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, November 14, 2003
And now I'm really gone. Have a nice weekend!

Just a quick check-in - I'm really not here.

After Andrew Sullivan's amusing non-response to Josh Marshall's quotes on imminent threat, here's another chance: please respond to Thomas Powers in the New York Review. Powers lays out a large number of clear examples of Bush officials declaring an imminent threat, which requires him to go back and review what every sentient person remembers: "To justify preemptive war on Iraq the administration made three interlocking claims: that Iraq was actively developing weapons of mass destruction including nuclear bombs; that it had a secret working relationship with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network...; and that the danger that Saddam Hussein would provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction was so grave that it amounted to an imminent threat. There was nothing tentative or timorous about this argument; officials hammered home all three points for months."

He then recounts in detail Colin Powell's UN speech. He then lays Powell's speech against Kay's findings, again in some detail lest the point be lost in generalizations. The result: "It is the first part of that sentence which answers the question whether Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States - no weapons found. The rest of the report is full of interesting detail about Iraqi science, industry, and technology but contains not a single clear and unambiguous confirmation of any claim made by Colin Powell in his speech to the UN."

This really shouldn't be necessary, but the "what Bush said today is what I have always said" crowd makes it so.

Thursday, November 13, 2003
Off to a workshop for the weekend... back on Monday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Last week I complained about the election process in the major Political Science professional associations. One point I made was that I refused to vote in the International Studies Association election because they simply provided a slate to be voted by acclamation - no choices, just a full slate to approve. Well, it looks like I might not be the only one to be put off by such a sham. I just received this email from the ISA:

"A few days ago, you received an e-mail ballot with which to vote in the elections for ISA's president and vice presidents. It is imperative that you e-mail back your ballot with your vote. Our constitution requires that with an uncontested slate, we need a 20 percent turnout in order for the slate to be valid."

I can only fervently hope that the ISA fails to reach its 20% turnout rate, which might force the organization to consider why more than 80% of its members don't bother to vote for its leadership. This has nothing to do with any of the candidates, by the way, who may or may not be excellent choices for these positions. It's about the ridiculous absence of democratic choice in an association dominated by, of all things, political scientists.

Several commentators on other sites lavished me with scorn for suggesting that Bush's endorsement of democracy in the Middle East somehow contradicted established conservative thinking. Martin Kramer, one of the leading conservative writers on the Middle East, emailed me at the time agreeing with my notes. Now, Kramer has elaborated this point on his own site:

"Frankly, the President's speech reminded me more of Jimmy Carter's human rights idealism, with its heavy overtones of missionary purpose. At the end of the day, Carter's human rights diplomacy in the Middle East undermined only one regime: the Shah's. The result was not a net gain for human rights or U.S. interests."

He also links to his more systematic argument against trying to promote democracy in the Middle East here.

It's no secret that I disagree with Kramer about most things, most definitely including this, but it is to his credit that he is sticking to his intellectual guns even when the winds in Washington have changed for the moment. It makes for a more honest argument when one's opponent doesn't reverse his/her positions 180 degrees every month or two, while pretending that he/she has been saying the new thing all along.

The Bremer regime in Iraq may be coming to a close, as frustration in Baghdad and Washington mounts. Josh Marshall and Juan Cole both have interesting analyses of this developing situation. Nobody seems to know for sure, but everyone seems to expect a major change in the occupation administration. Among other things, this is a clear admission that things are not in fact going wonderfully, that things are bad and getting worse, and that it is getting dangerously close to being too late to stop pretending otherwise.

The Republican "it's morning in Iraq" campaign assumed that the problem was negative media coverage, without really caring whether or not that media coverage was accurate. Boy, morning didn't last very long did it? From "morning in Iraq" to "long hard slog" so fast, it's amazing that there weren't more diagnosed cases of whiplash among the "this is just as I've argued all along: the truth is whatever the Bush administration says it is" crowd.

Whatever happens with Bremer in Washington, the insurgency is driving events right now. Steadily increasing attacks in both Sunni and Shia areas, in areas of the south far outside the so-called Sunni Triangle (see Cole's comments on this today), including increasingly frequent mortar attacks against Coalition command centers, have the security situation on a downward spiral. It seems plausible to me that the insurgency is gaining confidence and momentum - although I do not think that it is winning any great popular support among Iraqis in most of the country.

The IGC, with its appointed and unpopular exiles, continues to be ineffective and unpopular. Multiple sources now confirm that it is common for no more than six or seven members to actually attend meetings anymore. And Bremer's frustration with the Council doesn't even count as an open secret anymore, it's so public. Of course, Bremer and Washington don't seem willing to consider that the Council's failure was inherent to the Council's composition and mandate, and not just the fault of the (admittedly considerable) character flaws of its members. While I certainly hope that any post-IGC arrangement is made sans Chalabi, I also hope that they learn some deeper poltical and institutional lessons here.

If the stories that the US is preparing a dramatic military escalation and for the dissolution of the IGC are true, things are in for some changes. Can they get things right on the third try (Garner - strike one; Bremer - strike two)?

Unfortunately, the US lost its best chance for a genuine internationalization of the occupation with its hardball negotiating over SC Resolution 1511. This is especially unfortunate given that the administration is now, only weeks later, openly considering many of the options - such as a rapid creation of a provisional government - which it refused to entertain in those talks. Even if it goes back to those ideas now, it will do it without the international and multilateral dividends which they would have gained a month ago. But better late than never.

Monday, November 10, 2003
Whenever a terrorist attack takes place, the predictable call goes out: where are the Muslim moderates to condemn these atrocities? The question goes out into the rhetorical void, as if it answers itself... there are none. No condemnation of terror, no moderates, no hope for the Islamic world.

In that context, those asking where the moderates are should turn their eyes to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi's public response to the terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. Qaradawi, as I've mentioned many times here, is probably the most important moderate Islamist public intellectual in the Arab world today. He has a vast constituency due to his frequent appearances on al-Jazeera, and has played a key role in the Islam Online website.

Qaradawi issued a public response to the Riyadh bombing today, which Islam Online ran under the headline "al-Qaradawi: no to explosions, yes to dialogue." He declared the terrorist attack to be illegitimate under Islam, and called for an end the violence in the kingdom. Qaradawi condemned all who would direct violence towards Muslims, called their actions contrary to Islam, and urged all Muslims to struggle against those who would use such violence. He also called on Saudi reformists and the Saudi government to work together to achieve change without violence.

A reader sends in some interesting thoughts on the question of conservative and neoconservative positions on democracy in the Middle East. He is not as sure as I am that Lewis is hostile to the idea of Arab democracy, and notes that Wolfowitz, who is much more powerful, is a democracy enthusiast.

My response:
On the cons vs neocons, I agree that I didn't express this quite as clearly as I meant, but I think that the point I intended is right. The traditional conservatives, and the Washington Institute-style Middle East analysts, have been consistently hostile to the idea of promoting democracy in the Middle East. Some take crude "Arabs (or Islam) are incompatible with democracy" lines; others the more pragmatic "democracy now would elect our enemies" line. But either way, they have been consisently opposed to democracy promotion - and they haven't changed their minds (for what it's worth, Martin Kramer emailed me and agreed with me on this point).

The neocons, by contrast, are as you say much more democracy optimists -which is why, if you go back to the original post, I made a partial exception for Wolfowitz (who I think differs from much of his neocon cohort on this point). But the neocons have a different problem - a willful blind spit to reality, such a deep attachment to their theories that they end up with hopelessly unrealistic policies. And their enthusiasm for democracy is thin. They see it as a magic solution for the region's problems, but are unwilling to really tolerate its messiness when it doesn't immediately produce pro-American results. And they are peculiarly uninterested in what people from the region actually think, which does not sit well with their avowed democracy enthusiasm.

Sunday, November 09, 2003
What a non-story. You see a lead article with a headline like "Iraq Seen as Al Qaeda's Top Battlefield," and you expect to maybe see some interviews with people affiliated with or with some insight into al Qaeda. Or maybe some dramatic new evidence about the identity of the insurgency. Instead, you get: "Answering Osama bin Laden's call for holy war in Iraq, hundreds of followers from at least eight nations have entered the country and are playing a major role in attacking Western targets and Iraqi civilians, U.S. and Iraqi officials say."

Oh, US and Iraqi officals say so, huh? Look, the role of al Qaeda in Iraq might or might not be true, and it's certainly important... which means that it is too important for a major American newspaper to run a story based only on interviews with Bremer, three members of the IGC, and anonymous intelligence officials, all of whom are clearly self-interested parties.

Has losing Robin Wright made the LA Times so desperate for copy that they are reduced to publishing US government press releases as "news"? Don't we already have Fox News for that?

On the other hand, the op-ed page editor's piece on his recent visit to Iraq as part of an American propaganda operation is worth a read.

It's about time: Robin Wright reports in the Post:
"Increasingly alarmed by the failure of Iraq's Governing Council to take decisive action, the Bush administration is developing possible alternatives to the council to ensure that the United States can turn over political power at the same time and pace that troops are withdrawn, according to senior U.S. officials here and in Baghdad. The United States is deeply frustrated with its hand-picked council members because they have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially selecting a committee to write a new constitution, the officials added. "We're unhappy with all of them. They're not acting as a legislative or governing body, and we need to get moving," said a well-placed U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They just don't make decisions when they need to."

"The move comes after repeated warnings to the Iraqi body. Two weeks ago, Bremer met with the council and bluntly told members that they "can't go on like this," a senior U.S. official in Baghdad said. Bremer noted that at least half the council is out of the country at any given time and that at some meetings, only four or five members showed up. Since the council appointed 25 cabinet ministers in late August, the body has done "nothing of substance," the U.S. official in Baghdad added. The council has been seriously remiss in oversight of its own ministers, holding public hearings, setting policy for cabinet departments and even communicating with cabinet members, he said. The United States, which financially and politically backed several of the council members when they were in exile, has also been disillusioned by the council's inability to communicate with the Iraqi public or gain greater legitimacy. The senior official in Baghdad called the council "inept" at outreach to its own people."

What can I say? Since the official title of the Iraqi Governing Council over here at Abu Aardvark has always been "appointed, unrepresentative, unpopular and illegitimate," this hardly comes as a surprise. Just one more example of reality catching up with the neocon fantasy world.

The article reviews several possibilities for replacing the IGC, including an Afghan style national conference. I haven't had time to think through the various options on the table, but I'm glad that official Washington is finally broaching the possibility of cutting their losses on Chalabi and company. The IGC was never a good idea, it hasn't worked, and rather than throwing more energy and effort into pretending otherwise, the Bush administration should seriously think about new options. It seems more likely, however, that this will end up being little more than a warning shot across the brow delivered via the Washington Post, which will get the IGC to perform marginally better for a few weeks. Let's hope not.