Abu Aardvark

The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?

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Why shouldn't (America) be exempt from some wacky international treaty on women or aardvarks? - Jonah Goldberg, July 26, 2002

The aardvark appears to be the ancestor of all mammals, including humans. - the BBC

I discovered your blog after you attacked me in it, and I enjoy it. Don't agree with hardly any of it, but it's well-written and witty- Martin Kramer

Aardvarks are solitary, industrious, sarcastic, eat termites, graduated from Duke, and watch Buffy obsessively - Encyclopedia Brittanica

My vacation totally sucked, until I met the cutest aardvark. Man, I wish I knew who that aardvark really was! - Eliza Dushku

Nobody likes a wise-guy aardvark. Why do you have to be such an annoying, objectively pro-statue, aardvark? - anonymous reader who sounds a lot like Dave Sim

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Friday, September 05, 2003
Let's give a nice welcome to a new blog from Rodger Payne, an international relations theorist who has done some really interesting work on persuasion, framing, and international deliberation.

At the APSA conference panel on Iraq, Greg Gause asked a great question about the relationship between federalism and the question of oil. His basic point was that any federal solution would have to come to grips with the core question of who gets control of - and the revenues from - Kirkuk. On that point, here is an interesting quote from Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum , the new Iraqi oil minister, in an interview with the Financial Times:

"Q: Will you try to influence where the borders are drawn in a federal Iraq? Should Kirkuk be included in a Kurdish zone?

"A: I'm the person who looks at the whole of Iraq as one unit without any differentiating between Arab and Kurds, Sunni and Shia, and Christians. Iraq's future will depend on remaining united. We have to save for Iraq regardless of whether you are from the south or the north.The majority of the reserves of the oil are in the south, but does that mean they belong to the south? They belong to Iraq whether in the north or the south. We need to preserve such unity by preserving all Iraqi properties with the principle that these properties need to be managed for the benefit of the Iraqis."

It's been frustrating lately, blogwise, because there is so much happening that deserves comment, but there is so little time.

If I did have time, I would certainly comment on the escalating costs and personnel demands of the occupation, which seem to be approaching exactly those predicted by war critics ahead of time. I would also comment on the growing anger of the uniformed military over Rumsfeld and company's incompetence, and certainly on the release of the pre-war planning document which seems to suggest that Bush authorized war at the end of August, well before UN talks commenced (just as war critics claimed at the time).

If I did have time, I would certainly comment on the continuing inefficiency and inadequacy of the Council of Bremer, whose appointment of a cabinet - at last! - has been met with a resounding yawn and collective blank stare on the part of Iraqis and the wider Arab public, near as I can tell.

If I did have time, I would certainly comment on the evolving impact of the Hakim assassination. Actually, I will be commenting on this soon, time or no time.

Same goes for the negotiations at the UN. Germany and France's rejection strikes me as an opening bid, not as a final position... but this only matters if the American position was an opening bid and not a final position. I think it was. For all the conservative fury being unleashed right now, the Bush team seems to finally understand that the American position in Iraq is untenable in the short, medium, and long-term, and that changes need to be made. But it is not at all clear to me that the Americans are prepared to offer enough to make it worth their while to come on board. The Bush team seems to have this idea that once the US finally deigns to go to the UN - without actually admitting that it is changing its approach - the rest of the world should just be so grateful that it will happily do anything, anything at all, to get along (there's an obvious analogy to unhealthy dating situations here that I'm not going to make). What I'm hearing out of the UN, which is supported by most of the reporting I've seen, is a strong sense that the Americans should be allowed to stew in their own juices for a while and to suffer for the way they treated the rest of the world over the last year. Petty, sure, but ask yourself how the Bush team would likely behave were the positions reversed. Wow, that wasn't a pretty thought-picture now, was it?

Same goes for the evolving dialogue among Arabs and Iraqis about the relationship between the Arab world and the new Iraq - fascinating arguments, and not a few polemics, which is something I will be getting into soon... again, time willing.

Have to get back to work now, though, so all of those comments will have to wait. Thanks for bearing with me.

In the meantime, I was struck by David Ingatius's piece today based on a conversation with Lebanese political scientist (and chief political adviser to the ill-fated UN mission in Baghdad) Ghassan Salame. Salame is deeply alarmed by what he (like the aardvark) considers a dangerously ethnic approach to Iraqi political life which risks recreating the instabilities which tore Lebanon apart. He advocates a rapid move to genuine Iraqi sovereignty, including a real government and real control over the budget, rather than moving from a US occupation to a UN trusteeship. Working with the ethnic groups and tribes is the cheap and expedient approach, but lays the groundwork for entirely the wrong kind of Iraq.

P.S. it's possible - not conclusive yet, but possible - that Dr. Ferber is not so evil after all.

Thursday, September 04, 2003
Dr. Ferber is an evil, evil man.

Know what I mean?

Too busy to do much so far today, but Juan Cole reads al-Zaman before I do each morning (doesn't he have any classes to teach?), and reports this important bit:

"The ex-Muslim Brotherhood Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose legal rulings or fatwas on the World Wide Web are enormously popular, said yesterday in Cairo that the American-appointed Interim Governing Council in Iraq is totally without legitimacy or validity. At a news conference in Cairo, it was also revealed that jurisprudents at al-Azhar Seminary, the most prestigious in the Sunni Muslim world, have been under enormous pressure from Egypt's secret police to calling for non-cooperation with the IGC and to rescind earlier fatwas to that effect. The US can pressure Hosni Mubarak's regime to twist people's arms, but the fact is that public opinion in the Arab world and probably in Iraq simply does not recognize the American-appointed IGC as legitimate. Only when there is an elected Iraqi government will there be hope for a change of opinion."

This matters in all kinds of ways, none of which I have time to get into right now.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Gamil Mattar, in the English language Al-Ahram weekly, has an acid retort to a "dialogue" visit arranged by Ed Djerejian's new public diplomacy team. Here's the punchline: "The discussions that took place between the visiting delegation and Arab interlocutors were quite amazing. But what I found particularly galling was that the US delegation asked the Arabs to refrain from broaching political matters and focus on "other" matters that generate hatred to the US in this region."

This, once again, captures in a nutshell what is wrong with American approaches to the Arab world. Like the Ajami essay I discussed yesterday, like Hi Mag and Radio Sawa, this rejection of any political explanation for Arab anger blinds and cripples American efforts to deal effectively with the Arab world. By refusing to countenance the idea that Arab anger is driven by politics, not culture, the American approach guarantees its own failure. It's like a doctor who insists on treating a patient for a heart attack even though he is really suffering from cancer - it really doesn't matter how skilled the doctor is if he refuses to make an accurate diagnosis.

Mattar, a veteran Arab foreign policy analyst, offers a long list of recent actions taken by the US which anger Arabs - including its one-sided approach to the 'road map,' its freezing of Egyptian assets which it deemed as linked to terrorists, the appointment of Daniel Pipes to the USIP over Muslim-American objections - and relates the incredulity Arabs feel at these seemingly calculated snubs, and the even greater incredulity they feel at the American inability to understand the anger they provoke.

I'm glad that the Bush administration has finally admitted that it needs the UN. This is long overdue, and driven by need (for additional troops, for a successful donors conference, for political cover, a way to avoid that $19 billion annual bill), not principle, but it's about time. It's amusing to see that the statements about the usefulness and political importance of the UN now coming out of the administration, or at least out of the news coverage and analysis of the administration, could have been written by the aardvark himself. The good folks over at the Weekly Standard must be squaking something fierce this morning.

But this is only going to work if the US is willing to give the UN a real role and to actually talk about the issues which alienated the UN the first, second, and third times round. Powell can't just go back and present the same damn resolution, like he did after the UN Baghdad bombing. Remember a lesson that we have all learned over the last year plus - just because Bush now wants something doesn't mean that he is willing to do what is necessary to get it.

While on the subject of Chris Toensing and MERIP, check out the editorial now on line for the new issue of Middle East Report. Amidst all the hawk bleating about the left, it's refreshing to see some maturity in the debate:

"The editors of Middle East Report opposed Bush’s war in Iraq. As is now obvious, the Bush administration willfully distorted the “threat” posed by Iraq’s still missing weapons of mass destruction beyond all resemblance to reality. The war was planned and marketed by people who care more about maintaining the global hegemony of the US and the regional hegemony of Israel than they do about the security of either country. There was an honest reason to support war—the plight of Iraqis under the rule of Saddam Hussein—but, as the policies of the post-war occupation show, these considerations were distinctly tertiary in the minds of the attack-Iraq caucus.

"Today, important as it is not to excuse the mendacious justifications for the war, and perilous as the security of post-Saddam Iraq continues to be, it is vital that discussion of Iraq not be reduced to the costs and burdens of the occupation upon the US. Lost amidst the posturing of presidential candidates are the problems that will stay with Iraq, “Saddam loyalists” or no Saddam loyalists. The long overdue end of sanctions has left enormous numbers of people, primarily among the Shi‘a and the Kurds, ironically enough, in a position of precarious dependency on food rations. Iraq’s dilapidated infrastructure requires massive investment, a project that will be hampered by an equally massive external debt. These challenges cannot be held hostage to political debates in Washington.

"Pentagon hawks and the State Department are united against sending more American troops or taking orders from commanders in blue helmets, and their resolve is unlikely to weaken. They should be held accountable for their rhetorical support for “empowering Iraqis.” One hopes against reason that Iraqis will henceforth be empowered on the basis of integrity and competence, rather than sectarian-ethnic identity or, worse, ideological litmus tests applied by either of the competing factions in Washington."

This strikes me as a sensible and honest approach to the issue, one which sincerely takes the welfare of the Iraqi people as its lodestone rather than polemics in Washington or the blogosphere. While many on the left will take issue with MERIP's willingness to move on past Bush's lies, I think that they are right to look honestly at the new reality. Bush and the neocons must be held accountable for their deceptions and their recklessness, no question about it, but that should be kept distinct from trying to figure out what is really best for the Iraqis. By focusing in on the current, real problems - including the move to sectarian representation, the massive need for investment, the dilapidated oil industry and external debt - MERIP does a real service, one which could become the foundation for a serious rather than a polemical debate over Iraq's future (if anyone really wanted one).

Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report, has an entertaining musing on Hi! Magazine, the latest glorious entry in American public diplomacy to the Arab world. I wrote about this a few weeks ago - it's a glossy magazine aimed at teenagers, with stories on Tony Shalhoub and the emergence of Arabic music into the American pop scene and things like that. No politics at all, just an attempt to spread American culture. And as I wrote before, Hi!- like Radio Sawa - rests yet again on a more spectacular misreading of America's problem in the region. It bypasses politics - which really is the source of most current Arab and Muslim anger at the US - in favor of culture - which is not. It refuses to directly engage with Arab ideas, minds, or arguments in favor of a "stealth" approach, gradually seducing them to a pro-American position without their ever even knowing it.

But enough of me, here's Toensing:

"The magazine's willfully ingenuous tone and mostly fluffy content make it tempting to dismiss. Do the editors really imagine the average Egyptian will spend five pounds to read about sand-boarding when he could buy good American cigarettes instead? But the magazine is not simply mindless happy talk. The subtext beneath the smiling surface is why, should the magazine find an Arab readership at all, Arabs are unlikely to subscribe.

"No one has explained the periodical's subtext better than Christopher Ross, the State Department's special adviser on public diplomacy, who presumably helped Hi off the drawing board and onto Arab newsstands. Ross, a former ambassador to Algeria and Syria, famously appeared on al-Jazeera recently to defend US Middle East policy, speaking in Arabic. He told the Washington Post that the magazine "is 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." The editors of Hi are speaking to an audience that, in their minds, is not yet mature.

"Ross has unscrambled the inner voice of Hi: it is that of an adult setting the ground rules for an adolescent. By all means, let's explore Arab feelings about yoga. We really want your feedback on the status of racial minorities in your country, even if you're a Palestinian born in Israel, like our featured oud player Simon Shaheen. Why have a dialogue on such issues as US Middle East policy, which, after all, is not up for discussion? We've had plenty of dialogue with Arabs about the subject, anyway. Learn to accept what you cannot change...and while you're at it, quit smoking.

"Perhaps only the State Department, its sensitivities warped by years of defending an indefensible set of policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, could have conceived of a magazine so purportedly apolitical, and yet whose message is so essentially political."

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Today's must read: Charles Kurzman's article, "Pro-U.S. Fatwas," in the new issue of Middle East Policy (10, no.3, fall 2003). Kurzman begins by taking on Paul Wolfowitz's claim, based on an op-ed written by Amir Taheri, back in April that the Ayatollah Ali Sistani had issued "the first pro-U.S. fatwa in modern political Islam." Kurzman shows, first, that Sistani probably did not issue this alleged fatwa; second, that identifying Sistani with modern political Islam is rather odd given his famous political disengagement; and third, that there is in fact a long history of pro-American fatwas. This last point is particularly important, as Kurzman correctly points out, because Taheri's claim seemed to suggest that American military power had compelled such a unique fatwa. But this claim is wrong, clearly and blatantly wrong, where it matters. Above all, Taheri (and Wolfowitz) simply ignore a long tradition of liberal Islam, and a slew of vitally important interventions since September 11 by leading moderate Islamists.

Kurzman begins by recounting the story of Sistani's fatwa, pointing out that Sistani was in seclusion when the fatwa was publicized. No record independent of Taheri's claim exists, and Sistani himself signed a statement denying that he had issued such a fatwa, posted a similar disclaimer on his official website, and had his son repeat the denial.

Kurzman then recounts a long history of pro-US fatwas, including those by Saudi ulema backing the Gulf war; an al-Azhar fatwa backing the Camp David accords; the important fatwa by Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi after September 11 condemning the terrorist attack and declaring participation in the Afghanistan war permissible; a similar fatwa by Qaradawi and five other major moderate Islamists on September 27, 2001, on the same topic; other condemnations of 9/11 by Islamists in a wide range of countries (including Mohammed Fadlallah, spiritual guide of Hizbollah, Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, Shaykh Mohammed al-Tantawi, dean of al-Azhar in Egypt, and the chief mufti of Saudi Arabia). He also placees these fatwas in a longer tradition of liberal Islam.

This is a good article to have on hand next time you start hearing hawks spout off about the absence of such voices in the Muslim world. I don't think it's available online, unfortunately, but Kurzman will likely have it up on his personal homepage soon. He also provides a host of links to sources on liberal Islam.

Too busy to do much right now, but here's a really interesting comment from a reader about my post on Stephen Schwartz's attack on the new media coordinator in Iraq and his record in Bosnia and Kosovo. I don't know the reader's identity, but this strikes me as really solid analysis:

"I read your comment on the Schwartz article. You've made an accurate assessment. In my opinion, Schwartz dealt a low blow. His assessment of media development in the Balkans - or Haselock's involvement in it - is inaccurate and too personalized. For example, the Bosnian CRA is a progressive initiative and Haselock was behind this. Similarly, in Kosovo, he attempted to build the foundations of Independent regulatory mechanisms and licensing authorities. These are hardly revolutionary actions - The IBA and Radio Authority (UK) the FCC (US) all perform similar functions - managing the frequency spectrum, licensing etc..

"Those cases where more drastic action was taken, for example, when Serb Radio TV (SRT) transmission towers were seized by NATO were probably needed. SRT had become the propaganda wing of the ruling party. Similarly, in Muslim Bosnia, when their state radio and TV was 'restructured' by the international community it was a good thing. The people behind these stations were so blinded by years of war and hatred that they found it difficult to do anything but broadcast poison. In this connection, I can hardly imagine the 'big three' allowing ribbentrop to continue in his wartime position
following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

"In Iraq, I'm sure it will be much the same. I don't see anything particularly sinister in the appointment of a media commissioner to get to grips with restructuring the media and associated law, regulations, management and the like is necessary. In the absence of courts, media law etc. is there an alternative? I only hope that the objective of the commissioner will be to develop the laws and institutions to guarantee the freedom of the press. I'm sure the media freedom watchdogs that were involved in developing Haselock's
Iraq mandate
will be paying careful attention.

"Schwartz doesn't offer alternative solutions or propose his own course of action for developing the media in Iraq. His concluding sentence suggests it should be left to the courts and rely on good public security. The International community in Afghanistan did pretty much just that and distanced
themselves from involvement in media law / press freedom issues. What's the result? An Afghani judge put an Afghan journalist on death row a week or two back for insulting Islam. There seem to be a shortage of press freedom there. As for public security, there isn't any, so what's the solution in the meantime? Some places might be better off adopting a few 'western' media standards and practices."

No further aardvark comment - just food for thought.

Monday, September 01, 2003
Don't miss this very good piece by Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri about the Arab media. He's no particular fan of the satellite stations (he once dismissed them as "a whole lot more of the same vapid talk"), but he makes some serious points which back up the aardvark's arguments.

Here's Khouri: "It's not surprising that Wolfowitz and friends are seeking culprits to blame for the daily, often deadly, attacks. But from my vantage point inside the Arab media in a region plagued by occupations and ideological battlegrounds, Washington's "incitement" charges are childishly unconvincing.

"The accusations show just how different are the U.S. and Arab perceptions of the difficult situation in Iraq. But they probably reveal even more about the tortured mind-set of Wolfowitz and vintage American neocons who successfully launched America's war against Iraq but now find themselves flailing at enemy ghosts that torment and elude them. There is something pitiful about a person of Wolfowitz's stature, experience and power responding to the regular killings of young Americans in Iraq by lashing out against Arab satellite TV channels like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

"Are the charges accurate and fair? On the strength of having watched American television and these two Arab stations daily for the last year, I think not. The specific complaints against the Arab media include:

• Calling the U.S. presence in Iraq an occupation and labeling those who commit acts of violence in protest against it as the local armed resistance. (Almost all the non-Anglo-American world uses this same language because it is deemed factually accurate.)

• Airing strong anti-American sentiments on talk shows and interviews. (The Arab channels also routinely give the uncensored American official version every day and night.)

• Showing how American troops' and administrators' behavior in Iraq often humiliates and angers ordinary Iraqis. (This happens and is rarely shown on U.S. television.)

• Providing political narratives and testimonies that contradict the American portrayal of daily events in Iraq. (The Arab channels offer far more extensive and comprehensive coverage of the region and thus include a wider and more accurate range of views than do most American media.)

• Allowing many hosts and anchors to express anti-American biases. (These are regularly countered by the views of American and other guests.)

"At the technical level, the Arab media do exactly what the mainstream American media have done since March: They mirror and pander to the dominant emotional and political sentiments of their own public opinion, because they seek to maximize their market share of audience and advertising. In choosing, framing and scripting their stories, Arab and American television stations alike unabashedly and unapologetically cater to their respective audiences' sentiments: The flag-adorned U.S. media emotionally support the U.S. troops, and the Arab media are equally fervent in opposing America's occupation of Iraq.

"Like it or not, the media have become part of the arsenal of the political conflicts that define many aspects of U.S.-Arab relations. This is not incitement; this is digitized combat.

"But although the Arab channels clearly offer an alternative point of view, and although they — like millions throughout the world — have made it clear that they believe the U.S. occupation of Iraq is wrong and is creating a powerful, spontaneous resistance movement, they do not and have not supported the violence against Americans. The correspondents and anchors of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have not praised the attacks or called for them. They are not the enemy; they are simply the messengers."

Good stuff.

The forthcoming issue of Foreign Policy has as its cover story an odd, rather embarrassing screed from Fouad Ajami about the "hypocrisy of anti-Americanism." Once a subtle scholar and brilliant writer, Ajami has degenerated into a polemicist, fighting his own demons in public and telling American conservatives exactly what they want to hear about the rest of the world: it isn't your fault, it's theirs. Ajami's essay is absurd, as over the top in its way as was Newt Gingrich's in the last issue. Four paragraphs on Greece - Greece! Cartoonish caricatures of al-Jazeera, with some snide innuendos against Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the leading Sunni moderate Islamists and a star of al-Jazeera's broadcasts. A veritable parade of non-sequiters.

Ajami takes as his starting point this evidence of hypocrisy: Islamists attack America, but they resist deportation orders back to Arab countries, send their children to the US to be educated, have websites, model their television shows after American programs, and like to go to shopping malls. What is astonishing about this is that he resolutely refuses to see the obvious pattern in his own observations: most of the Islamic world does not, in fact, hate the US for what it is, it objects to specific American policies. Ajami refuses that interpretation, insisting that Muslims hate America for what it is, and then can only describe all the evidence he finds that Muslims quite like much about America as hypocrisy.

His lengthy dismissal of the Pew Global Attitudes survey boils down to two, somewhat contradictory assertions - first, that the wording of the surveys are misleading and exaggerate hostility to the US - "evidence" won't change his (Ajami's) mind about what he already knows about general support for the US; and second, that you can't blame the changes on Bush because Muslims and Arabs have hated America for many years. Ajami does not explore the obvious contradiction. He is more interested in dismissing anti-American sentiment as a kind of pathological irrationalism, one which no changes in American policy could affect.

I'm sure that Ajami's essay will prove quite popular. Poor logic and shoddy evidence have never stood in the way of a successful polemic, especially these days, and Ajami still writes well. But I do wonder what ever happened to the brilliant mind that produced The Arab Predicament back in the early 1980s - a stinging indictment of Arab political thought and practice which no student of the region could, or would want to, avoid. The Foreign Policy essay has none of the subtlety, none of the originality, and none of the importance; it's only real value is as a window into Ajami's personal struggles and internal identity conflicts, which might have been better left to a blog like this one!

Sunday, August 31, 2003
Back from the APSA, which was as fun as always (and you can read that however you like). Just one quick note about the only big Iraq panel at the conference. You might have expected the American Political Science Association to be chock full of Iraq panels, but you'd be mistaken. Other than isolated papers, and some larger "American foreign policy" roundtables, there was only one. And it was, to put it mildly, a disappointment.

Adeed Dawisha began with a baffling recitation of Bush administration talking points, to the effect that everything is going wonderfully in Iraq and the media is to blame for the negativism out there. It was an odd spectacle, seeing a smart and respected scholar, one of the few who really knows Iraq well, mouthing platitudes and sophistry - "Iraq has 25 million people, and only x number of deaths - that's great!" And this at almost the exact time that the car bomb in Najaf killed Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim. I heard one puzzled scholar ask, in all seriousness, "has Adeed started working for the Bush administration?" Dawisha's forced optimism is perhaps understandable in an Iraqi exile desperate to find hope in a terrible situation, and frustrated with the rapid swings in media coverage and public opinion. Even Dawisha admitted that the first two months had been a disaster, though he seemed curiously uninterested as to why Garner had been so ineffective... it was like a tornado, or a hurricane, or some other natural disaster; the role of, say, certain Iraqi exiles who's names rhyme (kind of) with Jolly Bee, in spreading false optimism about postwar Iraq never seemed to come up, except in one or two questions from the floor.

Then Karen Dawisha offered some comparisons from her impressive research on post-Soviet transitions. Like her husband, she insisted that things were going better than the media portrayed. She assumed that federalism would have to be part of the constitutional framework, which strikes me as unwarranted - a topic for another day. Most importantly, though, her comparisons of Iraq to the various post-Soviet cases didn't really seem to take account of the rather obvious point that none of those cases involved a war or foreign military occupation. Which seems to call into question the validity of the comparisons, social-science wise.

Three other people spoke after that before the mikes opened up to questions. Stephen Holmes talked about constitutions; he was interesting, but admitted up front that he really didn't know anything about Iraq. Mark Tessler then offered some thoughts on public opinion trends in Iraq and in the Arab world; most of what he said seemed right but uncontroversial ("the problem the US faces is that Arabs don't trust our intentions"). Finally, John Waterbury, down from the American University of Beirut, gave a quite good and typically sharp analysis, but seemed circumscribed in what he could say by his position.

And that was it for the APSA's headline response to the Iraq war. There was an interesting debate between the realist John Mearsheimer and necon Bill Kristol, which I unfortunately had to miss, so can't report on. But not much more.