Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Perhaps the most serious criticism of Bush yet, this time from someone who should be a natural ally. Do check it out.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The next war (between State and Defense)

The Daily Telegraph has an interesting little story on the timing of the N. Korean announcement that it had nuclear weapons. It seems now that the State Department might have been told this by the N. Koreans several weeks ago but failed to disclose it to other branches of the government. According to the story, State has defended itself by claiming that all the information was shared "appropriately". Apparently, it wasn't appropriate to share it with the Dept. of Defense.

I guess no one told State that Defense runs foreign policy now.

This supports my theory that this admin is going to experience a marked increase in infighting between various factions, a direct result of the fact that the guy at top doesn't have the smarts to sort it all out.
Spreading the blame

I'm always carping about the Americans. Let me take a break from that to carp about the French. It was clear a long time ago that the French were actively working to undermine the containment of Iraq. But the extent of the French government's behaviour is only now becoming apparent.


I still think that containment was, all things considered, preferable to this war. But, as I've admitted before, the argument for this is greatly complicated by the half-hearted cooperation, to put it politely, among countries in the region and on the security council. French criticism of the war is compromised by the fact that did everything they could to undermine the main alternative to war.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Defence Spending

Now this is funny . . . in a disturbing sort of way.
From the Archives

A bunch of new declassified documents relating to talks between the U.S. and N. Korea has been published online by the invaluable National Security Archives.
One Cheer for President Bush!

I'm always complaining about W, so it's nice to have something to cheer about, even if it's a qualified cheer. A story in the BBC this morning (at least that's when I read it) says that Bush signed a bill on Friday making it easier to trace conflict diamonds. Critics are already pointing to possible flaws in the bill, but it surely counts as a step forward.

What would it take for Bush to get three cheers on this issue? After all the outrage about French and Russian companies doing business with the Iraqi regime (about which we're shocked, absolutely shocked), it would be nice to see Bush turn his attention to American businesses who profit from other resources besides conflict diamonds in central Africa. The conflict raging in central Africa right now has complex causes, but there seems to be a consensus among experts that it has such staying power partly because the region's natural weath helps finance the various factions, and raises the stakes of the fighting. And guess who benefits from the war that has killed somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4 million people over the last decade?

Western businesses have profited from the chaos, and it's high time Western governments gave this whole sordid mess the chop - or at least gave it a serious try.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Off without a Hitch?

I have a confession. I find it difficult to imagine Dick Cheney shedding a tear for dead or maimed Iraqi civilians, or being genuinely cheered by the spread of freedom unless it comes tied firmly with reassurances about the enhancement of American power. To make matters worse, my cynicism extends to many of the hawks who recently sold the war by appealing to the great balance of good over evil that it would assuredly achieve. Many of these hawks spent their entire careers looking the other way when it came to human rights abuses, and they continue to do so wherever U.S. interests aren't directly involved.

But that’s a judgement about people, and not the actual case. I certainly think that one could offer good arguments for the war along these lines. More than that: I think that some do. So perhaps there’s hope for me after all.

Chistopher Hitchens is a good example of the better type of hawk. Hitchens’ story is now well known. A famous critics of the powerful, a left-wing gadfly, Hitchens quit The Nation in protest last fall over it’s predictable knee-jerkism about the war. (And in my own modest way, I followed him, by dropping my subscription around the same time.) Most of Hitchens’ waking hours now seem to be consumed with the thankless task of shooting down left-wing nonsense (can anyone guess which Greek figure I’m thinking of? Hint: Think of boulders and hills). Whatever one thinks of the conclusions he’s reached, or the way he argues for them, it seems undeniable that Hitchens backed the war out of a serious concern for the human beings who actually live in Iraq. And that’s more than I can say about some of the critics of the war.

But Hitchens is also irritating. As evidence, I submit his latest column, published in Slate yesterday.

The piece illustrates Hitchens at his best and his worst. At his best, Hitchens is an absolute master of the stinging put-down. He has a fine eye for the most embarrasing tangle in an opponent’s argument. And he can usually be counted on to correct factual mistakes in a way that maximizes embarrassment on the opposing side.

Here are a few examples. Maureen Dowd gets stung first for sloppiness:

Maureen Dowd writes, displaying either an immense insider knowledge of day-to-day Baghdad or else no knowledge at all, that the American forces assigned to protect Chalabi would have been enough on their own to prevent the desecration of the National Museum. Since Chalabi was in Nasiriyah, far to the south, when the looting occurred, and since up until now he has provided his own security detail (I'd want my own bodyguards, too, if I'd been on Saddam's assassination list for a decade), and since we don't know by whom the actual plunder of the museum was actually planned or executed (or at least I don't), Dowd might wish either to reconsider or to offer her expertise to Gen. Garner.

Then Hitchens calls Dilip Hiro on one of his more stupid remarks in a piece written for the Times on the same day:

Dowd's bias was redressed in the New York Times on April 23, when Dilip Hiro expressed scorn for Chalabi's presence in Baghdad at all, informing him that he should really have been on the Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala but apparently "couldn't be bothered." Had Chalabi doubled back on his tracks and gone south for a self-scourging, and thus been in several places at once, we would no doubt have had Thomas Friedman or Nicholas Kristof accusing him of pandering to fundamentalism and to Iran. (And how well I remember Dilip Hiro, all those years ago, trying to reassure me that, appearances to the contrary, the Ayatollah Khomeini was just the Mahatma Gandhi of Iran.)

Hitchens is right about both cases, of course. It’s not quite right to say that one of Dowd’s weaknesses is getting carried away into transports of rhetorical excess. It actually seems to be her schtick. It’s nice to see her called on it. Hiro’s little dig on Chalabi is also fair game (I was struck by it myself when I read the piece).

But as usual, Hitchens shows a strong preference for the lowest-lying fruit and a depressing lack of interest in meeting more intelligent criticism of his position. Behind Dowd’s silly remarks stands a perfectly sensible concern that Iraq seems to have lost more of its cultural patrimony in the U.S. invasion than it did to the Mongols. In the months leading up to the invasion, archaeologists issued numerous warnings (I remember reading them at the time) to the Pentagon about just such a danger. And they had received assurances that every precaution would be taken to prevent it. If a tenth of the effort that the U.S. had put into defending its oil fields had gone to protecting its cultural treasures, the scale of the damage would surely have been greatly reduced. But, as we know, the U.S. hadn’t the troops on the ground for this. Rumsf- excuse me – Franks’ plan either didn’t bother with such details or did but was botched in its execution.

Hitchens has a response here, but I think it borders on dishonest. Alluding to reports that some of the looting may well have been an inside job, Hitchens throws the whole matter into doubt: "since we don't know by whom the actual plunder of the museum was actually planned or executed (or at least I don't)". As Hitchens knows perfectly well, even if some of the antiquities were pinched by professionals, a great deal was clearly also lost in the general looting which followed. The whole thing was a terrible fuck up, and it seems senseless to deny it. By focusing narrowly on Dowd’s rhetorical excesses, Hitchens leaves the sensible criticism here untouched.

The same thing goes for the criticism Hitchens levels at Hiro. It’s fine as far as it goes, but also surprising in what it leaves out. Granted, in a column of finite length, Hitchens can’t be expected to cover everything. But one might expect a column defending Chalabi to address his criminal conviction in Jordan for shady business practices. Since I don’t have much faith in the Jordanian justice system, I would be quite receptive to the argument that the conviction was politically motivated, or otherwise bogus. Trouble is, Chalabi isn’t making that argument and neither, as far as I know, are his supporters. Nor has he ever really dealt with allegations that he misspent funds allocated to the INC by the U.S. govt during the 90s.

Hitchens’ choice of target may be partly motivated by a legitimate desire to punish Hiro for saying something stupid. But it surely also suggests where he thinks the main burden of proof rests in a defense of Chalabi. By failing to address these perfectly legitimate concerns about Chalabi, Hitchens seems – to me at least – to imply that he thinks them unimportant. They're not.

Hitchens’ remarks about Chalabi’s long exile from Iraq contain the same sort of mix of truth and error. Hitchens writes:

This minor but persistent warp in the coverage is congruent (if a warp can be congruent) with another larger one. Obviously, a reporter hoping to get attention must now put due emphasis on Shiite fundamentalism. And many Shiite Iraqis are under the impression that Dilip Hiro was once under: that a society can be run out of the teachings of a holy book. However, the majority of Iranian Shiite voters have concluded in the past few years that this attempt has been a failure. The contradiction here deserves a little more attention than perhaps it has been receiving. And the contact between the Iraqi National Congress and the secular forces in Iran may be of more significance than we are being told.

Hitchens just misses the main worry about Chalabi, which is that few Iraqis know who he is, beyond a vague recollection of his family name. That might be overcome, but it is a genuine liability, since it means that he must both build a power base in Iraq quickly, and avoid the impression that he’s an American lackey. Hitchens says nothing to address this concern.

Moreover, while I share the hope with Hitchens that the Iranian experience will convince Iraq to turn away from an Islamic government, this hope depends on the assumption that the Iranian experience will be interpreted by ordinary Iraqis in roughly the way that we do. And to say that the Iranian experience "deserves a little more attention than perhaps it has been receiving" leaves it unclear exactly how much weight he thinks we should assign it. Hitchens’ parting shot on this point is uncharacteristically limp: "and the secular forces in Iran may be of more significance than we are being told." I certainly hope so, Mr. Hitchens. But this isn't enough to convince me to stop worrying about whether the Pentagon's infatuation with Chalabi is well-grounded or not.

And so it goes with Hitchens. Hitchens recently argued, also in Slate, against critics of the contract recently awarded to Boots and Coots to fight fires in Iraq's oil fields. And so, perhaps they were. As Hitchens points out, fighting fires in oil fields is a risky and difficult job, and only a few companies have the resources and expertise to do it. And he also assures us that: "I want to be the first to agree that transparency in the administration and allocation of oil revenues is of the highest importance." But as soon as he's said this, he's off again complaining about the U.N. All of this is fine as far as it goes. The problem, once again, is that it doesn't go nearly far enough. The criticism of the Boots and Coots contract was partly motivated by the fact that the bidding process was closed and untransparent. If Boots and Coots was the best company for the job, why shouldn't it have prevailed in an open bid? But suppose there wasn't time for this (forget the year-long build up to war). Fine. The concern about Boots and Coots is still part of a larger - and legitimate - concern about transparency and openness in post-war Iraq. Hitchens can't even seem to bring himself to say that he would be disappointed if the process turned out to be as closed and untransparent under the US as it was under the UN.

I can't doubt Hitchens' sincerity or his motivation for backing the war. And I continue to read him because he does put his finger on some of the sillier remarks made by the anti-war left. But the fact that he can't be bothered to defend his position against the more plausible criticisms makes it increasingly hard to take him seriously.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The Laws of War?

Check out this disturbing piece in the Guardian, alleging that a small number of children (as young as 15) are being held at Guantanamo.


That reminds me, doesn't Guantanamo violate the spirit and the letter of the Geneva Convention? I thought we cared about that. Just a few weeks ago parts of the GC were being flashed up on the screen on Fox news as angry retired generals complained (with considerable justice) about various Iraqi violations of the rules of war. Does anyone remember that?
How much evidence of how much trouble?

Get prepared for the next round of I-told-you-so-ing from critics of the war. The new focus will no doubt be the admin's failure to foresee that an Iraq freed of Saddam Hussein might lead as easily to an Iranian-style theocracy as a Western-style democracy. A piece in today's WaPo supplies some helpful ammo for the job of second guessing the admin here. (The end of the article is funny. Kenneth Pollack gets cited blandly describing what "they" in the admin were unprepared for. The author of the piece lets Pollack off the hook here, to put it mildly. I don't have his book with me now, but if I remember correctly Pollack's book is filled with reassurances about secularism in post-war Iraq.)

This is a complicated story, and I don't have time to go into it today. The short version of what I want to say is this: Yes, the admin ought to get creamed for taking this risk. And, yes, after hearing months (years!) of condescending you-don't-really-know-Iraq talk from hawks, it is annoying to read things like this:

This is a 25-year project," one three-star general officer said. "Everyone agreed it was a huge risk, and the outcome was not at all clear."

It's annoying because this statement is either false, or indicates evidence of real deception on the part of those who sold this war, since the risks involved were downplayed with a vengeance.

But I'm not ready yet to go the whole hog with this line of criticism. Religious leaders in Iraq were understandably the first off the mark because they were the only possible organized alternative to the Ba'ath party in Iraq. These people have the most to gain from an early U.S. departure. And it is by no means clear how representative they are of the majority of Iraqis. Secularism hasn't been given a shot yet in Iraq. For that to happen, secular alternatives will need to be organized, and that's going to take some time.

This is not to say that secularism will end up on top in the end, of course. People who touted the war often pointed to the fact that Iraq had a long history of secularism, but they neglected to mention that that secularism may now be tainted by a (perverse, I know) association with Ba'athism. They also neglected to mention that Afghanistan had a reputation for secularism before the Soviet invason. And guess where that went.

Things might go either way now. I've put my money on things going very badly, which is part of the reason that I opposed the war. The point, though, is that it's far too soon to render judgement. We can criticize the admin for reckless and arrogant policies without despairing completely about the future of Iraq. Not yet, at least.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Where are the WMD?

Mickey Kaus, chief blogger at Slate, posed an interesting question about admin policy in the weeks before the war began: Either the admin knew where the WMD were, or it didn't. If it did know, then it should have told the UN inspectors where to look. Failure to do this looks suspiciously like helping to ensure that the inspections would fail. If it didn't know, then it couldn't be trusted to effectivey track them and prevent their use as Iraq fell apart in the final days of a military campaign. Either way, it looks bad. Admin officials didn't help much on this, because they seemed to encourage both suspicious possibilities by both claiming that they were doing all they could to help the inspectors and by claiming that they knew where the stuff was, and so could be trusted to track it down before it was used or slipped out of the country.

Whether or not they ultimately find anything, it's now clear that the admin was indulging in the second kind of dishonesty in the debate leading up to war. (A decent WaPo story this morning details an increasingly panicky attempt to track down the admin's favorite casus belli.)

Press coverage on this angle of the story is already taking a familiar shape: The admin needs to produce evidence of WMD to retrospectively validate its case for war. If it finds them, it's off the hook. If it doesn't, it's screwed. There are lots of problems with this way of presenting the issue. Here are three:
a) Whatever they find, the press has caught the admin in a rather serious lie. Why don't journalists get off their asses and hammer this point home?
b) To be fair to the admin, it should be admitted that it was reasonable to guess that Iraq would have WMD programs. Given Iraq's record, it will be very surprising if it turns out to have put these programs on the backburner. Apart from what the actual facts are, the case for or against the war had to rest on reasonable assumptions. When we evaluate that case, we have to consider not just what actually was the case, but also what it was reasonable to assume given the available evidence.
c) But suppose we decide to evaluate the case for war entirely by appeal to what actually turns up. The U.S., it should be remembered, just waged a preventative war. I think these are almost always (perhaps just plain always) morally wrong. But suppose that preventative wars are morally allowable. Still, we should want to insist that the threat be extremely serious. But that means that to even begin to retrospectively justify the war, the admin is going to have to turn up evidence of a massive and very successful WMD program. Turning up a few chemical weapons or a sluggish and unsuccessful program isn't going to do the trick.

It's c) that's really lost on the press, unfortunately. And it's a shame because it unfairly biases the retrospective argument in favour of war. It seems that the idiots on Fox break out champaigne every time a fresh rumour of WMD evidence surfaces. I can see how holding such obnoxious political views might lead one to drink. Still, I think they should hold off on the bubbly until they have evidence of a substantial and successful program. Then we can begin to argue about the retrospective justification for war.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Jus Post Bellum

Lots of buzz this morning about two stories in the WaPo.

The first is a distressing piece indicating a 'new' line in the admin that U.S. involvement in Iraq will be cheap and quick. As Josh Marshall points out, stories like this are easy to write, if you go around selectively collecting quotes. But the fact that it seems so easy to have selected them, and the fact that they are attributed to "senior" people is worrying. This makes the protests over the U.S. occupation all the more troubling: they'll surely strengthen the hand of those in the admin who want out fast.

The second bit of news, also from the WaPo, is that a former Iraqi scientist has apparently come forward claiming that Iraq destroyed its WMD at the beginning of the war. The story is bound to be seized on by an increasingly nervous admin looking for retrospective justification for a war that was supposed to be all about WMD. But gIven the fact that lots of hungry Iraqis will be wanting to curry favour with the Yanks, scepticism is surely in order. Today's Papers does a good job of turning a sceptical eye on the story.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Spy Stories!

One of the sweetest rewards now waiting in store for the U.S. in Iraq is access to its intelligence archives. We won't hear about much about this angle, but the files - at least those which haven't been destroyed in the war - promise to shed very interesting light (for those who get to read them!) on Iraq's relations with its neighbours over the last few decades.

There are already a few hints about the kind of information that the U.S. is hoping to get its hands on. David Harrison of the Daily Telegraph seems to be the first reporter to have stumbled across some juicy intelligence (unless he's the victim of an elaborate hoax). Harrison broke the story last week that Russia had spied on Britain for Iraq. Today, he's written another piece on German cooperation with Iraq over the last year or so.

In his latest piece, Harrison notes that both the Italian and British governments have launched inquiries in response to the first story. If the stories hold up, they are bound to do damage to relations between pro- and anti-war countries.

This is not a minor non-scandal like the revelation that - yawn - the U.S. was spying on members of the Security Council. Russia and Germany weren't merely attempting to stave off war - a worthy cause. They were actively colluding with a wretched dictatorship in ways that would have worked against a productive peace. And by doing so, their actions weaken the arguments of opponents of the war such as myself who argued that containment was a real option. Such arguments always depended on a sufficient level of cooperation between countries who recognized that their long-term interest was in a contained, non-nuclear Iraq. There was always evidence against that assumption, of course, but the new documents reveal the extent to which countries vital to containment ignored these long-term interests or differed sharply in their assessments of them.

This makes it all the more astonishing that other news sources haven't picked up the story and run with it. I've seen a few minor reports about the Daily Telegraph reports, but nothing much in the way of follow up. Perhaps I've just been too busy. But what the hell is the press doing? Isn't this story big enough for the front page of the Times?

Friday, April 18, 2003

Should they stay or should they go?

Having spent the last few months arguing that the U.S. shouldn't go into Iraq, I now expect to spend the next few years arguing that they shouldn't leave. There's no contradition here, of course. Any occupying power takes on considerable obligations to the occupied, and it would be perverse to consider these obligations reduced if the occupying power has no business there in the first place.

Leaving now would be a disaster, and everyone either knows it or should. And yet there are already calls, both from within Iraq and from its neighbours, for the U.S. to vamoose pronto.

This sort of criticism was to be expected, but even so, it comes awfully early in the occupation - not a promising sign. In addition to being bad advice, the criticism is downright unfair. If the U.S. packed its bags, the same people leveling the criticism would no doubt slam the U.S. for callously walking away.

I say the criticism is ominous, but it doesn't signal disaster by itself. The protests within Iraq may well be organized by leaders who are already well established, and who would benefit (or so they might calculate) from an early power vacuum. And so far, these protests seem about the size of the crowd brave enough to slap Hussein's statues with their shoes as the regime fell (remember those carefree days?)—that is, large enough to get on television, but not large enough to base firm conclusions on.

Still, the protests are worrying. If they gather in momentum the U.S. will soon be under enormous pressure to do what would be very obviously immoral - a tight spot since the same people would be both urging the wrongdoing and at the same time its obvious victims. Moreover, substantial protests would supply fans of early disengagement in the Bush administration with the best pretext imaginable for leaving Iraq in the lurch.

Anyone who cares about Iraq should hope that fans of early disengagement will lose this debate. In fact, anyone who cares about the U.S. should hope for this as well. It isn't just morality which dictates substantial obligations to Iraq in the aftermath of this preventative "war of choice". Prudence, as usual, is tagging for the ride. U.S. actions in this war will be judged partly by how well Iraq fares in the next decade. Success here - as the neocons never stop reminding us - could help to reverse some of the damage done to the U.S.'s standing over the last two years.

As the memory of the protests fade, the welfare of Iraq will stand as a credit to the U.S.'s foreign policy, or as a permanent stain on its conscience.
All Kurdish News, All the Time

An interesting article in Slate on recent developments in Kurdist-, excuse me, Northern Iraq.

No doubt many Iraqis were extremely relieved at the fall of Saddam Hussein. But since the images of chanting crowds were broadcast, sceptics have wanted more details, especially about the size of the crowd.

I'm too busy to post much today, so I give you an installment of this debate. The Memory Hole has posted the following expose of a cut and paste job published in the Weekly Standard which appears to have inflated the size of the crowd. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I'm just obsessed about the Kurds!

I'm wahay too busy to write much these days, so instead I'll pass on some extra reading for those readers with nothing better to do.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you you the Kurdistan Observer!

The Kurdistan Observer is interesting for a number of reasons: visceral hatred of Turkey, deep mistrust of Colin Powell, etc. Questions are already piling up on its virtual pages about why the Kurds shouldn't be entitled to resettle in Kirkuk - especially after showing themselves to be the most dependable and hard-fighting allies of the U.S. in the region. Even the title is interesting: I guess no one told them that talk of "Kurdistan" is a no-no!

Now, if you want to make educated guesses about future moves by the Kurds in the region, you could stick with uninformed cranks like William Safire or you could go directly to the source and ask the Kurds themselves. Safire recently wrote a glowing column promising that all would be quiet on the Northern front. My favourite paragraph from this column:

"The Kurds have decided their cultural autonomy — and their future safety — lies not in independence but as part of Iraq's new confederation, with its capital Baghdad. "We will always retain our Kurdish identity, but we are Iraqis," emphasizes Barham Salih, Mr. Talabani's prime minister."

Right, Bill. Go back to holding seances with Nixon.

What will the Kurds do now? Stay tuned for more. But turn the dial away from blowhards like Safire and towards publications like the Kurdistan Observer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

How Strong Do You Like Your Kofi?

One of the interesting news sources I monitor is the UN News Service. The UN News Service suffers from many of the same defects as any news organization: It has a mandate not just to report news, but to do so while keeping a very close eye on what the boss wants.

This imperative distorts the Service's coverage of events in much the way the news is distorted in a paper owned by Conrad Black, though obviously not in the same direction. Still, it occasionally adds detail about areas of the world completely ignored by the rest of the media (Africa is particularly well represented). And it's also an invaluable source of what Kofi Annan - the boss, nominally at least, which the news service must always keep an eye on - is thinking and planning next.

During the buildup to the war, the Service became hyperactive, filled with hopeful statements about a peaceful resolution which were clearly intended to nudge the key players towards a compromise. The Service was also quite obviously taking great care to avoid upsetting the U.S. Boutros-Boutros Ghali, Annan's predecessor, lost his job after pissing off the Yanks, and Annan was chosen, in part, because he was expected to be more pliable.

After negotiations in the Security Council collapsed, the tone of the Service became more critical. Annan allowed himself heavy hints that he thought the action wrong, and even stated, though in a torturously indirect way, that it ran contrary to international law.

The tone of the Service continues to grow in hostility towards the U.S., though it often expresses this hostility in the indirect, passive-aggressive manner of a sullen teen. Recent stories have lamented the loss of Iraqi cultural treasures, stressed the requirements of an occupying power, and now today, lamented the recent U.S. threats against Syria as unproductive and destabilizing.

What does this mean? I'm not sure. For one thing, the Service clearly wants to avoid antagonizing the U.S. too much. But the level of criticism - especially compared to the volume and intensity of the criticism prior to the war - suggests that Annan may be gearing up to take on the U.S. more aggressively. If this is so, it will only be because Annan has concluded - and it's easier for him to conclude this as he nears the end of his term in office - that the U.S. really has given up on the U.N.

Where we go from here is anyone's guess.
On to Syria?

When the original list of the axis-of-evil countries was announced, there were some startling omissions. Perhaps the most startling was the absense of Syria. Watch in the coming days for inventive solutions to this troubling oversight.

The results so far are promising. Steven Pollard, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has explained that Iran and Syria are "effectively, as one". Syria was therefore implicitly included in the original list.

Also notable is the effort by an unnamed "administration official" in today's NYT that, "along with Libya and Cuba, Syria was regarded as a member of the 'junior varsity axis of evil.'"

Saturday, April 12, 2003

How much of the looting was avoidable?

In my last post, I criticized the invasion plan for not having enough troops on the ground to provide security after the bulk of the fighting was over. Josh Marshall thinks that much of it was unavoidable, though he thinks that if it's still going on a week from now we'll be starting to deal with stuff that was avoidable.

I suppose that Marshall has a point about Baghdad and the logistical difficulties involved in switching from fighting to policing almost overnight (while continuing to fight remnants of the regime). So suppose for the sake of argument (and just for the sake of argument - if the 4th was already in place do we really think that things would have deteriorated so quickly?) that Marshall is right about Baghdad. The problem is that the breakdown in security extends throughout the whole of Iraq, as was easily foreseeable. The U.S. simply doesn't seem to have the forces it needs to provide even minimal security to the better part of the country, and that's something it's bound to do as an occupying power.

Here's a NYT story on the looting, which almost sent coffee through my nose this morning:

"With virtually every government ministry here in flames, the city of Baghdad and indeed the entire country is now operating essentially without a government, with no services of police protection.

"The Bush administration appeared to have little prepared in the way of a quick response. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in Washington "You cannot do everything instantaneously." He added: "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."

We might add that Defense Secretaries are free to plan for the obvious. But that doesn't guarantee that they will!

Friday, April 11, 2003

So . . . should I eat crow?

Lately it seems that the real rout has been among the anti-war movement. The only downside for the folks at Fox right now seems like the failure to find any evidence of the WMD that got the ball rolling in the first place. And when that turns up, as it surely will, the anti-war movement will be humiliated for once and for all.

Or will it?

I, for one, refuse to eat crow, and that's a matter of logic as well as preference.

First, preventative war, if it is ever justified, is only justified in the face of a significant threat. So evidence of WMD programs will not be enough to justify the war retrospectively. The standard is stronger than that: it requires that the programs be significant, ambitious and reasonably successful.

I also feel comfortable standing by my assessment of the war when it appeared that things were going very badly. I stand by my assessment partly because I still think I was right. The U.S. simply doesn't have enough forces on the ground in Iraq. How do I know that? Lots of reasons, but my favourite is that the U.S. has openly admitted that it simply lacks the resources to effectively police all the new territory that it has just acquired responsibility for. The first and immediate consequence of the failure to put enough troops on the ground was the overexposure to the guerrilla groups in the South of Iraq. And the U.S. military still admits that this took them by surprise. But the other easily foreseeable consequence was the lack of stability bound to follow on American success in ousting Hussein. Stand by for more depressing details from Iraq on all the further depressing consequences of this failure of planning.

But I would stand by my criticism of the war plan - especially that it was undermanned - even if I turned out to be wrong. This is because, even if I had been wrong, it would have been reasonable to hold this view at the time. I had, I notice, very good company in holding this opinion of the war plan. My favourite company in doubt is Donald Rumsfeld, who would not have repeatedly described the plan as "Frank's plan" for those few bleak days had he not been convinced himself that he had miscalculated. It's silly revisionism to imagine that Rumsfeld calmly stayed the course while the nervous nellies in the press and public panicked. I suppose I ought to savor this: It's not often that Rumsfeld and I agree on anything.

It was a stupid plan. I'm not taking it back.
Reposting Yesterday's Post

Yesterday I checked the news and saw early reports that the Kurds had taken Kirkuk. Since the very first reports did not mention that they were helped by American special ops, I went ballistic, since it seemed a bit early for the Kurds to be breaking their word not to move on Kirkuk by themselves. After a friend pointed out that the Kurds did not go in unilaterally, I removed the following post, since I felt like a horse's ass for jumping too quickly to conclusions.

This now seems a bit dishonest, so I'm reposting the original post intact. (After all, no one is reading, so it hardly matters, right?) Let me just add this: If the original reports that the Kurds had taken Kirkuk unilaterally had been correct, I would have been right. So I made an error of fact, not argument. Second, most of the argument still stands, I think. It's just a few weeks (or perhaps, in the best case, months) early.

The Kurds of Kirkuk

This morning brings astonishing news that the Kurds have taken Kirkuk. A great deal about this is still unclear, and as the story firms up over the day it might turn out to be a false start. But for now let's assume
that it's true.

The development is astonishing because it wasn't supposed to happen. It's true that Kirkuk is often called the "Kurdish Jerusalum". And, yes, it's rich in oil that could make or break the Northern region of Iraq (let's
call it that instead of "Kurdistan"). We might also have noticed that it was heavily Kurdish before being significantly ethnically cleansed over the last few decades. And perhaps we should have listened to reports that many of those "cleansed" from Kirkuk yearn to return home.

But it wasn't supposed to happen this way. Why? As recently as last week, the Kurds gave us their solemn word they wouldn't do exactly what they just did.

High-level members of the Bush administration, no strangers themselves to breaking their word, ought to have known better. And we might suppose that they did. It's just possible that all the pre-war talk dissing an independent Kurdistan was an insincere sop to the Turkish military. Once a war was over, the administration might have reasoned, Turkey would have already given its consent and protest would at that point have been futile. This tendency might have been strengthened during the buildup to war. After Turkey ruined American war plans, any intention at all among Bush administration officials to keep the Kurds in line might have evaporated.

But I doubt it. Preserving the terroritorial integrity of Iraq was always dear to the Bush administration's heart for a variety of reasons. Whether or not the Bush administration is sincere about a flowering
democracy in Iraq, the country does need to be rebuilt, if only because it will create jobs for Americans. And make no mistake, the oil in Kirkuk is an important part of that story. The greedy Kurds, by taking back what is theirs, have threatened that plan.

Now, we might suppose that the Administration also wants a strong Kurdistan, so it could accept the loss of oil wealth to the rest of Iraq because a stable and wealthy Kurdistan is compensation enough for the
scuttling of its original plans. But it's clear that this war is being fought to win (though not necessarily to win over) Arabs to America's point of view and to shake up the Arab world. If this show plays to an Arab audience as a first priority, the oil will be put to use for Arabs (after, of course, the U.S. has taken it's share). Everyone understands that at the end of the day Arabs in Iraq ought to have something to show for this war. Up till now, Kurdish interests have aligned with the interests of the administration. But soon the administration will be making difficult choices between Arab and Kurdish interests, and Iwill be much surprised if the Kurds come out ahead very often.

It's also important to remember that Iraq's oil reserves are concentrated principally in the mostly Kurdish North and the mostly Shi'a South, and that for centuries, regardless of the particular prevailing political
arrangements, political power has been concentrated in the mostly Sunni central part of the region. Getting the Sunni minority on board in post-war Iraq promises to be an enormous struggle, since it will
involve a delicate balancing between the interests of a long-excluded Shi'a minority and a Sunni minority with practice running the country, but for that reason deeply implicated in the failures of the Baath regime.
Getting the Sunni minority on board without significant oil wealth directed towards its benefit will be even harder. The administration needs that damn oil, and the Kurds are going to get shafted if they stand in the way.

There's also a distinction, which even the present administration must understand, between punishing Turkey for its recent snub and pushing it firmly out of American orbit. I would guess that from the Bush
administration's point of view, a rebuke proportional to Turkey's offence would involve pulling away loan guarantees, refusing to go to bat for it at the IMF, and allowing the country to slip into Argentinian-style
economic chaos. Movement towards an independent Kurdistan is, from Turkey's point of view, far worse than any of this, because economic squalls eventually (one can always hope) blow over, whereas an
independent Kurdistan would set up irredentist pressure within South East Turkey for as long as Kurdistan was independent. All of this, when combined withTurkey's persistent habit of overreaction to Kurdish autonomy within and without Turkey, might well be deeply destabilizing for the region.

Finally, as a general rule, nations like to remake nation, not dismember them. This is especially true of the United States, even when it is going through one of its fits of reforming zeal. The Clinton administration's
distaste for Kosovo's eventual autonomy is one example which illustrates the bipartisan nature of this reluctance to fiddle with borders. There are exceptions, of course, and even important ones. But they are exceptions because fiddling with borders can be deeply destabilizing. Post-war Iraq will be a very delicate situation, even in the best of all the possible worlds which might develop out of the present one. It's quite
unlikely the administration struggling to control events in Iraq, and, perhaps, busy fighting yet another war, will be up for a bit of map rejiggering.

So there's very good reason to doubt that the Kurds are following an unofficial script or even anything that the administration could approve retrospectively. The Kurdish move on Kirkuk signals future intentions, and in a way that is deeply discrediting to the hawks who based optimistic forecasts about post-war Iraq on Kurdish acquiescence.

Anyone who's read dispatches from Northern Iraq, where a few American special ops soldiers are fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga, has plenty of reason for concern. These stories are filled with special ops' amazement at the determination and hardiness of the Peshmerga in battle.

These special ops better take careful notes. They might soon be fighting against their current friends.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

China's Take on the U.S.

Perhaps the most refreshing yearly exercise undertaken by the U.S. government (and some years, nearly the only refreshing exercise) is an annual Human Rights Report put out by the State Department. The State Department began publishing the reports during the Carter years, and no one since - not even Reagan, and not even the younger Bush, at least so far - has had the courage to pull the plug on it.

The report is subject to all kinds of political pressure, and so is predictably harder on America's foes than its friends. (For examples, Human Rights Watch provides a helpful critique of the report each year, shortly after it's been released). But reality - with a little help from strenuous lobbying by groups like Human Right Watch - imposes real constraints on how far the report can stray from the truth. In the end, the report comes close enough to the truth to enrage allies, and that's part of what makes refreshing, even if it receives scant attention from the U.S. media.

Even less heed is paid to international criticism of the report by countries angered by such attention from a country they often consider flawed itself. And so this counter-report by the Chinese government was predicably overlooked. I've only had a chance to skim it, but it makes for some interesting reading.

China, of course, has a disgusting record of human rights violations, and is itself in an awkward position to be throwing around criticism on the same matter. But this kind of mutual scrutiny is healthy for all.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Kurdish Promises and The Promise of Kurdish Autonomy

The neo-cons who support the war in Iraq have made a number of puzzling claims. One of the oddest seems shared by most, or perhaps even all, of the neo-con factions currently jostling for supremecy in their many neo-con think tanks, journals, and administration positions. This is the claim that the Kurds have finally settled down and renounced their dreams of Kurdish autonomy. The claim is extremely useful, because it helps them to make the case that a post-invasion Iraq will be bountiful in stability, as well as, ahem, milk and honey.

The evidence for this claim? That's supposed to be straightforward: The Kurds told them so.

In one sense, the evidence is incontrovertible. The Kurds did tell them so. But a promise of this sort is only worth so much, even when it's sincere. After all, we usually don't think that a minority, particularly one hard pressed by circumstance as the Kurdish minority is, can gamble away its right to secede for all eternity. What if, in a stable and prosperous Iraq of the future, the Kurds decided to split amicably from the rest of Iraq, in the way that Slovakia peacefully turned from the Czeck Republic? "It's been a gas, guys, but it's time for us to live apart." What gives the present day Kurdish leaders the right to bargain that right away? And what in God's name gives the U.S. the right to guarantee the bargain for eternity to all and sundry?

A promise of this sort, unfortunately, is worth even less when it's not sincere. And it's pretty clear that Kurdish hearts are not really in this one. The Kurdish experience within Iraq - people are finally starting to notice - has hardly been a congenial one, and it strains credulity to think that they will ever truly reconcile themselves to the prospect of sharing the joys of federalism with the same people who persecuted them with such gusto.

True, it's not the same government, or even (let us hope) the same officials within a different government. But this might look like a very fine distinction to someone who has lost a number of relatives to Iraqi malice. Most Israelis still aren't keen on Wagner, and that's after Germany has said repeatedly that it is sorry for all that, and even offered considerable compensation for it's misdeeds. I doubt Iraqis will be as keen to apologize for Baathist sins against the Kurds, which will be an essential part of any proper healing process. And bear in mind that the Kurds are being invited to join other Iraqis in building a country together. Israelis don't even have to share a continent with the Germans. (This is not to compare the treatment of the Kurds with the Holocaust. But the Kurds have suffered deeply and I'm interested here in the politics and psychology of persecution and reconciliation. The analogy can still be instructive.)

So it should be clear to all that the Kurdish promise to stay within Iraq is a tactical one. And it should be equally clear that those who deny this are either liars or fools.

Remember that the experience of the Kurdish minority in Iraq is different in at least one very signficant way from the experience of the Shi'a minority. At least the Shi'a experience of persecution, abuse and neglect is a matter between members of the same ethnic group. The Kurds are still more deeply excluded from Iraq's traditional self-definition, a fact which is reinforced every time it is referred to as an Arab nation.

If the evidence from the Kurdish experience within Iraq is not enough to convince you that trouble lies ahead, or if my comparison with Germany and the Jews seems over the top, I offer another comparison.

The French in Quebec were long marginalized and mistreated within Canada, and indeed within their own province, and it was only in the 60s that the 'quiet revolution' began, a process that helped French Canadians force the rest of the Canada to respect their rights, culture and language.

The mistreatment of Quebeckers was, of course, nothing like the mistreatment of the Kurds. But in fact this supports the point I want to draw from the case. For all the false starts, wrong turns and mistakes Canadians made along the way, the process initiated by the quiet revolution has been largely salutary. And in the face of some quite pointed criticism (much of it perfectly legitimate, in my view) from Quebeckers, English Canada has responded over the years with genuine attempts to reconcile differences peacefully and within a single federalist framework. But even so, Quebec has held two referenda in an attempt to leave Canada, the last of which failed by only a very small fraction of the vote. Even after the failure of these referenda, seperatism remains popular within Quebec.

The reasons for this are quite complicated, and they don't all have to do with ideology or nationalism. Holding referenda to secede also turns out to be a decent way to soak the federal government for cash. But the memory of humiliation at the hands of English Canadians, and legitimate concern about the fate of their minority culture and language, plays an undeniable role in the enduring appeal of separatism to many Quebeckers.

I ask you to reflect on how much more appealing separatism will appear to Kurds who look back on a history of infinitely more severe mistreatment, and who will probably face infinitely less sympathy or understanding about that mistreatment in an Iraq that will itself be struggling to recover from the depredations of the Baath party.

The neo-cons, of course, dismiss all this as pessimistic whining. And besides, they hint darkly, U.S. support for the Kurds is conditional on their keeping their promise, and you know what losing U.S. support looks like. But nationalism, especially the sort of nationalism that is forged by a long history of abuse, is a rugged thing. And the Kurds, in case you haven't noticed, were already a rugged people to start with. The neo-cons can promise each other that they've got things under control. But this Canadian thinks that's naive bluster or worse.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

India and Pakistan

I like to think that my opposition to the war never depended on downplaying the threat from Iraq. Iraq did want nuclear weapons, and, armed with them, would have threatened more than oil (the Kurds, for example, or Israel). The problem with arguments stressing the danger from Iraq is that, even setting aside moral concerns about preventative war, showing that Iraq is potentially very dangerous doesn't, by itself, suggest a response. To know how to respond, we need to know how dangerous it is compared with other threats, and supporters of the war were never able to muster a convincing argument that placed concern about Iraq within broader concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Invading Iraq might eliminate a potential nuclear threat, but if the cost of doing so is to spark an arms race, or spur proliferation more broadly, it's at odds with prudence as well as morality.

Alas, few on the Asian subcontinent have been content over the last year to sit tight and wait for the U.S.'s attention - and we should be clear that the U.S.'s attention desperately needed here . India and Pakistan, never particularly responsible with conventional military force, have for the last few years been playing an infinitely more troubling game of threats and bluster with their new nuclear arsenals. Nobody wants a nuclear war, of course, but the worry is that the players will miscalculate and bring it on in spite of themselves. The players here have an awful record when it comes to calculation (something which this story put me in mind of).

Does anyone really want to wager 10 millions lives (and, incidentally, the global economy) on the good judgement and maturity of the leadership of these countries?

Ask the Bush administration. They've put the issue on hold while they deal with Iraq.
Don Rumsfeld drives me bonkers!

When Don Rumsfeld dragged Syria into the spotlight recently by complaining about arms shipments to Iraq, I assumed he was articulating a worrying new policy of the Bush administration’s. The development suggested that even after Iraq had been dealt with the axis of evil would continue to have three members, with Syria drafted to take Iraq's place.

The timing of the remarks was also ill-considered, since any deterrent value the administration might have hoped to squeeze from the threat was easily outweighed by a predictable backlash to the remarks. This is a delicate moment, as the world digests news of civilian casualties in Iraq and decides anxiously how to respond to a newly aggressive U.S. Aggressive rhetoric always does damage to the standing of the U.S. in the world, but never so much as when it comes in the middle of a major conflict.

What’s more, it was never really necessary to balance the desire to deter Syria against the threat of a backlash, since the administration might have communicated its displeasure privately instead of publicly, and so made a positive gain without paying for it in unfortunate consequences.

Yet through all this I assumed it was the administration's policy, worked out within the administration, and approved by it.

So I assumed until I read a recent piece in the New York Times. It begins as follows:

WASHINGTON, April 5 — Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria last week, declaring that any "hostile acts" they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable defense secretary had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation.

Mr. Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Mr. Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word — "Good" — and went back to work.

If this is true, then we should be concerned about more than flawed policy. We should also be concerned about the way the Bush administration arrives at policy decisions.

We shouldn't doubt that it's policy that Rumsfeld is making in his rash and unilateral way (and so we find a new way to criticize the administration for being unilateral!) Comments like Rumsfeld’s make policy because they help to define the U.S.’s official position, and by doing so, significantly constrain options available to it in the future.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that anything is settled for once and for all as soon as Rumsfeld has spoken on the matter. I mean that public statements of this sort are an important part of the way matters like this do get settled. You can guarantee that when Syria figures in the new debates over policy, hawks will underline 'credibility' as a major concern, and Rumsfeld's comments - off the cuff or not - will play an important role in defining what credibility requires. And of course, by raising the temperature diplomatically, such remarks often help to bring about the crisis they warn of.

This lack of coordination between key players and responsible oversight of the administration as a whole is reminiscent of Reagan's whitehouse, and many of the same objections apply to it. It was often said in Reagan’s defense that although he was no great shakes as a thinker, he had a broad vision which gave his administration coherence, and an ability to delegate, which ensured that his broad vision was implemented properly.

It’s true that Reagan had a broad (though deeply flawed) vision, and also that his administration accomplished quite a bit that was compatible with that vision. But accounts of Reagan’s administration show pretty clearly that this wasn’t enough. Infighting in the Reagan administration was intense, and this partly reflected the fact that any broad vision always needs to be worked out in considerable detail before it becomes effective policy. When the details overwhelm the intellectual powers of the guy calling the shots, no grand vision can save the resulting policy from incoherence and crippling contradiction. And one feature of such administrations is that players within it come to rely increasingly on leaks and preemptive announcements to make policy.

It's also important to see what kind of policy Rumsfeld is formulating. Recall for a moment that Rumsfeld is not the Secretary of State. He’s supposed to be in charge of defense and his job is not to run foreign policy, or even to formulate it. It would be worrying – excuse me - it is worrying, when Colin Powell tries to formulate policy by unilaterial pronouncement, but at least we have the consolation of knowing that formulating foreign policy is part of his official job description.

It's true that Rumsfeld was commenting on a military matter, but the decision to threaten another country is properly a diplomatic one. So it's no excuse to say that Bush was acting consistently with his general approach, which is to provide considerable freedom to his top officials to exercise their own judgement. This wasn't Rumsfeld's decision to make in the first place, and there's nothing in Bush's management philosophy to excuse this kind of departmental cross-dressing. (And what good is a management philosophy if you don't have the brains to notice that an underling isn't following it?)

None of this is to suggest, of course, that Syria’s violation of the sanctions regime is excusable. The administration has a point that many of the fiercest critics of the current war had done the least to uphold the sanctions regime that was supposed to be a credible alternative to the war. And at the top of the list of no-nos are weapons. Much of the force of American criticism on this, however, is undermined by the selectivity of the complaint. Syria was not alone in its misdeeds, and when criticism which applies broadly to many countries comes piecemeal and aimed at one, it looks like a pretext to send a warning signal, rather than a principled objection. Anyway, it looks like small potatoes, militarily. If you want an example of outrageous military shipments to an international pariah state, think of the Iran-Contra affair.

Haven't posted much lately. Very busy. I'm planning to do a little posting today just to get some things off my chest.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers briefed the press today at the Department of Defense. Here is how Rumsfeld started the press conference:

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.

We are 12 days into the war. Coalition forces have made
good progress in that still short period of time. To get a sense
of how coalition forces are doing, I think it's useful to put
yourself in Baghdad, in the shoes of those in the Iraqi regime,
and ask "what do you think they're seeing after 12 days of war."
They probably expected it would be much like the first Gulf War.
It seems an awful lot of people in the world expected that it
would be a lot like the first Gulf War.

In that case, as you'll recall, it was a sustained 38-day air
campaign, followed by a brief ground attack. Instead, in
this case, the ground attack actually started before the air
war, with thousands of Special Forces pouring into all regions
of the country and a large force rolling across the Kuwaiti
border into southern Iraq.

Pow! Got 'em again! You go Rummy. After all, how would Hussein have had access to thousands of media reports in the months leading up to the invasion, all detailing the current plan in exquisite detail?