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 31, 2003
Yesterday, the aardvark urged people to watch Tru Calling so that it doesn't suffer Firefly's fate at the hands of Evil!Fox. Well, I saw Tru last night, so how does the comparison hold up? Firefly was a brilliant, near-genius ensemble drama with a genuinely original premise, a carefully and fully imagined universe, and almost an unbelievably in-synch cast of stellar actors. And it got axed midway through its first season despite the passionate attachment of its respectable and growing audience. And Tru Calling.... well, Eliza sure is cute.

Thursday, October 30, 2003
Bernard Lewis and James Woolsey may (or may not) have produced quality work in their respective fields over the years; that is for others to judge. But dragging out - again! - the tired old dog of a Hashemite restoration in Iraq betrays a remarkable confluence of opportunism and ignorance. Never mind that nobody in Iraq wants this - any more than anyone in Iran wants the restoration of the Shah that the neocons seem to want so badly.

What makes this astonishing isn't so much the proposal, which is a chestnut that turns up in the National Review every year or two (David Pryce-Jones andMichael Rubin, for two recent examples). What is surprising is the authors: these are the same two people who spent a decade flacking for Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, which was at least in principle calling for some form of democratic federalism in Iraq. And Lewis and Woolsey each, over the years, has waxed eloquent over both Chalabi's personal qualities and the absolute necessity of this democratic federalist model.

But in this Journal piece, they forget about all that and instead yearn for a king, a pro-Western royalty which could unite this troubled land and restore order. Go back to the 1925 Constitution, they argue, and a Hashemite prince could deliver what former golden boy Chalabi apparently could not (and their poor judgement over the last decade in endorsing Chalabi shouldn't, of course, be held against them, or remembered).

What kind of king would accomplish this miracle? Quoth Lewis and Woolsey: "The king should be a Hashemite prince with political experience and no political obligations or commitments." Now where might such a noble creature be found?

Where have you gone, Prince Hassan of Jordan, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you, ooh ooh oooh...
What's that you say, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Woolsey, Joltin' Hassan was replaced at the last minute by his brother's son Abdullah and is now cooling his heels thinking big thoughts all day... hey, hey, hey.

Bashing the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is something of a cottage industry in certain circles. The Campus Watch website, Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Stanley Kurtz and others have spearheaded a campaign against academic Middle East studies for some time. One of their complaints is that MESA (as a proxy for academic Middle East Studies) does not take seriously radical Islamism or Islamist violence.

So I'm sure that they will be delighted with the new issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the official journal of MESA. The November IJMES, edited by Juan Cole (yes, that Juan Cole), has three (out of four) outstanding articles on political Islam. First, William Shepard takes apart Sayid Qutb's concept of 'jahiliya,' the cornerstone of radical Islamist thought, and considers how latter-day radical Islamists such as Osama bin Laden have used (or misused) Qutb's thinking. Second, James Toth offers a rare and fascinating analysis of Islamism in Upper Egypt; most studies of Egyptian Islamism concentrate on Cairo, but radical groups have long been stronger in Upper Egyptian towns than in the capital. Finally, Farzin Vahdat writes on recent 'post-revolutionary' political theories of modernity in Iran, particularly the writing of Abdelkarim Soroush. While this is not about radical Islamism, it does address a major intellectual challenge to the Islamic Republic's official ideology, which could be scaled up to wider intra-Islamist debates writ large. All three are worth reading.

Also, Social Research, a generalist journal, has just released a stellar fall issue focusing on the question of the public and private spheres in Islam. This is just an outstanding collection of essays, covering an astonishing range of topics, and it's well worth your time. I particularly recommend the introduction by Mohsen Kadivar (although his take on the public/private distinction in Islam reads to me as pretty distinctively Shi'i, so reader beware!), Frank Vogel's piece on the morality police in Saudi Arabia, Juan Cole (again!) on the Taliban (fun fact: did you know that the Taliban issued a fatwa against Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for making a film celebrating love out of wedlock? I didn't... but disliking "Titanic" may be one of the only points of agreement between aardvarks and the Taliban), Geneive Abdo on the Iranian media, and Hassan Mneimneh on the Arab response the American "What We're Fighting For" letter.

That should be enough to keep y'all busy for the weekend! But don't forget to watch Eliza Dushku's new show tonight, Tru Calling. Remember, Fox the Evil canceled Firefly on a whim.... if Eliza doesn't get an audience, she'll be gone. Which, I'm sure you all agree, would be a tragedy.

Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber links to this almost unbelievably revolting essay by John Derbyshire in the National Review Online, in which the gentleman expounds at length his deranged hatred for Chelsea Clinton, a then 20 year old undergraduate student who had done absolutely nothing other than be born to Bill and Hilary Clinton.

Derbyshire states: "Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past — I'm not arguing for despotism as a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble — recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat." He fantasizes about such other societies - Stalin's Soviet Union, Imperial China - where such a threat could be met by Chelsea's murder, but then regretfully concludes: "Our humanity and forbearance, however, has a cost. The cost is, that the vile genetic inheritance of Bill and Hillary Clinton may live on to plague us in the future."

Any time - ANY time - you hear someone argue that today's so-called "Bush hatred" is worse, more virulent, or more irrational than right wing Clinton-hatred, just recall this essay from the National Review.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the CPA's media strategy, which reminds many Iraqis of the old regime's propaganda. While Bremer has said that he wants to create a model of "Western style journalism" for Iraqis, what he is actually doing seems more like a familiar model of a state-run information service. Which, not surprisingly, doesn't look all that different from the Iraqi model of state media propaganda. Far be it from an aardvark to pass up the obvious - that this kind of dutiful propaganda seems to fit quite closely with what Bush's partisans actually seem to want from the American media.

The Post says: " To many Iraqis, though, Bremer's prime-time addresses are more reminiscent of the regular television appearances of former president Saddam Hussein, according to both American and Iraqi media specialists who have studied IMN, the Iraqi Media Network. Iraqis see the station not as a vehicle for free speech but "as the mouthpiece of the CPA," the BBC World Service Trust reported after studying the stations this summer."

It goes on to describe the Iraqi Media Network as "psyops on steroids" (as the story says it is known in parts of the Pentagon). Here's the crux of the matter, from my point of view: "At the heart of its difficulties is that IMN is supposed to promote U.S. goals and provide an alternative to often critical Arab-world media while evolving into Iraq's version of a free press. "They need psyops to get their message across and at the same time allegedly want to create an indigenous, independent media . . . goals that are counterintuitive," said a senior congressional aide familiar with the program."

That's exactly right. The US should be backing a genuinely free, privately owned and run, and critical media - and it should lavish time and attention and access on this media, regardless of its perceived politics. Instead, it is trying to "create an alternative" to the "critical Arab media." This is the Fox News model - fight alleged bias with your own naked bias, call it "fair and balanced," and accuse others of the bias that you yourself embrace.

To this point, the Fox model for IMN isn't working. The Post points out: " IMN needs to move quickly if it wants to counter critical coverage of U.S. and coalition efforts by the Arabic-language satellite channels of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. About 35 percent of Iraqi homes have satellite receivers, which were banned during Hussein's rule, but that number is growing rapidly. A recent poll showed that Iraqis who can get satellite television choose the Arab stations over IMN by more than 2 to 1."

If the CPA must get into the media game - and I'm not at all sure that it should - then it should be extremely proactive in providing access to critical voices and to not insisting on an unrealistically upbeat, pro-American tone. This is exactly the same problem, scaled down, as will plague the proposed Arabic language satellite station. If it is simply to be a vehicle for pro-American propaganda, it won't find an audience. And if it is to be a genuinely open vehicle for free public discourse, then it is going to have to find a place for those "critical" views now found on al Jazeera and al Arabiya which it is so mistakenly intended to 'combat.'

Arab audiences know propaganda when they hear it or see it. They expect it. The US should be bending over backward to show that it does not mean "propaganda' when it says 'free press.' But if the shoe fits...

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Even close observers of the Middle East might have missed that over the weekend, Jordan got a new government. Yes, Faisal al-Fayez is now Prime Minister. Out with one group of bland technocrats charged with putting Jordan and its economy first, in with a new group of bland technocrats charged with putting Jordan and its economy first. Jordan's change of government was a non-event even by non-event standards... even Jordanian newspapers have hardly covered it. But before you shrug your shoulders and move on, remember that Jordan is one of the 'best' of the 'pro-American democracies.' And the change of government registers as even more of a non-event than the Jordanian elections a few months ago. Well, on the other hand, given all that could happen and be exciting, maybe boring isn't such a bad thing in the Middle East.

UPDATE: not to be misunderstood here.... for all the virtues of boring, I don't think that the Jordanian political system is doing very well here. It should be quite telling that the change of Prime Ministers - done in the undemocratic fashion of a royal appointment - arouses no real interest anywhere. The Jordanian regime has taken little action to roll back the phenomenal wave of extraordinary laws enacted without Parliamentary approval over the last few years - laws which place tight restrictions on the media and especially the press, while curtailing civil society and political parties and - really - any means of independent political mobilization. Jordan is buying temporary stability at the price of any goods that democracy might bring - exactly the kind of tradeoff which the so-called new Wilsonians in the Bush administration were supposed to be against. So don't mistake my boredom for approval. The recent report by the International Crisis Group (link to follow) sums up nicely the impasse of Jordanian politics these days.

Aha! A sharp-eyed reader has an answer to the mystery of the poll I quoted a few days ago, the one which showed Chalabi with 26% support and Sadr with 1%. The poll was, in fact, according to a State Department briefing yesterday, "conducted by the staff of the State Department Office of Research, in coordination with the Iraq Central Statistics Office and the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRSS)." That's right, it was a State Department poll, cleverly concealed as an Iraqi poll. No newspaper that I saw - not AFP, not al-Zaman - mentioned its American origin, although I may well have missed some stories which did. This makes some of its pessimistic findings all the more remarkable... and probably explains Chalabi's lofty (by his standards) showing. (Disclaimer - It's also slightly possible that this is a different poll - some of the particulars look a bit different, although its the same research center named.)

The lead editorial in al-Quds al-Arabi today takes to task Saudi Mufti Shaykh Abd al-Aziz bin Abdullah Al Al-Shaykhfor his fatwa which (according to them) declares the protestors inspired by London-based dissident Saad al-Faqih to be "non-Muslim." The paper points out that there is nothing in the Quran which says that protests are forbidden or that they are an un-Islamic innovation, but that there are many verses which condemn tyranny - which, the paper suggests, can be found aplenty in the Saudi regime. What I want to know, but don't, is whether this is really what the fatwa says; how common it is for a Saudi mufti to deploy what sounds an awful lot like the takfir (declaring someone to be an apostate) card; and how people other than al-Quds al-Arabi are reacting. How does this fit in with the recent reform petition submitted to Crown Prince Abdullah? More later, I hope. Anyone want to point me to some interesting articles on this?

By the way, for good background on Saad al-Faqih, you could do worse than Mamoun Fandy's book "Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent." I was thinking about Fandy because yesterday I was asking "who is the best moderate Islamism has to offer". Fandy has a piece in today's al-Sharq al-Awsat arguing that "the moderates are the problem" - not radicals. Since Fandy was a member of the recent Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, I find this an interesting argument to be making.

Monday, October 27, 2003
The aardvark's head is spinning. Calpundit helpfully provides the following quotes:
"President Bush this morning said the increasing attacks on U.S. personnel and supporters in Iraq are a sign of progress because the attacks indicate Iraqi opponents are getting increasingly desperate. And just in case you thought Bush was merely speaking carelessly, Scott McClellan repeated the theme: "We've always said the more progress we make, the more desperate the killers will become," the spokesman said. Asked how it could be determined that the attacks signaled desperation rather than sophistication, McClellan repeated: "The more progress we make toward a free and prosperous Iraq, the more desperate they will become."

Okay. So, does that mean that if there are no attacks, then it would be an indicator that the administration's policy is failing? Are all the conservatives who have spent the last few months claiming that everything in Iraq is rosy and happy actually the ones claiming that Bush's policy is failing? How can their anti-American negativism by tolerated?

Spinning, spinning, spinning... dizzy now.

Dan Drezner wonders whether Mohammed Mahathir is the best moderate Islam has to offer. What a strange question! Mahathir may have just given a speech challenging the Muslim world to reform and criticizing (or praising) Jews for ruling the world. This speech, and its response, may deserve comment and critique. And Mahathir may be a Muslim. But he is no Islamist, and I doubt that very many moderate Islamists would either see him or accept him as a spokesman. Mahathir is generally seen as a cranky and savvy nationalist, someone who will say anything if it serves his personal ambitions. He banished the most important moderate Islamist in Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, to jail on trumped up charges because Ibrahim was getting too popular. This did not endear him with Islamists either in Malaysia or abroad. Taking Mahathir as somehow representative of mainstream (or exemplary) Islamism just makes no sense, if Islamism as a political ideology/movement is to mean anything more than "Muslims."

Who is the best moderate Islamism has to offer, then? Now that would be a good question. Here are a couple of nominations. What is interesting is that many of them were initially quite sympathetic to the US after 9/11 and publicly condemned the terrorist attacks (not that this made much of an impact in the United States), but have become much more skeptical and bitter over the last two years. Many make very harsh criticisms of American foreign policy. Not all of these people agree with each other. Many of them hold views with which I strongly disagree. But if you are going to say anything serious about moderate Islamism, here are my nominations for people you need to deal with (not including people who write mainly in English for a Western audience): Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Fahmi Huwaydi, Tareq al-Bishri, Hassan Hanafi, Kamal Abu el Magd, Rashed Ghannouchi, Said Binsaid, Mohammed al-Awa, Mohammed Khatami, Abdelkarim Soroush, Tariq Ramadan and Abd al-Wahhab al-Affendi.

The aardvark is now open to other nominations, as well as to the inevitable criticisms about some of these folks (whose views, remember, I am not endorsing... simply presenting as important moderate voices in contemporary Islamist politics).

UPDATE: Silly aardvark, no wonder the link below didn't work, and no wonder that article sounded so familiar. The Kagan article was from June, not from today.... which explains that feeling of deja vu I got writing up the response. What the heck, I'm going to leave it up anyway, even if it shows me getting sucked into a months-old argument... valuable minutes of my life were spent on it, right?

Anyway, we now return to our regularly scheduled Republican Approved Commentary: please disregard the above negative, anti-American defeatism.

The Liberation Parties which broke out all over Baghdad last night should convince even the most determined skeptic of the epidemic of peace, love, and understanding which now characterizes Iraq. Anti-American and unpatriotic reporters are probably going to point to the dead and wounded, but think about it - how many people are killed and wounded in post-Final Four celebrations every year? Does that mean that the Final Four is a fiasco? Of course not. As the President has often said, the best proof of our success in Iraq will be terrorist attacks, I mean Liberation Celebrations, throughout the capital city. Last night proves, once again, the wisdom of his policies.

NOTE: the preceding news bulletin has been approved by the White House and by the Republican National Committee as appropriate coverage of the situation in Iraq. The Republican Seal of Approval - don't trust any news without it!

An anonymous reader with the delightful name "Abu Fan" (I hope that's the name s/he uses when writing to other blogs!) asks me to comment on Robert Kagan's piece in the Post today, a fairly typical hawkish recitation of quotes of a bunch of non-Bushies like Chirac, Clinton, Gore, and others at various points in the last few years to the effect that Iraq had WMD and posed a threat, which he then takes to conclude that anyone who says that Bush is lying must think that Bush is part of a vast international conspiracy of liars.

Here's my response:
I have never argued that Iraq did not at one time have a WMD program, nor that it posed a potential threat (although I have argued consistently that there was no evidence of a nuclear program). My argument has always been that this was a threat which was best met via UN inspections, which had largely succeeded in their mission and which could have been reconstituted effectively. This, it seems to me, has been almost entirely vindicated. The lying and manipulation - of which there was a lot - did not begin with Bush. The Clinton administration manipulated UNSCOM through 1998, which directly contributed to the collapse of that agency (which explains some of those quotes). But to conclude from this that Bush did not lie would be wrong. All the folks you (Kagan) quote were referring to a threat which could be met through UN action; Bush's lie consisted of hyping the threat to justify a war which few policymakers outside his circle considered necessary.

Sunday, October 26, 2003
Vindication! The Washington Post reports today that even though Iraq "had no active program to build a weapon, produce its key materials or obtain the technology he needed for either", and that David Kay has quietly determined that "Iraq's nuclear weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign, and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use," Iraq's regime still wanted nuclear weapons. Saddam lusted after them, in fact. What greater vindication could there be for the war? As Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and George Bush repeatedly explained to the American people, the United States could not safely be left in the same world as someone with lust for nuclear weapons in his heart. Could we really risk a mushroom cloud of Saddam's lust? We dealt with it effectively, whatever the critics now say - wherever Saddam Hussein is lurking in Iraq, we can safely know that his lust for nuclear weapons has been extinguished. Some anti-American and unpatriotic commentators are probably going to harp on the negative, as if Iraq not having a nuclear weapons program somehow compromises the President's case for war (which had absolutely nothing to do with any threat Iraq might pose - he never once said the word imbanint, you know). But that only shows how desperate they are: as we've been saying all along, the best vindication of the urgent need for war would be finding no nuclear weapons, just as we predicted would happen. The critics all seem to have forgotten that the President gave dozens, maybe hundreds of speeches, where he clearly warned that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program and posed no immediate danger.

NOTE: the preceding news bulletin has been approved by the White House and by the Republican National Committee as appropriate coverage of the situation in Iraq. The Republican Seal of Approval - don't trust any news without it!

UPDATE: the preceding news report mentioned "Saddam Hussein lurking in Iraq." It is typical of how the liberal bias infects even honest media that a story about the vindication of the President's claims about the Iraqi nuclear program would be tarnished with a mention of the unknown whereabouts of the Iraqi dictator. Since his location is unknown, he could just as easily be dead, or in New Jersey. We would like to suggest to writers that in the future they avoid such misleading references. Thank you.

More good news from Iraq! In a stunning demonstration of Iraq's stability, Paul Wolfowitz was treated today to a spectacular display of fireworks and good cheer. While staying in the Al Rasheed Hotel, symbol of Iraq's liberation, Wolfowitz was delighted by the spontaneous welcoming ceremony hosted by unidentified Iraqis. In his unscripted remarks, a beaming Wolfowitz said "Thank you, Iraq, thank you Iraqi people. I knew things here were good, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect such love. I'm just speechless!" Meanwhile, some anti-American and unpatriotic media outlets reported the completely baseless rumour that about 10 Americans were wounded in the celebration, which as is typical of their relentless negativism they described as an "attack" - as if 10 soldiers being hurt meant anything compared to the love of the liberated Iraqi people.

NOTE: the preceding news bulletin has been approved by the White House and by the Republican National Committee as appropriate coverage of the situation in Iraq. The Republican Seal of Approval - don't trust any news without it!