Abu Aardvark

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

As seen in the Washington Post!
And The Connection!
and the Pioneer Press!

mail the aardvark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 20, 2003
Dan Drezner links to a Chicago Tribune story about academic blogging, which is hidden behind a registration bar beyond which I shall not pass. But Dan mentions that he is quoted on the Eric Rasmussen affair, along with Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh. Now, I have no opinion to speak of on the Rasmussen affair, and I don't read the Chicago Tribune, and I have no idea what they said. But it struck me as quite the example of the So Called Liberal Media: representing the whole range of the blogosphere's political spectrum... from Drezner to Volokh to Reynolds. Yup, the center-right to the far right. Reminds me of the old Crossfire joke: "On the right, we have Michael Kinsley; on the far right, Pat Buchanan." Nice.

Riverbend tells a harrowing tale of occupation raids on family homes. Sounds like step 10a in the "how to alienate an occupied population" handbook, but that's just me.

I just wanted to assure everyone that Abu Aardvark is not the "Abu A." referenced in Riverbend's starkly told story. Thankfully. But somewhere out there the real Abu A really shouldn't have to face such indignities.

Sure, the wingnuts will say "but it was worse under Saddam" - and they will be right. But isn't the US supposed to be better than Saddam? Isn't the US supposed to be constructing something better here, not just trying to be not quite as bad as the old regime? Isn't it?

Speaking of Chalabi, there's an important story in the LA Times about the growing struggle between Bremer and his Council: "Cracks are emerging in the relationship between the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council, suggesting that as the Iraqis gain more power they may well pursue policies that could undercut coalition efforts to install a democratic government here." The article notes a series of initiatives taken by the exiles in the Council aimed at pre-empting Bremer, presenting him with faits accomli, or boxing in his alternatives. In each case, the initiatives seem to centralize power within the exile parties and make it more difficult for others - non-exiles - to organize or mobilize politically.

In other words, as the Council begins to act in the way the Americans pretended they would but didn't expect them to, it puts the US in a quandary. I know that it's hard to imagine a contradiction between an appointed Council dominated by unrepresentative exiles and a democratic transition. Or that such exiles would try to shape the rules of the transition in their favor, even if those rules aren't democratic. Personally, I'm shocked, just shocked, that Chalabi and company would take advantage of the undeserved position bestowed on them by the United States to try to seize power for themselves. That is just so out of character for them.

Hear, hear! David Phillips in the NYT points fingers in the right direction: Ahmed Chalabi, and the people in the administration who insisted on listening to him over more credible Iraqi voices. Phillips, who was involved in the State Department's Future of Iraq project, knows perfectly well that there was no shortage of Iraqis eager to contribute useful knowledge and expertise. The Future of Iraq project, unlike Chalabi (and the Pentagon's neocons) accurately forecast most of the current problems facing Iraq. But they were ignored by Rumsfeld's Pentagon.

As Phillips trenchantly puts it, "Today's difficulties are not the result of a lack of foresight, but rather of poor judgment by civilians at the Pentagon who counted too much on the advice of one exile — Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress — and ignored the views of other, more reliable Iraqi leaders."

Even Phillips appears to have no clear idea why Chalabi gained this privileged position. It is high time that we begin to learn the answer to that question, and for those who brought us into this Iraqi debacle on false pretences be held to account.

Friday, September 19, 2003
The latest news says that Hurricane Isabel has killed 15 people so far. Is anyone even a little bit interested in comments on this from those who found the deaths of thousands of French men and women from heat so hilarious? Do they believe that the deaths of these 15 Americans tell them something about American foreign policy, American political institutions, or American culture? Or is this simply a human tragedy that calls for both empathy and sympathy? That's what I thought.

Thursday, September 18, 2003
Gosh, being Elton Beard really would just be so much fun! Because then I could write things like...

Shorter Robert Bartley: The Democrats have become the party of rage. As the editor of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page in the 1990s, when we treated Bill Clinton only with discretion and respect, I would know nothing about this. Democratic complaints should be seen as "projection" - attributing one's own faults to others - something which, again, I wouldn't know anything about.

Anyone know why Tom Friedman is jumping on the Freedom Fries bandwagon months after it left port? Seriously, Friedman's piece today comes off as slightly crazed, like he got served some seriously bad food on an Air France flight. Or - here's a thought - maybe this was actually David Brooks's text, and the NYT editors got confused? Seriously, once more: France is our "enemy" and is carrying out a systematic plan, "Operation America Must Fail"? Now, I'll admit to being bemused at the temporary convergence of interest between France - which wants a rapid return to Iraqi sovereignty - and Ahmed Chalabi - who wants a rapid transfer of power to Ahmed Chalabi. But Friedman's incredulity over the French lack of enthusiasm for coming to America's rescue strains credulity. Look, from the French perspective, every criticism they made of Bush's policy has been vindicated - the absence of an immediate Iraqi threat, the stupidity of American unilateralism, the need for an international leading role in rebuilding Iraq. This would seem to merit at least the possibility that it is time for the US to start listening to French views on the matter. Why should France start pouring resources or political capital into an American project otherwise?

Official White House Transcript:

President Bush: "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th."

Now, on principle, as soon as Bush says it you have to immediately wonder whether he's lying... but in this case, let's just take what the President said, digest it, marvel at his ability to evade that absence of evidence over the past year and a half, and wonder about the future of Mr. "We Just Don't Know" Cheney.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Juan Cole graciously responds (in an informed fashion, of course) to my request for comments on my long post below about federalism:

"Multinational loose federation is a recipe for the future break-up of Iraq. The other thing is that the Kurds are not in a political vacuum. Al-Da`wa wants a strong Federalism, and broke with Chalabi's INC in 1995 over the issue. Al-Da`wa is powerful on the IGC. The alternative is to put in strong safeguards against a tyranny of the majority for the Kurds. Devolve education policy to the local governments, along with local commerce and agriculture. Have provincial legislatures and elected governors. Have a strong bill of rights. Have a bicameral legislature with an upper house that over-represents the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. I.e., use the 1789 US constitution as something of a model; it faced similar dilemmas. That is, I think the Kurds can get a lot of what they want under a fairly strong Federalism, as long as the right safeguards are built into it. And this would be preferable to encouraging sub-nationalisms that provoke civil wars in the future."

I find myself agreeing with the gist of Cole's response, since I share the fear of Lebanonizing Iraq or encouraging Iraq's eventual breakup - which are the two things that I think a loose federalism such as that proposed by O'Leary would do. Of course, the 1789 Constitution failed to resolve the slavery issue, which almost led to the breakup of the United States less than 100 years later. Are there similarly contentious issues in Iraq that can't be glossed over? The role of religion in the state might be one; the Arab identity of the state might be one; more pragmatically, the control of oil might be one. Should these be discussed now, or glossed over until things settle down?

Man, this just annoys an already groggy aardvark. Remember how a while ago, I tried to be fair-minded to Bush, and applaud one of the few good things that he has actually done - increasing funding for combatting the global AIDS problem? And then, remember how I had to take it all back when it turned out that his funding requests didn't match his promises (gee, he lied. what a shock.) and that what he wanted to spend it on seemed oddly out of synch with what was needed? Well, Jeanne over at Body and Soul reminds us that this is still an issue. All other issues aside, she points out that "Bush says the program is fully funded. It isn't. The $1 billion shortfall means 1 million AIDS victims will be denied treatment." And she provides a link to CARE USA, which is lobbying Congress and the President to just live up to their own funding promises. Which I am happy to reproduce here. Because that just stinks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Sorry for not posting today... bloody busy, I am. Which seems likely to continue for, well, ever. But enough of that. I mentioned a while ago that I had some thoughts on the question of Iraqi federalism. In Washington circles, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the new Iraq must be federal, in large part because that's what the Iraqi National Congress could agree to in the 1990s. But very little serious thought seems to have gone into the experience of federalism or its likely implications. So I was really intrigued by a paper I got hold of today.

Brendan O'Leary, one of the most interesting and experienced political scientists dealing with constitutional solutions to ethnic conflict, delivered the keynote address to a conference at George Washington University a few days ago on the topic of the Kurds in the New Iraq. His paper, Multi-national Federalism, Federacy, Power-Sharing and the Kurds of Iraq, brings a wealth of comparative experience to a question about which too little thought is given.

So what does O'Leary say? Keeping in mind that he is speaking to a Kurdish audience, he offers a fairly strong defense of federalism, as long as it takes particular forms. Above all, he warns against an American model of federalism - what he calls a 'majoritarian' model which concentrates power at the center. Because he sees Kurds as the long-term losers of any strongly majoritarian federalism - as would be the Sunni Arabs - he warns Kurds to steer clear. O'Leary identifies a crucial decision as to whether the federation will be "mono-national or multi-national." What he means by this is whether or not the federation will aspire to national homogeneity, eliminating internally salient difference in the name of unity. He points out that "American and American-educated intellectuals... have a distinct animus against multi-national federations, which they regard as divisive and likely to collapse through secession." But for Iraq, he argues, there is no other choice but to accept the reality of Iraq's multinational composition. He warns against electoral engineering to create a single national constituency - "it would be extraordinarily difficult, foolish and divisive to devise regional boundaries to prevent Kurdish or Sunni communities from becoming regional majorities anywhere in Iraq" (an idea which constitutional engineers inspired by Donald Horowitz are apparently entertaining). This means, however, that the existing 18 provinces of Iraq can not be retained unaltered.

O'Leary admits that the multinational federations he prefers do tend to break down, but drawing on his extensive research he suggests that specific elements tend to lead to such breakdown and, presumably, can be avoided: coercion holds them together; authoritarian governments rule them; maltreatment of the smaller nations within; distributive conflicts; and centralizing coups or maneuvers. He strongly urges a democratic Iraq, and ponders with approval the emergence of the Shia as a Staatsvolk. He endorses a collective presidency drawing on all regions. And he insists - rather hopefully, I'd say - that this will require a minimum of external intervention from neighbors like Iran and Turkey.

Of course, then there's an extreme view, from Vahal Abdulrahman - who insists that a federalism acceptable to the Kurds must have: a constitution clearly stating that Iraq is not an Arab country; "the Kurdish language must be an official language in not only the four Kurdish provinces but also in the center and southern parts of the country. The new education system of Iraq must require all Kurdish students to learn Arabic but by the same token, all Arab students to learn Kurdish"; and the government of the Kurdish area should control the education system, religious affairs, criminal justice and defense. That's a mouthful.

What do I think? I'm not persuaded by O'Leary's enthusiasm for a multi-national federalism, and not convinced that the conditions he specifies as necessary for its success actually apply. I am particularly leery (pun certainly intended) of the kind of official ethnification of the state which his proposal requires. And I remain unconvinced that non-federal options have been explored. Ideas like Abdulrahman's - if sufficiently widespread - will make O'Leary's proposals a non-starter with the other, non-Kurdish, communities.

In the end, I don't know exactly where I come down - I'm not endorsing a non-federal alternative. But I would like to see more consideration of their benefits and drawbacks. The oil question, of course, looms large (who gets the Kirkuk revenues). So do the fears of Kurdistan among the Turkish generals. And so do, O'Leary aside, many examples of failed federations and confederations... though perhaps it is my American education which biases me against such solutions! For now, just food for thought.

UPDATE: on re-reading this post, it strikes me that this could be read as a rather snarky dismissal of O'Leary. For once, that isn't what I intended.. I really do think O'Leary is one of the most interesting, vast comparative experience, and so on - that wasn't meant to be like saying "Victor D Hanson, drawing on his vast experience of the Middle East" (which would obviously be intended snarkily)... That's the problem with aardvarkian obnoxiousness, it makes it hard to convey when you're being serious. So, for the record, I do think that O'Leary is experienced, smart, and interesting; but I'm not convinced by his ideas for Iraq, at least not yet. Thanks for listening.

Monday, September 15, 2003
Ahmad Chalabi and his not quite buddies in the exile parties want a quick end to the American occupation and devolution of authority to the Council of Bremer. Headed, of course, by the exile parties. Now, on principle, anything Chalabi advocates has to be wrong. But the UN and other critics are also calling for a rapid return to Iraqi sovereignty. So what gives?

Here, it's all in the not-too-subtle details. Chalabi and company want a return to Iraqi sovereignty on terms that will allow them to dominate the process and emerge as rulers of the country without any messy democracy or silly participation by non-exiles, who didn't earn their right to rule Iraq by toiling on the banks of the Potomac and the Thames all those years. Non-Chalabi advocates of a return to Iraqi sovereignty want a quick creation of a political process by which a genuinely representative Iraqi government can be created, which would - virtually certainly - leave Chalabi and the exiles out in the cold.

Be clear about what is at stake here: not abstract principles of "democracy" or "freedom" or "sovereignty." What is at stake is as simple as simple can be: will Ahmed Chalabi rule Iraq as a "benevolent" pro-American autocracy, or will some form of Iraqi democracy be created which will not be ruled by Chalabi? It's as simple as that - which is kind of nice, in a country and a political issue where few things are simple and no answers are obvious.

UPDATE: Juan Cole says roughly the same thing, but in a rather more pithy way: "Chalabi probably could not get elected to dog catcher in Iraq if the country goes to elections next year. Paul Bremer was apparently loathe to appoint him to the IGC at all. Likewise, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, might not have much success at the polls given powerful Shiite rivals that have more local popularity. They therefore have an incentive to attempt to grab power for themselves now, and hope to parlay incumbency into power down the road, as well."

I love Dick Cheney. There, I said it. Because with Cheney, there's no pretence, no bull-poopie. He just lays it right out there on the line. Like in his rare appearance on a talk show yesterday, where he just sat there spouting blatant, naked lies and daring anyone to challenge him. No attempts to come up with explanations, no half-baked justifications, just a matter of fact lie, staring you in the eye and daring you to call him on it. This, my friends, is as close as you will get to the pure source of the Iraq fiasco, the unfiltered, undiluted essence of the travesty that is the Bush Iraq policy. And Dick Cheney, bless his faithless heart, wants you to know it, and to know that he does not care (see Josh Marshall for more on Cheney).

I don't know which part of his appearance was the best (all quotes as published in the Washington Post). Was it his saying that there is no reason to "think that the strategy is flawed or needs to be changed"? His declaration of "major success, major progress" in Iraq, or saying that "most of the country is stable and quiet" and that "Americans are viewed as liberators there"? Was it his insistence that "the administration did not underestimate the financial cost, the resistance or the troop strength needed to pacify Iraq, and... that prewar allegations about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction would be vindicated"? Was it his claim that "new evidence found in Iraq proved more ties between Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization... [and] that Iraq was the "geographic base" for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks"? He even "said it would be a "serious mistake" to freeze the tax cuts for the top 1 percent of earners to pay for the Iraq war" - God forbid!

The Post story, for once (thanks Dana Milibank), provides a matter of fact dose of context for each of his claims, making it clear where he's lying - which of course makes for a rather lengthy story. For example, here's Milbank: "Asked about his earlier dismissal of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's prewar view that an occupation force would have to be "on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," Cheney replied: "I still remain convinced that the judgment that we will need, quote, 'several hundred thousand for several years,' is not valid. In fact, Shinseki had not mentioned "several years" in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25. Similarly, Cheney argued that the administration did not understate the cost of the war in Iraq, saying it did not put a precise figure on it. Asked about previous assertions by then-White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. that the war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion and that a figure in the range of $100 billion to $200 billion was too high, Cheney replied: "Well, that might have been, but I don't know what his basis was for making that judgment."

The Post story also corrects Cheney on David Kay (who did not, in fact, run UNSCOM as Cheney claims); reminds the vice president that the "500 tons of uranium" was low-grade uranium and therefore unusable for weapons production without sophisticated processing that Iraq could not do; reminds readers tha the "gentleman" who had come forward "with full designs for a process centrifuge system to enrich uranium and the key parts that you need to build such a system" referred to Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi who in fact has denied that the nuclear program had been reconstituted after 1991; notes that the biological weapons "mobile homes of death" have not been reliably proven to be such; and so on.

Oh, and for those of you who think that I exaggerate the importance of crazy Aunt Mylroie, here's what Cheney - the Vice President of the United States - now has to say about Iraq and al-Qaeda: "On the subject of Iraq's link to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney connected al Qaeda to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by saying one of the participants was Iraqi and returned there. Newly searched Iraqi intelligence files in Baghdad, Cheney said, showed "this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven" and "Cheney also seemed to broaden the intelligence on other alleged al Qaeda connections with Hussein, saying, "The Iraqi government or the Iraqi intelligence service had a relationship with al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s." Up to now, administration officials and CIA documents have said there had been eight meetings, primarily in the early 1990s, when bin Laden was in Sudan." This isn't a full endorsement of Mylroie's wacky theories - rejected by every respectable intelligence agency - but it comes awfully close.

Sunday, September 14, 2003
Josh Marshall is reporting that the Bush administration appears to be deciding to not release the David Kay report on WMD after all. If so, this will be a humiliating climbdown. The only possible reason for not releasing it is that Kay didn't find anything, or else did find something - just not the right something, if you know what I mean. Stay tuned.