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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Saturday, December 20, 2003
Not really here this weekend, but just a quick note on the Libyan announcement about its WMD programs. Three things:

First, this is definitely a positive development, one which would help to strengthen multilateral arms control as a way of providing for international security. Libya has long been identified as one of the states which has resisted such transparency, and has often described the international regime against the proliferation of WMD as a conspiracy by the powerful to keep the weak weak. Its acceptance, even rhetorically, of the legitimacy of the prohibition is a positive step to be rewarded and built upon.

Second, that said, it isn't an enormously big deal, in that Libya has not posed any real threat for a long time. Libya has been trying very hard to get out of the "rogue" game for many years, and this is only the latest gambit in its efforts to do so. Libyan cooperation with the Lockerbie investigation has been the leading edge of Qaddafi's drive for international rehabilitation, a drive which has included largely getting out of the terrorism business.

Third, and following from the second point, this doesn't have that much to do with the Iraq war and doesn't really represent the vindication for hawkish approaches to rogue regimes that is being claimed. I can understand why the Bush team wants to make this claim, and it isn't the stupidest claim they've ever made, but it doesn't really fit the facts. As I noted above, Libya has been seeking international rehabilitation for a number of years, desperate to get rid of the UN sanctions, and has been aggressively pursuing it via the Lockerbie investigation for several years. This fairly obviously means that the new Libyan approach can not be a result of the Iraq war, since the new approach predates that war (and the Bush administration).

So, final score: good news for multilateral arms control, a positive step towards integrating a 'rogue' regime back into international society, but not really evidence in favor of the Iraq war. Compare the British spin to the American spin, and you'll see what I mean.

Let's be clear: what Bush has accomplished here is to get Libya to accept exactly the kind of robust international inspections which his administration roundly denounced as useless in Iraq - while leaving Qaddafi in power, after insisting in Iraq that only a regime change could possibly guarantee security. In other words, this 'success' in Libya is a direct repudiation of everything which the Bush team argued for in Iraq, and a vindication of his multilateralist arms control critics.

Does this hurt Dean and the Dems? Not if you think about it rationally, rather than in partisan terms. Bringing Libya into a global nonproliferation regime would make America safer - which is a victory for multilateral arms control, which Dean, Clark, and most Dems support, and which Bush opposes. This also poses a bit of an intellectual test for the administration's supporters: intellectual consistency vs partisanship. Since the Libya announcement contradicts the hawkish regime change approach to arms control, does the hawkish right attack it, or do they support it out of partisanship for Bush? I haven't gone looking to see the answer to this, but it's an interesting test.

UPDATE: This Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler piece in the Post, which I just read after writing this post, makes many of the same points in more detail - definitely worth reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2003
I know this is silly, because if you can read this then the complaint goes away, but.... why oh why does my latest post (the one about MEMRI) appear in the blogger page, but not on the actual blog? This is exactly why I'm thinking of switching to a different host... thanks for the suggestions I've received so far - I'd still love to hear from more people about where I should go and why.

MEMRI, again. Here's one small example of what's wrong with MEMRI, and why it matters for non-Arabic speakers attempting to understand Arab opinion: the reporting of Abd al-Bari Atwan's December 15 editorial in al-Quds al-Arabi.

Here's what MEMRI says about it: "While most newspapers reported the act of Saddam's capture in detail, there are beginning to emerge "conspiracy theories." Abd Al-Bari Atwan, the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi and a loyalist of Saddam Hussein, wrote that the arrest of Saddam "without resistance, hiding in a small and filthy hole, was most likely a theatre and a finely woven hatching operation.""

Here's what Claudia Winkler of the Weekly Standard said about the same editorial (although I have to admit some skepticism about how she came across it while browsing the Arabic press - if she does read Arabic, I'm quite impressed, but otherwise she might be a little more candid about where she found the translation) : "In the space of three short paragraphs, the writer--editor in chief Abd-al-Bari Atwan--goes from the grossest conspiracy theory about the Americans' "staged" capture of Saddam to a disarming admission that none other than "democracy, equality, transparency, and an independent justice system" are prerequisites for a restoration of Arab dignity. Here is the passage (dated December 15):
"We realize that the Iraqi president's appearance--with matted hair and ragged clothes--was extremely humiliating because no one expected him to be captured alive and without resistance, hiding in a small, filthy hole. More than likely, it was staged as a carefully crafted operation to mislead people. We have only heard the American story, more accurately, what the American military wanted us to hear. We will need more time for the dust to settle and for some parts of the real picture to emerge. The capture of Saddam Hussein could be a blessing for many Iraqis, especially those who suffered as a result of his injustice and oppression. But it could come back to haunt the Americans invaders. The Iraqis, and especially those who have collaborated with the occupation, are greatly distressed. Some of them have justified their silence, and even their collaboration, saying that they feared Saddam Hussein's return to power. How will they justify themselves now? These are momentous events, perhaps the most important days in the history of the Arab and Muslim community. They hold important lessons. We must learn these lessons if we truly desire a better future. First and foremost among these lessons is that justice, democracy, equality, transparency, and an independent justice system are the basic prerequisites for any real movement toward progress and the restoration of the community's dignity."

Gee, that's a big difference, huh? Wacky conspiracy talk aside, Atwan is actually using his op-ed to put in a powerful appeal for the rule of law, democracy, and equality, in the service of creating a better Iraq. You'd think that MEMRI would want to report such an exciting contribution, huh? No, of course not.

Of course, Winkler isn't totally right either. She reads the passage above as evidence that Saddam's capture has created a "teachable moment" in the Arab world - if even someone as radical as Abd al-Bari Atwan is saying such things now, then it must be true that the invasion of Iraq really is spreading liberalism into the Arab world!

The only problem with this inference, though, is that Atwan has been saying things like this for a long, long time. Al Quds al Arabi is indeed a powerful voice for a radically-tinged Arabism - one which has been consistently critical, often brutally so, of the authoritarian and repressive Arab regimes. It has always combined its hostility to American foreign policy with an equally searing critique of Arab regimes. Is Atwan (or al Quds al Arabi) a beacon of Jeffersonian democracy that would warm the cockles of Tom Friedman's heart? No, not really. But in terms of criticizing Arab autocracy, Atwan's paper is an old hand, and what he said in the editorial above offers little support for Winkler's claim that Saddam's arrest is the trigger for a new openness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Not to the change the subject, but have you ever tried to imagine what goes on in Milwaukee Brewer strategy sessions?

"Sir, sir, we have a real problem! We have a player who hit 45 home runs last year, played every game, and - worst of all - he's only 28 years old! We'd better trade him right now!"

"Trade him? But what if we get good players in return?"

"You're right - that's a real danger. We'll have to be sure to take the first offer anyone makes us - and good god, man, don't negotiate!"

"Hey, here's an offer! Arizona wants to give us a washed up utility infielder, an injured second baseman who looks like a one year wonder, a first baseman who couldn't win the job from Mark Grace, and a pitcher with a bum elbow who won two games last year."

"Yes, yes, that's good - but do any of them have any potential?"

"Of course not, sir - what are you paying me for? To find *good* players?"

"Right, right - I trust you, of course. Do the deal... but first, make sure that that second baseman really is injured!"

Oh, the humanity.

The new American Arabic language satellite station is coming soon. As I've argued many times, this isn't a particularly good or useful idea. An American-run station won't have much credibility, especially if - as is almost certain - its content comes under scrutiny from partisan groups in Washington. It will be seen as propaganda by most of its target audience - an audience of Arabs which is highly attuned to propaganda and conditioned to expect it from state-run media.

The station's backers draw inspiration from the "success" of Radio Sawa - "Executives of the broadcasting board said they were heartened that Radio Sawa, a youth-oriented radio station that mixes Western and Eastern pop and was also supposedly doomed, had built an audience of at least 15 million throughout the Middle East." But Radio Sawa's "success" reflects the nature of the radio band market - there just weren't very many (okay, any) decent pop music stations in most of the Arab world, which allowed Sawa to fill a niche. And that niche is purely entertainment, not news or politics - I've yet to see any evidence whatsoever that Sawa has had any success in the latter arenas. The TV station - al-Hurra - will not find such an available market niche. The Arabic television market is already saturated with both entertainment and news programming - not just al Jazeera, but a whole array of other competitors. Al Hurra is unlikely to be able to compete, and certainly isn't going to find the kind of opening that Sawa could.

Al Hurra reflects some basic pathologies in the American approach to American public opinion. One is the "subliminal fallacy," of which Sawa is the epitome - the idea that rather than try and persuade Arabs rationally, we should seduce them with pop culture and then change their minds without their even realizing it. That's great for an advertising agency, but is deeply unworthy as an approach to foreign policy. Another fallacy is what I call the "peekaboo fallacy" - the idea that if we ignore something, then it doesn't exist (when my cub covers her eyes, she thinks that I can't see her - adorable in a cub, less adorable in a superpower). Al Jazeera and al Arabiya matter, whether we like them or not, and ignoring them or insulting them only increases their influence. Another fallacy is the "my football" fallacy - based on the mature idea that "if you won't let me be quarterback, then I'll take the football and start my own game somewhere else." This one isn't very cute when kids do it, and it isn't any cuter when a superpower does it.

It would be far better to work with the existing Arab media than to try and start up a competition. Why? Because it is that media which largely sets the agenda of Arab politics today, and ignoring it or trying to bypass it largely avoids the real issue. The real issue is that Arab public opinion makers largely believe that the United States - or at least the Bush administration - does not take their views seriously and has no interest in understanding their interests or concerns. Al Hurra is exactly the sort of thing which confirms those views, and which will drive the wedge between the United States and Arab public opinion even deeper.

To be fair, starting al Hurra isn't a disaster. It probably can't hurt that the station is out there, and it might even become something worthwhile against the odds. The greater concern is the opportunity costs - what is being foregone to pay for this expensive operation which is unlikely to produce much of a payoff? It's more likely to be an expensive and useless boondoggle, which distracts the US from doing what would actually work - which, I suppose, is one definition of disaster.

I'm thinking about moving from Bloggerstan to someplace else - either to Movable Type or else maybe to BloggerProStan, or even somewhere more (or less) exotic. But I'm a bit worried about how difficult and time consuming it's going to be, what with links and constructing the template and moving the archives and all that. And I haven't a clue how much it costs. Could anyone out there who has made such a move email me and give me a sense of how hard it was to move, and whether it was worth it?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Kieran Healy, ever the trendsetter, sets out his list of books that he did not read this year. Allow Mr Healy to explain: "As 2003 draws to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the great books I did not read this year. This has been a particularly good year for not reading books. I would go so far as to say that there are more books I did not read this year than in any year in the recent past. Although a significant part of my job consists in sitting somewhere and reading something, I have still managed to find the time not to read a very wide range of material from many different fields. In special cases, I have bought the book and then not read it. Mostly, though, I did not get around to even doing that. I thought I would present my ten favorite nonfiction books I did not read this year. I hope that they will not deepen your knowledge or broaden your mind in 2004, as they didn’t with me."

In solidarity, the aardvark's own list of books that I did not read this year.

Jonathen Lethem, Fortress of Solitude. I had looked forward to not reading this book for quite a while, and once Mrs Aardvark gave up halfway through, I was even more eager to not read this fictional delight.

Queen Noor's Leap of Faith. As someone who has been interested in Jordan for a long time, this book topped my list of books to not read this year. This book no doubt tells a wonderful story of marriage into a royal family and a woman's struggles to be accepted in her new country. And it probably gives some juicy details about palace intrigues in the Hashemite court, and perhaps even some insights into the last days of King Hussein. Probably.

Joseph Braude, The New Iraq. Written by a "Middle East expert" who had never visited Iraq, and whose fluent Arabic allowed him to consult a full three Arabic language sources (okay, I peeked at the bibliography), and endorsed prominently by James Woolsey, this book promised to offer a bold and completely unrealistic but cheerfully optimistic blueprint for a post-Saddam era. When the Bush administration demonstrated that it had given virtually no thought to a post-Saddam Iraq, and then the author was arrested for smuggling antiquities out of the new Iraq, the book secured its place on the list of books not to read this year.

Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory. No doubt a masterful overview of the current state of democratic theory, this book has been on my list of books to not read for months. Anyone pondering how to build a democracy in Iraq would no doubt benefit from not reading it, or... hmmm, I'm getting tangled up in Kieran-talk here. I actually really do want to read this one, but that hasn't stopped it from landing squarely in the 2003 list of books that I did not read.

Okay, back to grading papers, so that I can finish and maybe shorten the list of books that I did not read!

There's a really disappointing article in the Weekly Standard (available to subscribers only, sorry) about Khalid Abou el-Fadl. The article begins by noting a recent contoversy over an article published in Egypt (and then, of course, translated by MEMRI since it made a moderate Islamist look bad) which quotes Abou el-Fadl as saying a number of outrageous things about Bush and about the US. Abou el-Fadl denies that he said these things, and the Standard article gives a fair account of the reasons to believe his denial and conludes that "given the low journalistic standards of the Egyptian press, it seems obvious that he has been wronged."

But after declaring him innocent of these charges, the Standard article then goes on to attack him anyway. He had "cordial relations with Islamic organizations" in the United States, they allege - an odd charge to make against an American Muslim. The other allegations are even slimmer. The last word is given to Daniel Pipes, who says that calling Abou el-Fadl a moderate "is like making a distinction between a moderate Nazi and a radical Nazi," and to Nina Shea, who says that "those who say that [Islam] is compatible with democracy are facile and probably ignorant."

Abou al-Fadl is a US based Muslim who has written extensively on Islamic jurisprudence, and whose intellectual trajectory is one of a serious Islamist trying to grapple with how to reconcile Islam with modernity. Abou el-Fadl's books include "And God Knows the Soldiers," which carefully and critically reconstructs the concept of authority and authoritarianism in Islamic discourse - attacking Wahhabi and Salafi puritanism and arguing instead for a richly diverse interpretive methodology; "Speaking in God's Name," which also explores the concept of authority in Islam, with a particular emphasis on the question of women; and "Islam and the Question of Tolerance," based on a Boston Review essay, which argues for the need for a genuinely democratic Islam to combat the authoritarian impulse which he sees degrading the Islamist trend. In short, all of Abou el-Fadl's work revolves around the critique of authoritarianism in Islamism and a critical impulse towards democracy, toleration, and freedom of interpretation. If there are moderate Islamists, Abou el-Fadl is one.

And that is precisely the problem that some people have with him. For Pipes, moderate Islamists are far more threatening than radical Islamists. Pipes has consistently argued that moderate Islamists do not exist (although moderate secular Muslims might), and that the US should abstain from dialogue with them in favor of an extremely tough approach. Radicals like bin Laden fit well into his worldview, and strengthen his arguments for a tough American approach to the Arab and Muslim world. But where moderate Islamists can gain a public voice - as has Abou el-Fadl to some degree, it undermines the claim that no such creatures exist. And if such creatures do exist, then it requires considerable acrobatics to reject calls for a dialogue with them, given America's obvious need to find support from such moderates if it hopes to achieve its vision of democratizing the Middle East.

Such attacks on moderate Islamists are common among those who do not see any prospect of or value in bringing democracy to the region. But I find it disheartening that the Weekly Standard - which has consistently argued for the need to spread democracy abroad - to give space to mean-spirited attacks on exactly the kinds of people who could be allies in a struggle to reconcile democracy with Islamism.

On the question of how and where Saddam should be tried... overall, there seems to be strong sentiment in favor of holding the trial in Iraq, but also concern for international law and the ICC. Here are three typical comments from major papers:

Ali Ibrahim in Al-Sharq al-Awsat: "The ideal scenario is that Saddam be tried in Iraq before an Iraqi court and an Iraqi judge and Iraqi lawyers because his crimes against his people are greater than anything else. But there are also voices outside which want to open the door to an international court such as that which tried former Yugoslav President Milosevic... .. A strong argument can be made for an exceptional international court in which Iraqis participate and in which all Iraqi and regional and international cases can be heard... but for the new Iraqi government and for ordinary Iraqi people who suffered under this regime for decades, the best would be a court in Iraq."

Hazem al-Saghiya in al-Hayat: "Arabs are caught between two edges of the question of a trial for Saddam: the first: any trial would be better than the non-trials of the Saddam era. Just giving Saddam the chance to express his views would mean that the occupying authority is less harsh than was his rule. .... The other: what needs to be defended is the international court in the Hague... this is a matter for international justice since Saddam is a criminal against human rights... This would rule out the death penalty which would surely be used if the matter were left to the Americans and the Iraqis. Those who reject this course... are more loyal to America than to the world, and their desire for vengeance against Saddam greater than their love for Iraq."

Sami Shoroush, al-Hayat: "With regards to the trail of the former Iraqi president, it is clear that all the crimes committed by him during the 30 years of his Baathist reign, it should be an international tribunal because his crimes went beyond the scope of Iraq to include other neighboring countries, and his tribunal should be a lesson to all the remaining despotic regimes in the world. The fact is that the capture of Saddam Hussein, gave Washington further incentives to bolster the role of the interim governing counsel, and rally international support to in its favor; this counsel that will give birth to a new Iraq under the supervision of the American civilian administrator Paul Bremer. The Americans might even impose foreign judges in the legal committee that is responsible for Saddam's trial. The trial of Saddam on Iraqi soil will be a lesson to all despotic regimes of the world, and it will convince the Iraqis that it is necessary for them to rebuild their country and turn the page on the past. In short, the Americans should not be convinced that with the capture of Saddam, they will have full control over security in Iraq. They should not be convinced that the best place to prosecute this brutal dictator is Guantanamo, Washington, The Hague or even Brussels. Improving security and controlling the security in Iraq is still critical. The best place to prosecute Saddam is Iraq, and this, for many reasons." [note - I translated this from the Arabic, and then found that it was already in English on the al-Hayat site so I substituted their translation for mine. No real differences.]

There's a lot more opinions out there, but this is all I have time for right now.

David Brooks just gets sillier and sillier. Building on the solid foundations of recent hit columns such as "New Yorkers are weird" and "Bush is just too honest," he now boldly stakes out the "airy-fairy, naive and mushy idealism" ground for Bush. You see, Dean's problem is that he is too serious and worthy, while Bush bravely eschews such practical concerns. If Brooks weren't so clearly driven batty by Dean, I would think that he was actually a covert operative for the Dean campaign. I mean, set aside the cheap shots and the behind -covering in the last two paragraphs, and Brooks is basically saying that Dean endorses the multilateral world created by fifty years of bipartisan American foreign policy. Um, okay - if that's really how you want to frame the debate, then I think the doctor won't object.

Monday, December 15, 2003
So, the plan was to give a round-up of Arabic newspaper commentary on the Saddam capture. But I ran into three problems. First, there don't seem to be any editorials on it yet, which is probably because of the timing - there should be a lot tomorrow, but I couldn't really find much interesting today other than straight news reporting (and every paper I saw had it featured very prominently, usually with the picture of the bearded, haggard Saddam).

But I hedge these claims because of the second problem: perhaps due to a blizzard in my vicinity, internet connectivity has been spotty today and I actually couldn't access some sources. So maybe I'll find more later in the day.

Anyway, all of this is kind of moot because, third, I continue to be far too busy to spend much time blogging today. My sympathies go out to all fellow academic bloggers: may your paper grading be painless and swift, may you find no cases of cheating, and may you suffer through a minimum of spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and flat out bad writing.

UPDATE: here's a nice preliminary roundup of the Arab press by Michael Young in Slate. But I'll be on this tomorrow, inshahallah.

Sunday, December 14, 2003
There's a lot of really weird - albeit predictable - ideas being thrown around now about the political impact of Saddam's capture. For example, here's this bizarre AP piece: "Around the world, it sent a thundering message of America's resolve to prevail in the war against terrorism."

Huh? For most of the world - well, the entire world outside of about half of the US - the war on Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism, so it's hard to see how the capture of Saddam sends a message one way or the other on that score.

Another idea out there - I just heard this on CNN Headline News - is that this is some kind of crushing blow against Howard Dean. Huh? Did I miss some point where Dean exulted in Saddam's continuing liberty? Dean's arguments against the war had nothing to do with whether or not the US captured Saddam, so it isn't clear why his capture would affect his position one way or the other (although his rivals no doubt will try to use it that way).

Yet another idea is that the capture of Saddam means that Bush has done what he set out to do, that the mission is now really accomplished. If removing Saddam actually takes the steam out of the insurgency, and then the US can figure out how to restore order to the country and figure out a way to manage a transition to democracy, then great. But until then, Saddam's capture is more of a symbolic victory - and a possible, but only possible - turning point.

One last point: I see a major, major issue coming up very soon. Based on his history in Texas, Bush is going to want the death penalty for Saddam - a public execution, timed shortly before the elections no doubt. Many Americans will no doubt cheer this. But most of the world recoils in horror at the American passion for the death penalty, viewing it as barbaric. Executing Saddam, especially if the US (as Bush will insist) rejects the jurisdiction of the ICC, would turn this into a debacle of major, major proportions for America's image around the world. But not executing him would be out of character for Bush, and probably unpopular at home. So what to do? Stay tuned.

Your eyes do not deceive you - the aardvark is, hopefully, for now, back! Sorry for the long absence... the world imposes itself sometimes. Some great news the other day came as a shot of sunshine amidst a blizzard of papers, meetings, and deadlines. This was the cause for much celebration, and some hibernation. It also, perhaps, augurs big changes in the future of the Abu Aardvark blog - stay tuned!

I knew the aardvark was missed when someone helpfully passed along a slobbering comment from the Free Republic board a few weeks ago that "it wouldn't surprise me a bit of a bunch of those Abu Aardvark types ended up dead." With fans like that, how could I stay silent? Wouldn't want to let you down, boys, so I just had to come back. (Charming. But what do you expect from these people?)

So they got Saddam Hussein - great! I hope that they figure out a way to hold a trial which can hold him accountable for crimes against humanity for the Anfal campaign. Regardless of how they were used for war propaganda, those crimes were all too real, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Saddam is personally responsible for them. Let's hope that this trial can bring the man to justice for his crimes, and reinforce global norms and institutions which protect human rights. The International Criminal Court is the obvious place to send Saddam, but this is the Bush administration, so let's at least hope that we can get an Iraqi tribunal which works within the evolving framework of international law.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to affect the insurgency as much as most people expect and hope. At the immediate outset of the insurgency, capturing Saddam probably would have nipped it in the bud, but at this point I suspect that it has taken on a life of its own, fueled by resentment over the nature of the American occupation. Getting and interrogating Saddam might weaken the hard-core of the ex-Baathist elements of the insurgency, but it won't change the other concerns. I would expect a lot of well-deserved celebrating in Iraq today, a lot of relief and a lot of pent-up cries for vengeance. But after the joy wears off, it might even make Iraqi public opinion even worse, if people see that capturing Saddam doesn't solve their problems and that excuse for continuing troubles disappears.

But those are problems for tomorrow. I for one am delighted to see Saddam captured, and I hope to see him brought to justice before an internationally legitimate court of law.