Friday, March 28, 2003
WHERE'S THE LOVE, GARY?: Following
WHERE'S THE LOVE, GARY?: Following InstaPundit's link, I discovered Gary Hart has just started a blog. He even has a blogroll, with links to Brad DeLong and Kevin Drum, among others. Hey, Gary, besides the fact that Brad and Kevin are more ideologically sympathetic to you than I, what gives? [Maybe it's because Kevin is not afraid to go out on a limb with war predictions--ed.]
Elsewhere on the site, there's this graf:
"Your generous support makes it possible for me to continue traveling the country, addressing college students and town hall audiences, meeting with key officials and leaders, and gauging national support for my ideas as I explore a possible national candidacy. Your donation will help fund GaryHartNews, Inc., which will manage these functions as I continue to weigh a possible presidential bid."
If this works, I might have to reconsider my pledge never to explore the possibility of -- maybe -- seeking political office.
REACHING THE TIPPING POINT: One
REACHING THE TIPPING POINT: One last post -- this Chicago Tribune story suggests that de-Baathification and humanitarian aid are helping ordinary Iraqis reach the tipping point of turning against Saddam Hussein's regime:
"The process of winning Az-Zubayr is proving a lesson for coalition troops as they move toward bigger objectives such as Basra and eventually Baghdad. Surgical strikes, aimed at political leaders as well as military targets, are being combined with humanitarian aid to ease the two biggest worries for local Iraqis: that coalition forces are simply an occupying force and that they aren't serious about removing Hussein's regime.
Iraqis 'like to be on the right side, and finding out which is the right side is the hardest thing for them,' said British Maj. Andy "Jock" Docherty, an Arabic-language translator working with troops of the Black Watch Regiment trying to pacify Az-Zubayr.....
Residents said that the humanitarian assistance was much appreciated but that decisive military action--like that in Az-Zubayr--was even more urgently needed.
U.S. forces 'should bomb [the ruling party] wherever they are. Baghdad is the most important. When it's done everything will change,' said Jasser, who agreed to an interview only out of the sight of others.
He asked the question everyone in southern Iraq asks: 'Will the Iraqi regime remain or not?'
"If this coalition does not remove the regime, half of us will die," he said. 'We will be killed just for talking to you. Saddam's eyes are all over here.'
He pointed toward an area he said remained a Baath Party stronghold in town.
'The Iraqi regime kills civilians for going against it. If they even think you're against the regime they kill you,' he said."
UPDATE: Here's more evidence indicating the tipping point has been reached in Basra.
Honey, I'm off to debate the war again
Just when OxBlog thinks I'm on a roll, I have to go debate the war again. This time the audience will be high school students, and the other participants -- Don Wycliff, Eric Zorn, R.C. Longworth, and Marilyn Katz -- are mostly affiliated with the Chicago Tribune (Katz is the leader of Chicagoans Against War on Iraq). I'll let you know how it goes.
By the way, faithful readers might want to reread this week's posts -- a lot of them have been updated multiple times.
UPDATE: I came, I talked, I ate pizza. The high school students -- all of whom belong to Chicago Student Voices -- asked some sharp questions and were exceptionally polite about listening to alternative perspectives. Katz compared Bush to Hitler at one point, but beyond that the discourse was at a high level.
The cool part was discovering that some of the Tribune people were reading my blog. Eric Zorn even has a link to here on his web site. The best part came afterwards, when the organizer said, "You know we were worried that you would come off as flat compared with the newspaper people, but you were just as pithy." It's the blog, people!! [Is pithy a good thing for an untenured professor?--ed. Depends on the fora. When presenting an academic paper, it's the kiss of death to be thought of as glib. In front of the larger public, is it good to be glib? Damn straight!]
Thursday, March 27, 2003
When hawks are wrong
Gideon Rose makes an excellent point in Slate this week -- if Operation Iraqi Freedom proves anything, it's that there's not a chance in hell Saddam Hussein's regime could have been toppled via arming and abetting the Iraqi National Congress. Which is what neoconservatives were suggesting in recent years. Rose has some devastating quotes from Richard Perle:
Later in the piece:
Let me add here that this is not a distortion of Perle's views -- I heard the same narrative from him when he gave a talk in Chicago last spring.
Rose's conclusion speaks for itself:
UPDATE: Richard Perle has resigned from the Defense Policy Board. Ordinarily I would say "Rose gets results!!" here, but I won't for two reasons. First, Perle resigned because of a lobbying imbroglio, not outside criticism. Second, in full disclosure I must say I know Gideon reasonably well and trust me, the last thing the man needs is more fulsome praise.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan links to a prominent non-hawk who also thought "this war is going to be over in a flash." If you keep reading, you'll see that not all the neocons bought into the Perle line of reasoning.
OH, CANADA: Lots of blogosphere
OH, CANADA: Lots of blogosphere reaction to the criticism of Paul Cellucci's criticism of Canada. Dan Simon argues that I'm reacting to the Globe and Mail slant of the story, and point to this National Post version of events. Like Kevin Drum, I'm unconvinced. The Post story says at one point: "The public chiding by Mr. Cellucci marks a new low in the tortuous history of U.S.-Canada relations, which have been strained since Mr. Bush took office in 2001." This is the conservative paper, mind you.
Here's the full text of Cellucci's speech (link via Alec Saunders). It's clear that a message was trying to be sent, although it appears that Cellucci might have exacerbated the situation with the off-the-cuff comments he made after the speech.
The one thing that gives me pause about what I said is reading Naomi Klein. After reading her turgid, simple-minded brand of globaloney, I felt this strange urge to annex the Atlantic provinces.
A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN:
A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN: When I was a graduate student at Stanford, I was fortunate enough to hear Vaclav Havel come and give an address. Afterwards, my friends and I speculated on whether there was any contemporary American that could equal Havel’s political and intellectual prowess. Racking our brains, we came up with only one possibility: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
So it's a tragedy to hear that Moynihan died yesterday. The war will probably obscure the plaudits this man deserves. Mickey Kaus provides a lovely elegy (he has links to other obits as well), without being afraid to point out when Moynihan was wrong. Other online takes include Patrick Belton, William Kristol, and David Frum,
My take? Moynihan was the rare social scientist who could move the national debate – though not always in the way he wished. For every mistake that he made – welfare reform – he was undeniably right about something even bigger – like, in 1979, predicting the demise of communism by 1990.
George Will also devotes today's column to Moynihan. It contains this priceless nugget:
"In his first campaign, in 1976, Moynihan's opponent was the incumbent, James Buckley, who playfully referred to 'Professor Moynihan' from Harvard. Moynihan exclaimed with mock indignation, 'The mudslinging has begun!'"
Rest in peace, Senator Moynihan: you knew your correlations from your causations.
WHO AND WHY WE'RE FIGHTING:
WHO AND WHY WE'RE FIGHTING: You want to know why Saddam Hussein's regime is worth eliminating? Here's one reason:
"The aftermath of the firefight was a tableau of twisted Iraqi corpses, cans of unopened food and the dirty mattresses where they had spent their final hours.
But the Iraqi private with a bullet wound in the back of his head suggested something particularly grim. Up and down the 200-mile stretch of desert where the American and British forces have advanced, one Iraqi prisoner after another has told a similar tale: that many Iraqi soldiers were fighting at gunpoint, threatened with death by loyalists of Saddam Hussein.
Here, according to American doctors and Iraqi prisoners, appeared to be the confirmation. The wounded Iraqi, whose life was ebbing away outside an American field hospital, had been shot during a firefight Tuesday night with American troops. It was a small-caliber bullet, most likely from a pistol, fired at close range. Iraqi prisoners taken after the battle said their officers had been firing at them, pushing them into battle.
'The officers threatened to shoot us unless we fought,' said a wounded Iraqi from his bed in the American field hospital here. 'They took out their guns and pointed them and told us to fight.'"
More evidence from Basra:
"Air Marshall Brian Burridge, the top British commander in the Gulf, also reported Thursday that Iraqis loyal to Saddam Hussein were forcing Iraqi conscripts and regular army troops into combat near Basra with the threat of executing them or their families.
British forces destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks that tried to break out of the southern city of Basra on Thursday morning, and one official said the tanks were manned by Iraqi soldiers whose families were threatened.
'They are being forced to fight by these militia. They are going into, apparently, people's homes, forcing the men to drive these vehicles to try and lead the escape out of Basra,' said Group Capt. Al Lockwood. 'They are obviously coercing them into this action, whereas in fact we would have wished them to surrender.'"
Not repelled yet? Consider that the Basra story starts with this piece of information:
"Iraqi paramilitary forces are seizing children and threatening Iraqi men with execution if they don't fight for the regime, U.S. and British officials said Thursday.
The U.S. commanders around the south-central city of Najaf reported the development to Gen. Tommy Franks, who is commanding forces in the Gulf, said U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson."
One piece of good news -- what this means for Iraq's command and control:
"Lockwood said the most recent behavior by the Iraqis showed the center no longer was holding.
'The enemy's options are now limited. They don't know what to do and they're guessing. It shows the command and control exercised by Baghdad has broken down. It's a suicidal approach which is irrational with no military logic to it. Military cohesion is sadly lacking.'"
UPDATE: Here's another story on this topic.
WHY FORMAL ALLIANCES MATTER: Jacob
WHY FORMAL ALLIANCES MATTER: Jacob Levy's latest "Chicago School" piece in TNR -- a meditation on why Australia and Poland are actually sending troops to Iraq -- is now up. Here are his footnotes and bibliography.
Jacob's co-conspirator, Eugene Volokh, reports on one possible explanation for France and Germany's resistance to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
THE QUESTIONABLE PERFIDY OF THE
THE QUESTIONABLE PERFIDY OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: Michael Ledeen is arguing in a New York Sun front-pager that the reason Turkey failed to permit U.S. troops to stage operations on its territory has nothing to do with the Bush administration's diplomacy: "contrary to the conventional wisdom, the vote was not an Islamic protest against the American-led coalition, but an act of anti-American intimidation by France and Germany." He goes on to say:
"The French and German governments informed the Turkish opposition parties that if they voted to help the Coalition war effort, Turkey would be locked out of Europe for a generation. As one Turkish leader put it, 'there were no promises, only threats.'
One can describe this behavior on the part of our erstwhile Old Europe allies only as a deliberate act of sabotage against America in time of war."
Let's assume for the moment that Ledeen is correct about France and Germany using the power of the European Union to influence Turkey's decision-making (Josh Marshall believes Turkish domestic politics played a significant role in the decision -- and I agree that multiple causality is at work here. UPDATE: both the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune provide postmortems that blame both U.S. diplomatic blunders and Turkish misperceptions in equal measure. European pressure is not mentioned in either piece). It would certainly be correct to scold the relevant EU members for acting in such an obstructionist fashion.
However, Ledeen should also acknowledge that the EU also just did us a huge diplomatic favor -- convincing Turkey not to send troops into Kurdish Iraq -- by using the identical coercive tactic that Ledeen deplores.
Over the past week, EU members have jointly and individually warned Turkey not to send troops into Iraq. Romano Prodi, EU Commission President, echoed these warnings, saying that such a move would be "a very serious act." An EU spokesman reiterated this warning, stating, "Any action by a neighbour that could destabilise the situation would be most unwelcome.”
The threat worked. Turkey responded to the EU by saying it did not plan any large-scale incursion and had no desire to occupy the Northern part of Iraq.
Memo to Ledeen: if you're going to bash the EU -- and there plenty of reasons to bash it -- then acknowledge its occasion utility as well.
[Hey, why are you praising EU attempts to coerce Turkey but yesterday you bashed U.S. efforts to coerce Canada?--ed. The two situations are different. Turkey desperately wants to join the EU club. Canada is already a member of NAFTA. Furthermore, what Turkey's contemplated action could have had very deleterious effects on Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Canada-bashing was over penny ante dust-ups. However, it's worth noting that Franco-German bullying has alienated many of their natural allies in the region as well.]
UPDATE: I take Glenn Reynolds' point about the distinction between "Old Europe" and the European Union. However, the only reason the EU was useful in constraining Turkey's operations in Iraq was the consensus among Great Britain, France and Germany on this issue. What holds for the EU holds for the individual countries as well -- even France.
ANOTHER UPDATE: I've received several e-mails suggesting, to quote one of them (Greg D.), "the only reason the EU needed to bully the Turks to NOT send troops into Iraq is because they FIRST bullied them to keep the US troops out."
Sorry, that dog won't hunt. Recall that earlier this month the U.S. was offering a lot of sweeteners to Turkey in return for that permission to open up a second front -- and one of them was giving the Turks a much freer reign in the Kurdish part of Iraq. If you're Kurdish, you should thank the EU twice over -- for preventing the U.S. from acquiescing to Turkey's wishes on the matter in return for military support, and for preventing the Turks from taking matters into their own hands.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE:
Let's face it -- I could write the modern-day equivalent of the Gettysburg Address over the next few weeks, and I'm not going to match my traffic count for today.
UPDATE: In related news, I've evolved from a slimy mollusk to a slithering reptile. Hmmmm..... slithering.
DUMB-ASS DIPLOMACY, EH?: Henry Farrell
"Washington's ambassador to Canada has delivered the sternest public rebuke by a U.S. representative since the Trudeau era, saying Americans are upset at Canada's refusal to join the war in Iraq and hinting there could be economic fallout.
At a breakfast speech yesterday to the Economic Club of Toronto, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci said 'there is a lot of disappointment in Washington and a lot of people are upset' about Canada's refusal to join the United States in its efforts to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."
Now, to be fair to Cellucci, not until paragraph 20 does the story acknowledge that, "Mr. Cellucci took great pains to preface his admonition with a discussion of the close ties that have marked the relationship between Canada and the United States. On many issues, including the free flow of border traffic, that relationship must remain strong, he said."
However, there's something to the way the reporter frames the piece in these grafs:
"Mr. Cellucci said the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but 'there may be short-term strains here.'
Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, 'You'll have to wait and see.' But he cryptically added it is his government's position that 'security will trump trade,' implying possible implications for cross-border traffic."
Where to begin? This tactic is stupid on a whole variety of levels. Let's single out the big ones:
1) Don't make empty threats. Let's assume for the moment that Cellucci had a valid point. In diplomacy, never make a public threat -- even a vague one -- unless there's a possibility it could be carried out. There is simply no way in hell that the U.S. government would take any economic retaliation against Canada that violated the NAFTA treaty. The story quotes one Canadian official stating, "Even if we had conscripted 50,000 troops and sent them to fight in Iraq we would not be one bit further ahead on the softwood lumber file... And we would not be one bit further behind either."
Now, Cellucci -- and by extension the U.S. government -- looks inept for making an empty threat.
2) Don't bother criticizing actions beyond the scope of the federal government. After his speech, Cellucci cited specific examples of Canadian anti-Americanism -- the booing of the U.S. national anthem at a Canadiens game in Montreal, A Liberal MP calling Americans "bastards," etc.
Are these actions disturbing? Yes. Should they prompt ambassadorial criticism? No.
First, one can hardly blame the Chrétien government for these displays. Maybe you could argue that the government has been permissive in not criticizing Liberal party officials who make dumb-ass statements, but that's a complaint to register privately, not publicly. Second, defending one's country against these kinds of attacks should never be linked with threats of retaliation, since it defeats the purpose of the criticism. Third, the actions Cellucci cited are so over the top that they have prompted their own backlash. Public reprimands should be saved for more serious challenges to bilateral relations.
3) Don't make the Iraq question a make-or-break one for allies. The Bush administration's "with us or against us" approach is the correct one in dealing with the war on terrorism. But no one who supports the current action against Iraq should be so blind as to believe that there are no valid grounds on which to stake out an opposing point of view. The best diplomacy the Bush administration could conduct for the current situation is to politely agree to disagree with our allies. Stress that on the big issues, we share a common social purpose with our allies, and that disputes like this will hopefully be few and far between. This is how countries stay allies even when they don't always see eye to eye.
Cellucci's speech, combined with other examples of U.S. pressure applied against close allies such as Mexico or Turkey, suggests that the Bush administration is not following this diplomatic approach. They're applying the same "with us or against us" strategy for Iraq as well. Now, whatever the size of our coalition, there are significant countries that disagree with us on Iraq but wish to cooperate with us on other affairs of state. Beyond Canada, I'd include Germany, Russia, China, India, and most of the Western hemisphere on this list. Tactics like Cellucci's speech will backfire with these countries.
Just to be clear -- I have no love for the Chrétien government, and Cellucci is correct to say that a lot of Americans are upset at Canadian displays of anti-Americanism. But our diplomats are making empty threats and copying Donald Rumsfeld's technique of publicly disparaging close allies. This diplomatic injury is entirely self-inflicted.
This kind of aggravation we don't need.
UPDATE: The Globe and Mail's follow-up story makes it clear that the White House vetted Cellucci's speech:
"Despite Liberal government assurances that the Bush administration had accepted the Canadian decision gracefully, U.S. officials say Mr. Bush and his advisers are furious, not only with the decision to stay out of the battle but also with what they say is the anti-American rhetoric that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has tolerated.
Sources said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice consulted Mr. Cellucci about the message he was to deliver at a breakfast speech on Tuesday in Toronto.
'This came right from the top,' one U.S. official said.
When Mr. Chrétien announced the Canadian position, Liberal ministers had assured the Bush team that, while Canada would not participate in the war, it also would not criticize the U.S. and British effort in Iraq.
However, American officials noted that Mr. Chrétien quickly characterized the war as 'unjustified' and then failed to condemn Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who called Mr. Bush a 'failed statesman.'"
It would have been better if Cellucci had only cited these specific examples, and had omitted the vague and empty threat of retaliation.
MORE ON DEBAATHIFICATION AND URBAN
MORE ON DEBAATHIFICATION AND URBAN COMBAT: I argued a few days ago that Baathist resistance during the war makes postwar de-Baathification a much easier task. At the same time, the resulting spectre of more urban combat was worrying.
After reading this London Times piece, I feel on much firmer ground on de-Baathification, and more sanguine that urban warfare will not be as devastating as feared. Here are the money quotes from the commander of British forces in Iraq, Air Marshal Brian Burridge:
"'What's going on there is there are these unconventional forces, the people who really have gripped the people of Iraq in fear, the Saddam Fedayin, for example, the Baath party militia and the special security operation, and these are bunches of determined men who will fight hard because they have no future in Iraq and it is they that we have to get at.
We have always known we would have to get at them and we did that last night in Zubayr.
We went to their headquarters and engaged in contact with them, killed a number of them and made it quite clear that we are up for this and you are going to have a very hard time.
'A column of armour did try to come out of Basra last night and 20 of them won't be going back because they had the attention of our artillery.'
But he said that a military victory would take time, arguing that it was "slightly early days" to be expecting a popular uprising against Saddam.
'There is a reason for that, in 1991, when Basra was the subject of a major uprising, the way in which it was dealt with by the regime has left a deep memory.
Give it some time.'"
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian provides an alternative suggestion on the best course for de-Baathification.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Kanan Makiya, who's keeping a war diary for The New Republic, makes some excellent points on how de-Baathification will need to proceed. Bravo to TNR Online for the having the good sense to ask Makiya and Gregg Easterbrook to file daily dispatches on the conflict. Clearly Noam Scheiber, TNR's online editor, is going places [That's enough sucking up for now--ed.]
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: This Financial
COMPARE AND CONTRAST: This Financial Times op-ed (link via Brad DeLong) suggests that we do not have sufficient armor and infantry for the upcoming fight. This UPI report (link via Andrew Sullivan) explains the Pentagon's rationale behind their force deployment.
Who's right? We simply don't know, because our information about the battlefield is pretty piss-poor right now. Part of this is purposeful, as this Ha'aretz piece (link via Glenn Reynolds) points out with a great quote from military historian Martin van Creveld:
"Everyone is lying about everything all the time, and it is difficult to say what is happening. I've stopped listening. All the pictures shown on TV are color pieces which have no significance."
"There is a lot of disinformation.... Every word that is spoken is suspect."
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
DEBATING THE WAR: I spent
DEBATING THE WAR: I spent this evening debating the merits of Operation Iraqi Freedom at Loyola's medical school in front of about 100 students and doctors. I was debating Doug Cassel, who's affiliated with Northwestern's law school. You can get a sense of his take on the issue from this Chicago Tribune op-ed he wrote a few days ago. He was honest in saying that he preferred to see Saddam Hussein remain in power rather than fight a war of liberation, and I was honest enough to disagree. It was a healthy exchange of views.
This was my first public debate. I'll admit, when I walked into the room and noticed that the first people I saw either had big "NO WAR" buttons on their lapels or were wearing chadors, I felt some trepidation. And I did get one question from a faculty member that asked how I could trust an administration that had passed such a massive tax cut and rambled on from there. However, although the audience was probably 80/20 opposed to war, the students were both inquisitive and polite -- I wound up staying there for an hour after the debate ended in order to answer all the questions I could.
I'll be doing more of these in the future. They do absolutely nothing for my tenure chances, but like blogging, they provide me a way to translate my academic pursuits to a wider audience.
When dictators exploit the war
Mickey Kaus correctly notes that a lot of news stories will fade away quicker than they should as war news buries them. However, there's another effect that's worth mentioning -- how foreign leaders will exploit the current situation to take actions that would otherwise capture media attention. This is a more sinister problem than document dumps, because of the effect on human rights.
Consider: if you were a dictator, and the United States was preoccupied with prosecuting a war in a distant land, wouldn't you exploit the situation by cracking down on dissent? Even if such activities garner press attention, the half-life of the story is shorter, and an American response is less likely because of the inability to get the foreign policy principals to focus on anything other than the war.
Unfortunately, dictators in four continents have recognized this window of opportunity:
Cuban authorities arrested a leading independent journalist and a democracy activist, and then proceeded to round up an additional 65 dissidents, according to the Washington Post .
In response to an opposition strike, Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe has arrested more than 400 followers of the Movement for Democratic Change, according to the BBC.
In Uzbekistan, the government of Islam Karimov has initiated a crackdown of independent media, beating and torturing several independent journalists.
These crackdowns are part of the costs of war [C'mon, how do you know that these actions wouldn't have taken place anyway?--ed. They very well might have, but the various governments would have had to respond to press inquiries and U.S. policy responses. If nothing else, the war has lowered the costs for them to act]. Hopefully they will be reversed or lessened when Operation Iraqi Freedom winds down.
I'm sure the Oxford Democracy Forum will be on the case.
UPDATE: Encouraged by the Kausfiles link, I looked to see if other dictators are exploiting the current situation. Fortunately, there are not a lot of out-and-out dictators in the world anymore, and I couldn't find any more cases to cite. Here's one story about Yemeni government efforts to harass opposition leaders, but calling this a "crackdown" seems excessive.
Intriguingly, there is a more positive trend to report -- the moderation of civil conflicts. In Nepal, Nigeria, and Congo have all seen reductions in civil strife over the last week (Colombia is an exception). This is probably unrelated to the war, but nevertheless worthy of note.
Finally, while our gaze is away from Iraq, Eurasianet has an incisive analysis of the domestic political landscape in Iran following February parliamentary elections. Intriguingly, most of Iran's political cliques tacitly support the invasion of Iraq, albeit for different reasons.
IN OTHER NEWS: The Financial
IN OTHER NEWS: The Financial Times reports on the situation in Afghanistan, where reaction to the Iraq war is muted. Also, Wim Duisenberg might be asked to stay on as president of the European Central Bank because of.... are you ready for this... French corruption!!
Also, this report from last Friday has a good discussion of how France and Germany could exploit the war to back out of agreements on EU macroeconomic policy.
AL-JAZEERA IN ENGLISH: Western reaction
AL-JAZEERA IN ENGLISH: Western reaction to the Al-Jazeera network has been all over the map, with some praising it as a step towards the liberalization of information flows in the Middle East, while others denounce it as anti-Semitic and anti-American Click here for a debate on the Al-Jazeera's content, and here for a cache of stories about the network.
Soon, English speakers will be able to decide for themselves. Al-Jazeera has opened up an English language web site. However, the site is currently under siege due to the heavy traffic;I haven't been able to access it despite repeated tries. [UPDATE: Apparently hackers are attacking the site]
They're suffering from other birthing pains. According to this report,
"Articles on the English-language site's first day were sure to antagonize American readers. One feature looked at the influence of the Israeli lobby in Washington. Another, headlined "Coalition of the Willing Has Become a Joke," made light of the "obscure" countries in the U.S.-led coalition. Another, titled "Misinformation Basra," cast doubt on American military assertions about its military success in the southern Iraqi city....
Managing Editor Joanne Tucker, a former BBC journalist who holds dual U.S.-British citizenship and speaks Arabic, has promised Western-style standards of journalism. She said she stands by all the articles but conceded that the site has to do more to clarify what is news and what is opinion."
I like the company I keep
If you don't believe me, however, then check out Ralph Peters, David Warren, Ze'ev Schiff, or John Keegan. Keegan and Schiff raise trenchant concerns about the stretching out of U.S. forces, but the overall picture is still one of repeated successes on the battlefield.
Monday, March 24, 2003
ELSEWHERE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Oxblog
Thomas Friedman and Andrew Sullivan are having a pretty interesting exchange about multilateralism and the war over at Andrew's blog. Here's the latest missive from Friedman. While he is clearly missing the imprantur of UN approval, he raises an cogent point about multilateral nation-building:
"Gulf War II is different from Gulf War I. Gulf War I was about liberating Kuwait. It was not about nation-building. And it is much easier for America to lead a coalition whose only task was winning a war. Gulf War II is about both winning a war and nation-building. I wish we had more allies for winning the war. I wish we had many more allies for paying for the war afterwards. But, I realize, you cannot do nation-building by committee, especially in Iraq. It will require a firm hand from the top. Or, to put it another way, maybe you can do it by committee in tiny Bosnia and Kosovo, but not in Iraq. Given the problems we had with France at the U.N., I cannot imagine trying to nation-build in Iraq with them. All the factions inside would try to play off the different big powers."
Finally, I am most definitely taking Kieran Healy's advice on blogging about the war.
WHY THE BAATHIST RESISTANCE MAY
WHY THE BAATHIST RESISTANCE MAY BE A GOOD THING: One piece of evidence cited as proof that Operation Iraqi Freedom is running into roadblocks is that forces other than the Republican Guard are resisting coalition troops. Two AP reports -- here and here -- stress the role of the Baathist party militia in resisting the U.S. military. Clearly, these forces could lead to more urban combat, which is something no one wants.
Now, this could certainly drag out the war. Perversely, in could make the peace much easier to win.
Here's the logic: the Baath Party has ruled Iraq for about thirty-five years. In both its organization and tactics, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Stalinist parties. David Brooks, writing back in November 2002, stresses this point:
"The Arab Socialist Baath party, or ABSP, developed internal security and intelligence networks and even theoretical journals to develop party dogma. From the first, party statements were marked by a highly charged ideological style, which separated the world into the party of pure good (the Baathists themselves) and the party of pure evil (just about everyone else). As Tariq Aziz, a longtime party leader, noted in the 1980s, 'The ABSP is not a conventional political organization, but is composed of cells of valiant revolutionaries. . . . They are experts in secret organization. They are organizers of demonstrations, strikes, and armed revolutions. . . . They are the knights of the struggle.'
Once in power, the party behaved, in some respects, as Leninist parties do everywhere. It built a parallel party structure on top of the normal government bureaucracy to enforce loyalty and conformity. It established its own army, in addition to the regular Iraqi army, and its own intelligence service, which at first was given the otherworldly name the Apparatus of Yearnings. Ambitious young people were compelled to join the party if they hoped to rise, or even study abroad. Leaving the Baath party to join another political group remains in Iraq a crime punishable by death." (emphasis added).
Think that Brooks is some uninformed Westerner? Click here for Kanan Makiya's more pungent version of the same point.
So, a crucial part of postwar reconstruction in Iraq will be the de-Baathification of the country. Unless Baath activists are identified and purged from positions of power, ordinary Iraqis will fear speaking their minds. However, such purges are notoriously difficult to implement. Occupying forces often lack either the stomach or the energy to take the necessary actions. Because the party is embedded into Iraqi society, even the best efforts to remove Baath loyalists will be incomplete.
However, the Baathists can facilitate this task by resisting oncoming U.S. forces with force of arms. Instead of laboring to identify party loyalists after the war is over, these people are self-identifying during the combat phase, making it more likely they will be killed or treated as prisoners of war. [Yeah, but why are they doing this?--ed. The Baathists probably know they're not well-loved by either the Americans or the Iraqis they've subjugated. Even if it might be difficult to root all of them out during the postwar reconstruction phase, each individual Baathist can't like his/her odds of escaping unharmed]
The fewer Baathists that are around after the war is over, the easier it will be to rebuild Iraqi society in a manner compatible with the principles of liberal democracy. And the more that Baathist militias and party leaders resist during the war, the fewer Baathists there will be after the war.
Again, this benefit must clearly be weighed against the significant cost of more urban warfare. However, it is a clear and tangible benefit.
IS THIS GOING TO BE
IS THIS GOING TO BE A QUICK VICTORY? DEFINE "QUICK": In the wake of reports of heavy fighting at Nasiriya, the repulse of Apache helicopters in Central Iraq, and continued skirmishes in Umm Qasr, I'm expecting a wave of "quagmire" stories combined with harangues of "inflated expectations" of success.
Let's bear something in mind -- this is day five of the conflict. Coalition forces are within a hundred miles of Baghdad. (UPDATE: Make that fifty miles). The fiercest battle to date is responsible for less than 20 American fatalities -- certainly awful to the families of those killed, but not an overwhelming number. Yes, there will be losses on the front due to actual combat, and casualties in the rear due to pockets of resistance. But any attempt to paint the current U.S. campaign as stalling out because they've encountered actual resistance is ridiculous. To quote Josh Marshall on this: "what's happened so far seems well within the range of what they [US military planners] considered expected outcomes. It's only... the best case scenario does not so far seem to be materializing."
It took two months to defeat the Taliban, a much weaker force than the Republican Guard. If it takes less time than that to defeat regular military forces in Iraq, it will be a smashing -- and astonishingly quick -- victory.
P.S. Mickey Kaus makes an excellent point on how some media recognize this fact, while others don't.
P.P.S. Virginia Postrel correctly points out that the American people have more sober expectations of this conflict than many pundits. No one should be surprised by what's taken place so far. Furthermore, the Washington Post has an excellent piece explaining why support will remain robust even if casualties mount.
RESPONDING TO CALPUNDIT: Kevin Drum
RESPONDING TO CALPUNDIT: Kevin Drum requests that someone to the right of him respond to John S. Herrington's LA Times op-ed on substituting Iraq's reserves for our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way of destroying OPEC's monopoly power over oil.
OK, I'll provide the realpolitik response to Herington's rambling and incoherent op-ed:
First, even Herrington should have acknowledged that OPEC has largely been a bust as a monopoly cartel. Their oil embargoes of the 70's contributed to the development of the North Sea oil fields. The collapse of the Soviet Union has introduced new exporters -- Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan -- that are outside OPEC's domain. OPEC production quotas are honored only in the breach. In Controlling for inflation, the price of oil is far lower now than it was during the seventies. There's simply no bogeyman to destroy here.
Second, why on earth would a smart realist ditch the material resources located in one's own country in favor of relying on a source that's 6,000 miles away? That's a logistical nightmare.
Third, the political externalities created by such a drastic drop in the price of oil would be tremendous. It would certainly lead to instability among Iraq's neighbors, which would likely complicate efforts to rebuild Iraq, at the very least. Do we really need addition aggravation on that score?
In homage to Larry King's old USA Today column:
Steve Martin leered a bit too much for my tastes but had some great lines...Jennifer Connelly in a pants suit is just wrong.... For my money, Susan Sarandon hit just the right protest note with her peace sign -- simple, understated and comprehensible... Thank you, Michael Moore, for providing the best evidence for the "useful idiot" thesis, managing to go sufficiently overboard in his comments to prompt booing from the audience and a great zinger from Martin... I like a year when there are lots of upsets, and all of the actor winners were first-time recipients... Good for Adrian Brody -- I damn well would have smooched Halle Berry in the same situation... [Yeah, that'll happen--ed.]
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Some Oscar predictions -- with more links to Salma Hayek!!!
As frequent readers know, I supported the decision to go to war with Iraq now rather than a permit an interminable delay in the hopes of acquiring more multilateral support. However, if someone had told me a week ago that a delay of the war was the best way to ensure that Salma Hayek, Nicole Kidman, and Diane Lane would be wearing sexy, full-length gowns, then maybe I would have switched my position on the war. Given the cancellation of the red carpet pre-game and the predicted somber tone of the ceremonies, I'll admit to being upset. What's the point of an Oscar ceremony if Gwyneth Paltrow isn't dressed to the nines? If Halle Berry isn't dressed up, that's just wrong. Do you think our troops in the field want to see Halle Berry in a pants suit?
OK, I think I got that out of my system.
[Isn't this a pretty sexist rant?--ed. Hey, I fully supprt equal opportunity ogling. If women (or men) want to covet Will Smith, Tom Cruise, or Daniel Day-Lewis, I say go for it. However, the change in tone of the Oscar ceremony disproportionately affects what the women will wear if ballroom gowns are disdained. What about the likelihood of anti-war sentiments voiced by the winners?--ed. I'm more sanguine about that. It's their right and privilege, and besides, I have no doubt that Michael Moore will fall into the "useful idiot" category by the end of the evening.]
Anyway, here are my predictions, preferences, and explanations for the big awards this evening:
I really liked Chicago, but it bugs me that the best musical of the year was not even nominated. The music in Monsoon Wedding was just as good, the plot was more substantive, the ending more satisfying, and the overarching themes were thought-provoking. It deserved both the nomination and victory.
Simple rule -- comedic acting is more difficult than dramatic acting. Also, great acting performances require that a character change (this is why I've always believed that Dustin Hoffman robbed Tom Cruise of the Best Actor Oscar for Rain Main). Grant wins on both counts.
I'm predicting an upset here -- I think Kidman and Renee Zellweger will split the "starlet" vote. And Moore is certainly worthy. But you can't watch Kidman's performance and think it was just some prosthetic nose that explains her transformation. It's the best -- and subtlest -- portrayal of mental illness I've ever seen.
See comments under Best Picture.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
I will admit that I haven't seen Adaptation yet, but Quaid was fearless in portraying not just a closeted homosexual, but portraying him simultaneously in both a sympathetic and unsympathetic light. Cedric, on the other hand, was just really funny, plus he gave the most moving speech of the entire movie.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Everyone is praising Zeta-Jones' solo numbers in Chicago, but what sold me was what she did in "Cell Block Tango." At the end of that number, my jaw was open and I was barely breathing. It was that good, and she was that spellbinding in it.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Both are good -- this is just a matter of taste.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Again, I thought both were excellent, but Hedges and the Weitz brothers actually improved on their source material, which never happens in movies, unless it's a John Grisham book, in which case the only direction to go is up.
Some political science corrections
WORTH REPEATING: Mickey Kaus says
WORTH REPEATING: Mickey Kaus says something on the utility of the Blogosphere to punditry that's worth remembering:
"As a contributor to the fast-paced world of Internet journalism, you have to discipline yourself to go off half-cocked. You can mull over your initial impressions, testing them against available evidence over the course of weeks, slowly coming to a conclusion. Or you can go with your best instinct and change your mind later if you're wrong! The first route maybe works if you're David Broder (at least it's what David Broder seems to do). The second route works best for everyone else -- especially on the Web, where the clash of all those insta-takes gets to the truth in about a thousandth of the time it takes a Broder to pronounce judgment. 'First impression, best impression,' as Allen Ginsberg might say." (Kaus' emphasis)
As Glenn would say, "Indeed."
MEMO TO CNN, MSNBC, AND
MEMO TO CNN, MSNBC, AND FOX: Dear nets,
Great job with the embedded reporters, video cameras, and cool flak-jacket-wearing reporters sitting atop tanks. And the frequent recaps are nice.
Oh, one minor irritant... could your reporters, announcers, and voiceovers PLEASE STOP REPEATING THE PHRASE "SHOCK AND AWE"???!!! I support our actions, and even I think it makes you sound like complete tools.
I'm sorry for being so touchy, but after hearing the FIRST 100,000 USES OF THE TERM, it starts to grate.
C'mon, you people have heard of the word "synonyn". Here's some possible substitutes:
"Stun and stagger"
And, if you're really punch drunk, "tickle and tease."
Yes, more syllables are involved, but trust me, your core audience will be most grateful.
A GOOD CHECKLIST: In the
A GOOD CHECKLIST: In the wake of the first few days of the war, it's worth reviewing Fred Kaplan's checklist of how well the campaign is going. His key concerns:
1) Will Israel be attacked?
By that checklist, things are going pretty well.