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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and the Pioneer Press!
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Saturday, September 13, 2003
I gave a public talk about Iraq a few days before the war commenced. During the question period, someone asked me why I wasn't convinced by the Bush administration's promises to rebuild Iraq. One of the points that I made was that at one level, Bush's intentions didn't matter much - it would become a matter of budgets and politics, and if it came down to a choice between paying for Iraqi medical care or Medicare, which program had the larger voting (and campaign contributing) constituency?
That came back to me today reading the New York Times story on the budget crunch: " Should Washington reconstruct Iraq's schools and hospitals, lawmakers are asking, or America's? Should it pay for more than 100,000 American troops to stay in Iraq, or for 40 million seniors to be offered prescription drugs through Medicare? And if it tries to do it all, should it keep cutting taxes?"
This is just to say that not only was Iraq's impact on the budget totally predictable, it was predicted. Not just by me, but by anyone with a halfway realistic assessment. The only way that this could not have been the case is if the neocons' fantastically optimistic scenarios had all come true - hugs and puppies, easy transition to a friendly and popular Chalabi, oil online quickly and able to pay for the occupation (and more), international contributions rushing in to bandwagon with a winner. Since none of these was likely over here in the real world, the current situation was the most likely scenario. So why wasn't it planned for? Well, everyone who tried seems to have lost their jobs, lost their bureaucratic battles, or lost their nerve.
Apparently I wasn't the only one unimpressed by Bush's big Iraq speech. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll registered a sudden drop from 59% approval rating before the speech to 52% after the speech, his lowest rating since September 10, 2001 (courtesy of Josh Marshall).
President Bush insisted today that he has a clear vision for Iraq, and everything is going according to plan (hey you in the back - stop laughing.) His vision, he says, is (yes I'm talking to you - see me after class, young aardvark) this: "We are following a clear strategy with three objectives: destroy the terrorists, enlist international support for a free Iraq and quickly transfer authority to the Iraqi people."
Clear vision... indeed. "Destroy the terrorists"... who didn't exist in Iraq before, and have been summoned into being by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and have multiplied and prospered in the face of American strategy.
"Enlist international support for a free Iraq." (I mean it, boy - stop that laughing right now.) Um, right. Really, it's hard to comment here, except to point out that at least this has been elevated to part two of a three part vision, which is a good thing. Never mind that American policy from day one of the move to invasion has been to act unilaterally, alienate anyone who might help, and prevent any international role in the occupation of Iraq. At least now the vision is clear.
"And quickly transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people." Which explains the creation of a puppet council allocated along ethnic lines, populated primarily with unrepresentative and unpopular exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Alawi, and given virtually no power or resources.
It really is almost Orwellian, in the distinctly non-Hitchensian sense. No weapons of mass destruction here, folks; instead we offer you flypaper and puppet democracy and.... the UN?
Ah yes, the Bush vision, clear and focused.
I've been alternately stunned and bemused at how Howard Dean is getting dragged across the rails for saying things about Israel that he didn't say, and that shouldn't be a big deal even if he did say them. Tack this on as one more toxic contribution of Joe Lieberman (R-CT) to the Democratic primary - if you can't win because nobody in your party supports any of your positions, start throwing mud hard and fast so that you take everyone else down with you.
Two instances really struck me, since I've heard them repeated in their out of context/slanderous form by anti-Dean or anti-Dem friends over the last few days. First, Dean says that the United States shouldn't take sides in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This has been American policy for decades, certainly under the Clinton administration, and is the very core of the American role as so-called "honest broker" in the peace negotiations. Now, you could criticize that role, as many Republicans on the neocon persuasion do, and say that the US should be biased towards Israel, but be clear that this would represent the change in US policy - not Dean's reiteration of the standard position. I'm talking rhetoric here, of course - in practice, the US has been inclined to take the Israeli side, including during the Clinton administration, but this shouldn't be confused with the official stance of a commitment to peace which respects the vital interests of both sides. What Dean said was entirely conventional, but wasn't pro-Israeli enough for Lieberman's taste. Shame on him for sullying the Democratic debates with this foolishness.
The second, as documented beautifully by Elton Beard, is Dean's description of Hamas as "soldiers." Fox News, along with CNN and others, slammed him for using that word instead of "terrorists," with the implication that he is soft on Palestinian terrorism and probably can't wait to see the state of Israel destroyed. But the full quote makes it perfectly clear that Dean had said that Hamas members were soldiers and therefore legitimate targets for Israeli attacks. In other words, the opposite of the attack. I actually think that Dean's real position - accepting Israel's justification for its targeting of Palestinian leaders - is mistaken, and destructive of any hope of returning to any kind of peaceful relationship, but at least it is Dean's real position.
I would love to see Dean take a serious position committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would mean genuine pressure on the Israeli government to remove settlements (not just freeze them) and an end to Israeli attacks on Hamas political leaders, alongside an end to Palestinian terrorism and a rebuilding of the political and security institutions of the PA. I'd love to see any Democrat come up with a clear alternative to Bush's abjectly failed policy of supporting the Sharon government on every particular, no matter how short sighted or self-destructive. But Dean has not made such bold proposals. If he does, then let's have a debate on them, but I would hope that desperate campaigns won't play into Republican campaigns by piling on to these misrepresentations and smears.
"Ted: I think you're missing the point here, little lady. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Why don't people see that?
Buffy: It's just a game?
Ted: Right, it's just a game, do your own thing, well, I'm not wired that way. And I am here to tell you (Buffy notices how he's tapping his ankle with his club pretty hard) it is NOT a game! It DOES count, and I don't stand for that kind of malarkey in my house!
Buffy: Then I guess it's a good thing I'm not IN your house.
Ted: Do you want me to slap that smart-ass mouth of yours?
(buffy is stunned into silence, looks around to see if anyone else heard him)
Ted (to the others): Who's up for desert? I made chocolate-chip cookies! (smiles)
-- John Ritter, RIP. (not "Jack Ritter," as I originally wrote, because my brain was hard-wired by all those years of Three's Company reruns, not that I ever watched it or anything).
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Thank you, National Review, for making a busy aardvark's day. No, not the customarily insane Michael Ledeen piece - "The lack of action against the Iranian-backed terror campaign is all the more perplexing since the facts are widely accepted." - but this, the mother of all 9/11 stories... an interview with Laurie Mylroie, the crazy aunt of Iraq policy, about "what you don't know about 9/11." So, what don't we know?
*"Iraq was involved with al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks — which is what nearly 70 percent of the American public believes." And if 70% of the American people believe it, it must be true!
*Who is responsible for 9/11? Not al-Qaeda! It was Iraqi intelligence, cleverly manipulating Kuwaiti intelligence files! Yes, as the aardvark reported a few months ago, Mylroie remains one of the premiere 9/11 al-Qaeda deniers in the world, who just also happens to be on Paul Wolfowitz's dinner party list.
*Why don't we know this? "The real problem is the Clinton administration did not want to know. In 1993, Jim Fox, head of New York FBI, the lead investigative agency, believed Iraq was behind the Trade Center bombing. Clinton believed that when he attacked Iraqi intelligence headquarters a few months later, in June 1993, saying publicly that was punishment for Saddam's attempt to kill former president Bush, that strike would also take care of the terrorism in New York, if Fox and his colleagues were correct. It would deter Saddam from all future acts of terrorism. The Clinton administration then put out an alternative explanation: It was the work of "loose networks" of Islamic militants. That became the accepted explanation." Once again, pay careful attention - according to Mylroie, al-Qaeda is an invention of the Clinton administration which did not want to confront Saddam Hussein the way Mylroie wanted him to. Hey, do you think we could ask Mr. Clinton about what he believed, rather than Fox and his colleagues, or maybe somebody in Clinton's administration, since they're all still alive and quite happy to testify on the subject? Nah, they would all just lie, probably.
*Does Mylroie *really* say that it wasn't al-Qaeda? You're just making this up, right? No: "If it were understood that Iraqi intelligence was involved in these attacks and that it provided the expertise for them, that might make ideology (militant Islam) seem less significant than capabilities, as represented by terrorist states like Saddam's Iraq. Those who made their reputations (along with a great deal of money) flogging the Islamic threat are joined with others in the Beltway in ferociously fighting this notion. " Hey, Martin Kramer - I know that we don't agree on much, but doesn't your book say that academics and Middle East specialists paid too little attention to militant Islam, not too much?
*Why is the CPA under Bremer doing so badly? " Several individuals from State's Near Eastern Affairs (who opposed democracy in Iraq and for years sought to undermine Saddam's democratic opponents) are actually key advisers to Bremer." Yes! They *opposed democracy* in Iraq! What does this mean. Remember, with people like Mylroie, when they say the word "democracy," you should always substitute the word "Chalabi." Then it makes sense.
There's more, but that should be enough for now. Whew.
Interesting - looks like the bin Laden video may have been stitched together with old footage. Which would make a lot of sense, actually, whether or not bin Laden is currently actively in control of al-Qaeda. Why give away location and other clues, after successfully hiding for this long?
At any rate, real video or not, let me take this opportunity to invite Osama bin Laden to rot in hell, an invitation which much of the Muslim world would heartily second.
Al-Jazeera has an on-line poll running with the question, "Did the Arab League seat the Iraqi delegation in response to American pressure or to speed the way to Iraqi sovereignty?" As of this morning, with over 37,000 votes, 85% say American pressure, and 15% say Iraqi restoration of sovereignty. Back to you, Mr. Safire.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Mark Danner in the New York Review says this in passing about the jihadists: "Iraq presents the chance to do to the American empire in the Middle East what they believe they did a decade ago to the Soviet empire in Central Asia—to force on the occupier a long, bloody stalemate leading to retreat and, finally, to collapse." This is an obvious and crucial analogy which is too-rarely brought up. Remember, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a "success" initially. So was the American invasion of Afghanistan, for that matter.
The American Prospect publishes David Obey's letter to George Bush calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.
Obey (on Wisconsin!) says: "I recommend that you allow the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense to return to the private sector. I am certain that they have worked hard and have made financial and personal sacrifices for what they perceived to be the national interest. Nonetheless, it is impossible to review the record of the past year and not conclude that they have made repeated and serious miscalculations -- miscalculations that have been extremely costly to the American people in terms of lives lost, degradation of our military and intelligence capability to defend against terrorists in countries outside of Iraq, isolation from our traditional allies and unexpected demands on our budget that are crowding out other priorities. Whether one concludes that the invasion of Iraq was strategically in the best interests of the United States or not, it is impossible at this point to conclude that the unilateral way in which it was handled was in our national interest or that the planning for the post conflict portion of the operation was anything other than a disaster."
There's more. Read it.
"The Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera aired a video of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri on Wednesday, and an accompanying audiotape attributed to al-Zawahri called on Iraqi guerrillas to "bury" American troops in Iraq." Well. How interesting. What a nice way to commemorate tomorrow's anniversary - a reminder that the people who did it are still at large.
I don't want to be a cliched lefty blogger here, but.... Seriously, didn't you think that when Bush declared a war on terror and set himself mano a mano with bin Laden that he would have presented bin Laden's head on a spike by now? I guess pursuing the neocon obsession with Saddam Hussein was just more important than dealing with the guy who perpetrated the atrocities of September 11 for some people. Yo, Bush: OBL and Zawahri are still out there, and they don't live in Iraq...
A few days ago, Fahd al-Fanik, one of the most influential columnists in Jordan, had an interesting article in al-Rai about "American media in Arabic." (link will expire on Saturday). It begins "At a time when articles are published about the absence of importance of the Arab street... and there being no need for American policy to take it into account.. the American administration is spending millions of dollars in creating a media aimed at influencing Arab public opinion and winning Arab hearts and minds. It appears clear that the American efforts have not achieved their goals... It is not true that the American image in the Arab world is monstrous because of the absence of understanding of American policy and its near and long term goals, but rather the opposite is the truth. ... There are erroneous assumptions becoming entrenched in the American mind about the Arabs... including that Arabs respect nothing but force and consider rational dialogue evidence of weakness, and that therefore the way to Arab hearts is to subordinate them by force. Some American analysts think that Arab public opinion is angry... because of Arab or Islamic culture... or resentment of American success and power compared to Arab weakness... or attempts by Arab rulers to divert attention from their own failings... " Fanik then goes on to refer to the Council on Foreign Relations and "its attempts to understand this problem and arrives at a number of suggestions for advancing dialogue with the Arab elite on the basis of respect, but the Council doesn't aspire to more than convincing Arabs to give American policies and intentions the benefit of the doubt." This won't go anywhere, Fanik warns, unless the US changes its policies on Palestine/Israel and Iraq, which is the real source of the problem.
Presumably, Fanik is referring to (and more or less quoting from) this article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. While Fanik isn't particularly impressed by the recommendations, the very fact that this prototypical Arab intellectual elite is directly engaging with the article in Foreign Affairs is a good sign, just the kind of dialogue the article calls for.
Bill Safire is very excited that the Arab League seated the Iraqi representative. For Safire, who has long praised Arab regimes for their progressive and liberal ways, this recognition should serve as a signal to the rest of the world of the right way to do things. No, no, just kidding, in case you don't get sarcasm this early in the morning (in which case why are you reading the aardvark?) - Safire is just off doing that wacky Safire thing.
Meanwhile, over in the Arab world itself, a fascinating debate - mixed with some unhealthy and nasty polemic - has been going on for weeks over precisely the issue of what the Arab world should do about this new situation in Iraq. A lot of Iraqis - especially those attached to the exiles - think that the Arabs owe the Iraqi people an apology for not backing a war against Saddam sooner. A lot of Arabs - including many who never had any love for Saddam - think that the Iraqi opposition in exile owes the Arabs an apology for recklessly backing a war which brought the United States into an Arab country. A recent al-Jazeera talk show argued this point; debate got pretty heated, and an online poll accompanying it showed fairly even divisions rather than any consensus.
In al-Hayat, Egyptian writer Abdullah al-Ashal warns against allowing Iraq to turn into an Arab "fitna" (chaos, division, disorder - a heavily loaded word in the Arab-Islamic political lexicon) - and urged them to come to some agreement about Arab interests in Iraq and about Iraqi interests with the Arabs. While he worries that seating the Council just gives the United States a voice in the Arab League, he also warns that not doing so only harms the interests of the Iraqi people in the long run. Surprisingly, al-Ashal also tells al-Azhar - which issued a fatwa against recognizing the Council - that it should stick to religion and stay out of politics. Interesting notion.
An al-Jazeera report by Kareem Hussein Na'ama highlighted the intense divisions between supporters and opponents of "seating this American-appointed council in Iraq's seat," described the final compromise as "temporary seating," and explained the outcome as primarily due to American pressure rather than genuine Arab interests. At the same time, Na'ama points out that most supporters of the seating explained that they wanted to give the Arabs more of a say in what went on inside of Iraq, and that this would give them more leverage. This reflects arguments such as that of Arfan Nizam al-Din, in al-Hayat, about the need for an Arab initiative to save Iraq - which remains an Arab country and therefore an Arab interest - and not leave the Iraqis to American whims; as well as to work against the Lebanonization or Somaliazation of Iraq, which would serve nobody's - certainly not Arab - interests. Or Abd al-Razaq al-Safi, also in al-Hayat, who argues that the quickest way to get the Americans out of Iraq is to recognize the Council and push for a rapid return to Iraqi sovereignty.
Anyway, the point here is just that Arabs have been arguing publicly and vociferously about this question for a while now, and it's been a very interesting debate indeed - one which gets to the heart of what the "Arab order" is and should be, which interests matter most, and how Arabs should (or should not) accomodate American power and presence.
The always essential Juan Cole has two great posts this morning. The first defends Howard Dean from tendentious attacks by Joe Lieberman on Israel (saying that "he is anti-Israel because he is for getting the Israeli settlers out of the Occupied territories" - a cheap attack and a textbook example of how blindly pro-Israeli demagoguery can harm American interests. Of course removing the settlements is an American interest, and an Israeli one, if Israel is genuinely interested in peace.) and by Joe Klein on Iraq ("What Dean is saying is that with proper multilateral negotiations with allies, you could get 4 divisions from them to relieve the US troops. Of course, you'd have to give the countries supplying the troops a chance to bid on Iraqi contracts, and share the oil wealth when it returns. But Dean's idea is not impractical given the right attitude in Washington towards allies. Of course, Bush is unlikely to be able to pull it off. But Dean might be able to.") It's amusing, but not surprising, that Dean's fairly moderate and reasonable ideas - be evenhanded in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (which used to be called being an honest broker) and undertake serious multilateralism in Iraq in order to reduce the burden on American troops - becomes, in the hands of the so-called liberal media (and his increasingly desperate Democratic rivals), "bashing Israel and naively calling for an American withdrawal from Iraq."
The second takes on Max Boot's sunny optimism about Iraq: "He admits that there still is no air travel in and out of Iraq. He admits that he was almost killed by a roadside bomb. ...Boot knows no Arabic and his report is sunny because he has no idea what he is talking about. Being in Iraq and being able to interpret what you see are two different things. I haven't been there, and I don't disagree that from everything I've read and heard, in the south the situation generally is not dire. But he seems unaware of the massive crime wave, of the assassinations, kidnappings, burglaries; of the riots in Diwaniya and al-Hilla against the American-appointed local administrators; of the riots and demonstrations that have roiled Basra (it is in the Shiite south, too), and of the networking and demonstrations of the Sadr movement. The same "bustling" of the bazaar he takes as such a good sign was going on under Saddam, too. Doesn't mean things are peachy keen. He said the Americans were welcome everywhere in the south. But he appears not to have tried to venture into the teeming slums of Shiite East Baghdad, where they are most assuredly not welcome. Some ten percent of Iraqis live there. Although he was there for the Najaf bombing, he seems oblivious to the trauma that wrought on the Shiites of Najaf, and to the enormity of the loss for the US of the pragmatic Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. He doesn't know that yet another assassination attempt was soon thereafter tried against another major quietist ayatollah." Whistle while you work, Max.
Sometimes I wish I could be Elton Beard, so that I could write things like....
Shorter Anne Applebaum: The astounding media success of two attractive young conservatives with books about the virtues of capitalism proves that the protests against globalization are over. What other explanation could there be?
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
But for the absolutely stupidest thing anyone said today, let's turn to our old friend Paul Wolfowitz: "a powerful signal will go out to the terrorists and their allies that defeat in Iraq will be theirs when Congress acts quickly on the president's request." Yes, terrorists worldwide are watching closely to see if Congress passes the President's desperate, stopgap budget request which won't come close to meeting the real costs of Iraq. That will intimidate them, all right. My god, are these people even pretending to be serious anymore?
Sorry about the no posting... today was one of those days where everything piled up.
But the news was, well, not full of surprises.
So, Bush's enormous $87 billion request isn't even close to meeting the costs of Iraq. And that extra $55 bil is just the beginning. And forget about donors filling the gap... it isn't going to happen. Well, that was a surprise - who could possibly have expected that?
So, Hamas retaliates after Israel's attempted hit on Shaykh Yassin with two suicide bombings, killing yet more innocent Israeli civilians. Well, that was a surprise - who could possibly have expected that?
So, the Senate wasn't especially happy about Bush's budget request. Who would have thought?
Meanwhile, a bunch of people in my real life have been asking me about Ahmed Qurie (Abu Ala). He may be a mystery man to some people, but not to anyone who has followed Palestinian-Israeli talks over the last decade. There really isn't much difference between Abu Ala and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abass) - both are creatures of Arafat, both are long-time participants in the peace negotiations, neither has an independent political base, and neither one is going to be able to do a thing in the face of provocative Israeli actions (attacks on Palestinians, continued settlement building), Hamas's and wider popular anger, and American paralysis. A shame.
You know, if Israel was serious about wanting an independent politician who could challenge Arafat's hegemony and could have some credibility with Palestinian opinion, it could do worse than letting Marwan Barghouti out of jail and letting him do his thing. He won't say things that Israelis like to hear, but that's kind of the point, isn't it?
Monday, September 08, 2003
Donald Rumsfeld crossed the line today. Rumsfeld accused critics of Bush's Iraq policy of, essentially, supporting terrorism by encouraging terrorists to think that they might succeed in driving America from Iraq. It's one thing for bloggers like Glenn Reynolds or partisan journalists like Stanley Kurtz to say these things. It is something very different coming from the Secretary of Defense. It comes all too close to equating dissent with treason. President Bush must disavow this slander, and Donald Rumsfeld must be fired (as he should have been long ago for his systematic deceptions in pursuit of the war).
Meanwhile, props to Representative David Obey, from the fine state of Wisconsin, for calling for exactly that.
A friend points out a flaw in the flypaper strategy so obvious that it, single-handedly, should put an end to that nonsense: why in the world would increased terrorist activity in Iraq be incompatible with simultaneous targeting of the homeland? Why an either/or? As he points out, IRA activity in Northern Ireland didn't rule out bombings in London; Chechen fighting in Chechnya didn't rule out bombings in Moscow; why would fighting in Iraq rule out attacks in Washington?
Bush's speech last night was both a welcome acceptance of reality - I wonder if the wingnuts are already blasting him for going wobbly? or what they think about an official repudiation of their optimistic assessments? - and, in keeping with tradition, fundamentally dishonest.
The positive: sweeping aside the absurdities of the fantasists and admitting that Iraq isn't going very well and is going to need a lot of money, time, and commitment for the indefinite future. The very decision to give the speech reflects the understanding that the level of criticism and awareness had risen to the point that it could no longer be ignored. Also good was the recognition - belated and grudging - of the need to work with the UN, and a reaffirmation of a commitment to a democracy in Iraq.
The dishonest: again portraying the Iraq war as linked to the war on terror, despite the absence of any evidence to that effect. The repeated invocations of 9-11 are deeply dishonest, but politically effective as framing devices - god knows, the Washington Post poll showed that 69% of Americans still believe that Saddam was involved in 9-11, so they'll probably buy this. Rather than try and defend the claims about al-Qaeda, Bush retreated to a vaguer and more ambiguous claim that Iraq and "the terrorists" were engaged in the same basic enterprise and were thus functionally allied. He came close to embracing the absurd flypaper theory, a sure sign of desperation. And he committed the basic fallacy of equating effect with cause: because Iraq is now a terrorist's playground, as a result of his invasion, he retroactively describes the invasion as part of the war on terror. Finally, his description of what is going on in Iraq right now remains confused and misleading, but that's to be expected.
The irrelevant: his description of progress in the war on terror commits the classic fallacy of such campaigns: listing quantitative achievements without any ability to relate those to progress towards the goal. This is like saying that we are winning the war on drugs because we seized 50 tons of cocaine: that's nice, but has that reduced the consumption of drugs? Also, the claim that the United States is now confronting terror at its heart rather than at the periphery: this is an interesting claim, which would be more so if there were any evidence that Iraq had anything to do with Islamist radicalism (it didn't), and if the US were going after places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which really are at the heart of Islamist radicalism, or if it had bothered to finish the fight against the Taliban before turning to a completely irrelevant second front in Iraq.
Also, Bush makes this odd claim: " The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall, and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat." I guess it depends on the definition of "freedom," though. I had thought that the lesson of, say, Afghanistan, is that terrorists thrived on failed or weak states. Tyrants falling is a good thing, but it depends on how they fall. If their countries collapse into chaos, this is a recipe for ethnic and civil violence, personal insecurity, and authority vaccuums upon which terrorists and non-state actors can prey. The horrors of sub-Saharan Africa, where states are weak to non-existent, should be enough to temper this kind of blanket statement of optimism. Iraq itself offers an example of this, no?
But here's my favorite bit: "Our enemies understand this. They know that a free Iraq will be free of them -- free of assassins and torturers and secret police. They know that as democracy rises in Iraq, all of their hateful ambitions will fall like the statues of the former dictator." Ah, if only it were that easy. As one who has long been a partisan in the war on statues, I for one am glad that the President is keeping a close eye on what is really important: the statue menace that threatens our nation. Wherever we find statues, they must be toppled.
Abu Aardvark, objectively pro-statue since February 2003.
Bill Safire today is only the latest defender of the neocon strategy in the Middle East to attribute the following belief to its critics: "That Arabs are culturally incapable of self-government." While this may apply to some Realist critics, like Ray Takeyh in the last post, for the vast majority this is an Alice in Wonderland claim. Safire's crowd has spent decades pushing policies based on the assumption that the Arabs are fundamentally irrational, consumed by hatred of America and Israel, and incapable of exercising reason. They are the first to describe Arab politics in terms of the "Arab street," which is pathologically irrational but can be cowed by power, and the first to denigrate any signs of Arab moderation or pragmatism. They not only disdain Arab chances of democracy, they fear it and actively oppose it - and have for many years.
Their critics, on the other hand, include many experts in Middle East studies who spent much of the 1990s discussing the prospects for a transition to democracy and the rise of civil society. They argued forcefully for the United States to back moderate Islamists and incorporate them into electoral politics, and they pushed the US to pressure its Arab allies to allow more democracy and public freedoms. It may be true that they went too far in their enthusiasm, seeing prospects for democracy that really weren't there, but this is a rather different sin than believing that Arabs are "culturally incapable of democacy." It also may be true that many of the critics are skeptical that the United States can or will manufacture democracy through force of arms, especially given American overreliance on exiles like Chalabi and its own strategic interests in the region - but that skepticism is miles away from a wider denigration of Arabs and democracy.
This is on a par with Andrew Sullivan's "why doesn't the Left care about Iran" canard. It is a shame that the conservative ideologues most opposed to Arab democracy have been allowed to get away with this reversal of the truth without being called on it more vigorously.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Meanwhile, Max Boot, champion of empire, tells us that "As long as we keep our nerve, we will prevail. As in Vietnam, so in Iraq: Only defeatism on the home front can stop our soldiers. " Yes, that was the lesson of Vietnam - the US was really winning, and would have won if only those darn protestors at home hadn't undermined the war effort. Fits in well with the National Review Online's recent spasm of fury over critics at home... the real problem isn't a misguided foreign policy, a poorly conceived and executed occupation strategy, the aggressive pursuit of the wrong goals by the wrong means, the substitution of ideological fantasy for reality, and a systematic alienation of most of the rest of the world. Nope, the problem is democracy at home, something which we really need less of, as long as the President is a Republican.
UPDATE: it's been brought to my attention that I might not have been entirely fair in the description above of the reasons for the Bush administration's problems in Iraq. So, to be fair, allow me to add "and a completely and fundamentally dishonest presentation of the reasons for war." Better?
Meanwhile, next door on the LA Times opinions page, Ray Takeyh tells us that democracy will ill-serve American interests in the Middle East: "Despite the claims of the Bush team, our essential interests are unlikely to be realized in a more democratic Middle East. To maintain stability, contain its rivals and displace its nemeses, the U.S. needs garrisons, naval installations and the cooperation of local intelligence services. It needs to ensure that the price of oil remains stable. And it needs to continue its commitment to Israel. It is hard to see how any of these responsibilities can be easily discharged in a democratic Middle East." Looks like democracy isn't very good either at home or abroad, eh? This can be seen as the resurgence of the traditionalist approach that long characterized American policy in the region, to such smashing success: "benign autocracies" can best serve American interests in the region because of hostile public opinion. Because that public opinion is assumed to be irrational, hostile, and easily controlled by authoritarian states, it should be ignored, or at best intimidated. So let's jettison the one part of the Bush agenda which actually might command any support in the region - the democratic imperative - and prove to the world, Arab and otherwise, that in fact the US did not mean what it said about democracy, that it really was being hypocritical. That's what everyone believes anyway, right, so why not prove them right?
Gosh, it seems like only weeks ago that the Bush Middle East policy optimists out there were trumpeting that the conquest of Iraq had pushed to Israeli-Palestinian peace at last, just as Bush and the neocons promised. Getting rid of Saddam really did remove the main obstacle to peace! Bush had delivered the roadmap! Now, I'm not making any claims here about who bears responsibility for the latest round of depressing violence, but after the collapse of the cease-fire amidst terrorism and military actions, Abu Mazen's resignation, and the attempted murder of Shaykh Yassin, does anyone still want to claim Arab-Israeli peace as a fruit of the invasion of Iraq? Didn't think so. But, as with WMD and so many other things, I'm sure that we will now be told - if the subject comes up at all - that they never "really " expected it, and it wasn't really very important, and that this was the plan all along.