11:00 last night, just to get some peace and quiet!

So, how is this related to the neocons? Well, Iraq hawks promised that the war - necessary because of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda - would be short and easy, a cakewalk with few casualties, after which the Iraqi people would welcome American troops as liberators; with a brief transitional period, a pro-American government led by the Iraqi opposition in exile would lead Iraq smoothly into a democratic, capitalist, beacon of American light in the region. Few readers of the aardvark need to be reminded about how calamitously wrong these predictions turned out, or of the remarkable extent to which these predictions rested on ideology, outright deception, and naive best case assumptions.

And the baby neocons? Well, let's just say that the thoroughly exhausted cub didn't particularly want to sleep on the flight. Ear pressure was an issue, because the cub didn't want to nurse. Some amount of the screaming was drowned out by the unusually loud engines (which might have contributed to the non-sleeping....), but not enough. And the tylenol... well, it seemed to taste good, but didn't do much else. And then the drive home, in the rain, over miles and miles of highway under construction, as the cub screamed and screamed.... And I'm thinking, "cakewalk! cakewalk! where are the hugs and puppies?!?!?." (Or something like that.)

So next time baby neocons promise me that something which might seem to be daunting will really be easy and fun, full of hugs and puppies, I'm just gonna remember Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle, and keep my own counsel. And that goes for you, Mister Ferber!

Back from vacation... but bleary-eyed and exhausted and swamped with a week's worth of backlogged work. So can't promise much in the way of aardvark comment this morning. But the aardvark will return in due course, have no fear!

For now, just a quick comment on a couple of aardvark-friendly articles which appeared while I was away. The Washington Post catches up with the aardvark on the story of the new American public diplomacy effort - a glossy teen magazine called "Hi." You'll recall that the aardvark commented that such a magazine might be very nice, and if it's well done might even get some people to buy it (or at least read it for free, assuming that the Office of Public Diplomacy is smart enough to swamp cafes and fast food joints throughout the Arab world with free copies) - but it isn't going to have any real impact on political attitudes. The problem is not a generalized resentment of American culture based on a failure to understand the American way of life. Far from it. The problems are political, and opinion leaders are not going to be impressed by glossy pictures of Tony Shalhoub. I can't disagree with Christopher Ross on the need for "a long-term way to build a relationship with people who will be the future leaders of the Arab world...It's good to get them in a dialogue while their opinions are not fully formed on matters large and small"; but this doesn't strike me as a particularly good way to initiate such a dialogue. It follows in the tradition of Radio Sawa, an attempt to manipulate the attitudes of young Arabs without directly addressing their real concerns.

Oh, and the American TV station in Iraq stinks. According to the Times, "Iraqis do not watch it, having judged its programming to be repetitive and larded with official propaganda, not exactly what you would think Iraqis were hungry for after years of state TV under Saddam Hussein. One reason the coalition network is not creating much buzz in Baghdad is the constant and meddlesome oversight the coalition authority bureaucrats inflict on it." Since this is exactly what the aardvark has been warning against in post after post for the last couple of months, I'll let that verdict stand without further comment.