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, October 24, 2003
Spin of the day: The Kuwait News Agency just reported that Kuwait's Foreign Minister announced a major contribution to the donor's conference, according to the headline: "Kuwait said on Friday it had earmarked 1.5 billion dollars to help in the reconstruction of Iraq." What a boost to the American efforts to secure funding promises in Madrid!

But wait - the story continues: ""Due to ties of kinship and neighborhood,Kuwait did not wait for the holding of this important conference to help our brothers in Iraq, and earmarked 1.5 billion dollars to contribute to its reconstruction," said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Sabah, while addressing the international donors conference in Madrid." Well, okay - better sooner than later, right?

But the story goes one: ""Kuwait has already spent a total of nearly one billion dollars on fuel,relief aid, medical assistance, power generators and water desalination equipment," he said." Oh. So one billion of the $1.5 billion is not, in fact, a new promise of aid - so the headline should have read "Kuwait promises $500 million to the reconstruction of Iraq." But at least that $500 million will help the Americans out, right?

The Foreign Minister continues: "As to the remaining sum, 500 million dollars, Kuwaitwill consult directly with our brothers in Iraq over the best way to ensure the benefit of the two brotherly peoples." You mean the money isn't even going to the new international agency created to oversee (non-American) donations?

So the headline should have read, "Kuwait promises nothing to international reconstruction efforts." But that wouldn't have been quite so catchy to American audiences, now, would it. Remember this if you start hearing people include Kuwait's $1.5 billion in their accounting of the Donor's Conference. And all of this, remember, comes directly from Kuwait's own press release....never mind critical journalism!

UPDATE: The BBC is reporting the results of the donor's conference as including a $1 billion contribution from Kuwait. What do they know that the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister does not?

Use and misuse of polls:

There's more and more polling data coming out of Iraq, which is a good thing. For all the problems associated with survey research, anything which gives a real sense of public opinion is helpful. That said, too often the results are spun to support political positions.. which just means that you should always go and look at the polls themselves rather than taking anyone's interpretation (including mine) as authoritative.

With that caveat, Agence France Presse reports another poll, this one from the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies. Interviews (1620, MOE 3-4%) took place September 28-October 10 in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Ramadi, Fallujah, Arbil, and Sulaymaniyah (and of course location, location, location matters in these polls). Among the key findings, 67% of Iraqis "view the US-led coalition as an occupying force, while only 46% considered them such when US troops rolled into Baghdad April 9." Over the same timeframe, "those who viewed the US forces as liberators slumped from 43% to 15%." On security, 46% said "the situation had deteriorated, while only 23% said it had improved." 61% said "none of [their political leaders] were trustworthy." Approval ratings for various Iraqi figures: Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim tops the list with 58% approval, followed by Mohammed Bahr al-Ulum (57% favorable) and Ibrahim al-Jaffari (54%). Ahmed Chalabi got a whopping 26% favorable - far higher than I would have expected. Moqtada al-Sadr got 1%, lower than I would have expected. If I could get hold of the polls internals, what I'd want to know is how each person scored in areas outside his/her main constituency - i.e. what were Barzani's favorables outside of Kurdistan? Or Hakim's outside Shia areas?

UPDATE: a faithful reader (and can I just say how incredibly grateful I am that *anyone* is still reading after I took off for three weeks?) shares some doubts about this poll. I wish I knew more about the Iraqi Center, but I've never heard of it before. As for the suspicious results on Chalabi and Sadr... yup. Mighty fishy. You'd think that a pro-Chalabi outfit would do better than 26%, but that's probably about 25% higher than it should be, if you grant him 1% on the basis of his vast retinue of bodyguards and flunkies.

Let's see, what's happened in the three weeks I've been away?

The administration's pre-war Iraq intelligence stunk. It stunk largely because the neocons used Chalabi's disinformation over professional intelligence agencies. This isn't news, but Sy Hersh has more details, and so does the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Donor's Conference in Madrid isn't getting many donations. This isn't news, and the failure has been forecast for so long that the administration is now spinning the far lower number as a success. Unilateralism has a price, and this is one example of that price. I'm actually surprised that more countries haven't ponied up a token amount - "here's $5 million to show our deep commitment to the future of the Middle East" - just to get on Bush's good side. The numbers aren't as important as how the money is spent, though - without security, and a stable investing environment, reconstruction is going to be much more tenuous and expensive, and the private sector will steer clear. Bremer recognizes this, to some extent, and he certainly recognizes that he needs a lot more money than he's getting.

The UN passed a unanimous resolution concerning post-war Iraq. This is interesting, and I still hope that I'll have a chance to comment on it at more length. Briefly, I have mixed feelings about it - I'm delighted to see the US getting the UN involved, since this is what I've been arguing for for many months. It's easy to be critical of the UN for caving in to American pressure, but overall I think that it's more important to get the UN back into the game and to accept the American climbdown relatively gracefully than to hold out for concessions that won't be forthcoming. And I'm glad that the French proposal to turn power over to the unelected and unrepresentative Council went nowhere. I was glad to see the creation of an independent agency to administer (non-American) funds - but the agency should have had authority over American constributions also. And despite all the above, I'm not thrilled with the text of the resolution, and I would have liked to have seen far more serious moves towards transferring real authority to the UN.

Josh Marshall is having a little contest - in response to the inane "Bush never said imminent threat" claim, submit your best "Bush administration claimed that we had to go to war with Iraq right now" quote. Among the current leading candidates are statements by Rice and Bush that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and Cheney's "Saddam has reconstituted his nuclear program." But I'm sure Josh is open to new and fresh candidates.

Don Rumsfeld leaked a memo questioning America's progress in the war on terror. Set the politics and the inside baseball aside - what really struck me was just the simplicity of the memo and its failure to engage with big questions at anything approaching a sophisticated level. Seriously, students in an undergraduate course on international security would do a better job of framing the questions. If this is really the level of discourse among the top civilians at the DOD - and, given the circumstances of the "leak" I don't necessarily believe that it is - then things are even more frightening than I thought.

The Cubs and the Red Sox lost. Hey folks... they aren't called "lovable losers" for nothing. Of course they lost. (and before you flame me, I was pulling for the Cubs. I can't stand the Yankees, and I find it simply adorable that the Florida team is named after a fish.)

Fox released a preview of Tru Calling, the new show starring Eliza Dushku, which premieres next week. From what I can tell, the show has several, shall we say, "Aardvark Friendly" premises (starting, of course, with the casting of Ms. Dushku).

That's it - I'm sure lots of other important stuff happened while I've been away, but you hardly need the aardvark for that. Hopefully blogging on a more normal schedule will resume next week.

Monday, October 20, 2003
Some time around 4:00 this afternoon, I hit the defining moment of the day: I started to write up a "to do" list to make sense of everything that needs to get done... and then stopped because, I realized, I didn't have time.

Just in case anyone wonders about the lack of posts on the day I allegedly returned... aardvark comments on the UN resolution and everything else are just going to have to wait.

The aardvark is back - in body, if not in mind, spirit or soul. I was barely able to even follow the news for the last week and a half... and now I'm buried under a week and half's worth of backlogged correspondence and work (not to mention jetlag, and a jetlagged little cub). So bear with me.