Sunday, June 29, 2003


A small point about news coverage of Iraq. It seems pretty clear from everything I've read that U.S. soldiers in Iraq haven't been trained in all the skills they now need to occupy Iraq effectively. Press coverage has focussed very much on the lack of preparation for the occupation of Iraq. Very little, by contrast, has been written about the longer term lack of preparation by the U.S. military for tasks requiring broader goals than all-out fighting. Surely the problems the U.S. is facing in Iraq now stem partly from lack of preparation of this sort as well.

From a political point of view, if you want to twist the military's arm on this, or at least get their attention, you might propose the creation of a sort of MP force under the heading of the State Department. If the military only wants to blow shit up, then let it. But the U.S. clearly needs (needed!) a lightly armed, but highly skilled, force to take on this kind of task.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Affirmative Action

A few thoughts about affirmative action:

I'm glad that the Supreme Court has decided that some form of affirmative action is constitutionally kosher. But before we celebrate a victory for the forces of goodness, we might reflect on how unfortunate it is that so much of the debate about race and inequality in this country focuses on this one issue. Admission to law school, or even to undergraduate programs, takes place very late in the game: by this time in their lives people have already been shaped by all kinds of important social forces.

I worry that the focus on affirmative action in universities takes our attention off the fact that affirmative action is really a sop, a sort of ad hoc device that cannot hope to address the pervasive inequalities we seem to hope it will. For every minority admitted to an elite institution there will be a great many others who are deprived of a proper education in public school, to take only one example. If you were serious about dealing with these broader social inequalities, you might consider a serious measure, such as delinking property taxes and the quality of education children receive. Unless you do this, or something similarly radical, you have little hope of dealing justly with all the other people who never get near an elite institution.

Speaking of elite institutions, I haven't gone over the case particularly carefully, but my understanding is that Michigan's undergrad admissions flunked the court's test because assigning points for race is too much like the quota system that was rejected by the court in Bakke. In contrast, the law school's admissions policies passed muster with the court because they used the word "holistic" and claimed that race had no specific, uniform, policy-wide, role in the process. Sometimes it influenced the admissions panel, the law school told the court, and sometimes it did not.

The main thing to notice here (unless I'm just mistaken about the case) is that the "holistic" approach is far more expensive. As N. Lemann pointed out in his excellent book, The Big Test, most schools rely on standardized testing and point systems for economic reasons. Since I'm not completely sure about the law here, I'll put this point in the form of a question rather than a claim: Won't the practical effect of this ruling be to wipe out affirmative action in poorer schools, i.e. the vast majority of schools, while throwing liberals the bone of affirmative action in the view elite institutions which can afford it? Or have I simply misunderstood the issue? Anyone?

Friday, June 27, 2003

OK, one more . . .

I can't resist another quick post. John Keegan, the noted military historian, has a piece in Canada's National Post today.

The piece is sensible enough in its way, but it still worries me. Keegan reviews the history of Iraq, putting special emphasis on the difficulties involved in ruling it. It's much harder, he notes, to invade a country than to stabilize it.

This is all true, of course, though as Wolfowitz would protest (or at least used to protest) nothing in Iraq's history makes it impossible for democracy to flourish there. It's just a very big job.

But Keegan concludes:

What is now needed is that "exit strategy." It cannot be found either in the previous British experiments with "air control" or "divide and rule." For one thing, there are no Assyrians left. The whole community emigrated to America 50 years ago.

A better solution is that of recreating an Iraqi national army, as the British did in the 1920s. There is plenty of raw material -- the 200,000 unemployed soldiers at present not under orders and only erratically paid. Their discontent is fuelling the disorder.

It must be a matter of priority to enlist as many as possible, give them Western training and use them to replace the American and British soldiers patrolling the cities and countryside. That program will take several years until it is completed. Casualties among the Western occupation forces will, meanwhile, continue.

A few questions and comments.

Keegan says nothing about whether the U.S. ought to stick it out for democracy in Iraq, having invested so significantly, and so publicly, in such an outcome. The most important question about an exit strategy is what Iraq has to look like before it gets exited. Keegan's failure to say anything here, except to talk about training the military, seems to me to suggest a rather minimalistic, and dark, view of those conditions.

The second thing I notice is the deep pessimism about Iraq's possibilities. I opposed the war in part because I thought that leaders in the U.S. lacked the wisdom and the patience and the will to do the job properly, not because I thought it impossible. And I hope to be shown up as foolishly pessimistic. My guess is that we will hear much, much more along Keegan's lines in the next year or so, as people on the pro-war camp look for pretexts to disengage from the very experiment they launched. It's near impossible, the argument will go, just look at history.

Speaking of the pro-war camp, I haven't followed Keegan's pieces in the NP very closely, but I think I remember him rather staunchly pushing for war. I have discovered to my surprise that I actually have people reading this blog now (less than a dozen, but still . . . ). So I will ask: Does anyone else remember Keegan's position before the war? I ask because I don't recall Keegan warning of Iraq's internal turmoil in quite such dire language before the war - when he was arguing in favour of it. What gives?

So a prediction or two: You'll see a lot of people spinning pretexts to dodge responsibility now in Iraq in the coming months and years, and many of them will be the same people who incredulously asked the anti-war camp why they didn't want to bring democracy to the beleaguered Iraqis.

Finally a warning: The anti-war movement resisted the war for all kinds of reasons, some idiotic and some sensible. Among the more sensible, I hope, is the one I mentioned above: not pessimism about the possibility that Iraq could become democratic so much as fear that the American leaders lacked the wisdom needed for such a big job. Now that the U.S. is committed, though, I think the anti-war movement needs to focus on pressuring the admin to do the job properly. The pre-war pessimism about the possibilities for Iraq ought to be put on the back-burner. The worst outcome would be for the anti-war movement to be transformed into a let's-get-the-hell-out-of-Iraq movement. This will only play right into the hands of the thugs* who got us there in the first place and will be pushing to leave at the first possibile opportunity.

*(From the thug category, I exclude people like Hitchens who really did, I think, support the war for humanitarian reasons, and who really will want the U.S. to do the job properly.)
A letter to Paul Krugman

Too busy to post today, but I did write a quick note to Paul Krugman:

Hello, a quick note from a fan.

You often suggest that Republicans tend to rule in the interests of the rich. I wish this were so, since the rich tend to have many interests in common with the poor, even when they don't realize it.

I think it's more accurate to say that the Republican party tends to rule in the short-term interests of the rich. In the long run, of course, the rich are also hurt by policies which harm the environment, or leave the labour market insufficiently educated - even if wealth provides some insulation from these consequences.

It would be even more accurate, alas, to say that the Republican party tends to rule in the short-term interests of the rich, taken one group at a time. Things would be much better if the Republican party stepped back from the fray, and thought about how to maximize the short-term fortunes of the rich as a whole. As it is, satisfying interests groups one at a time may often lead to lower benefits for the rich overall. When a particular group of the rich gets bought off by the administration, it may well have negative consequences for other groups of the rich, which are not compensated for by their own special packages.

Keep up the good work!

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Not Quite

C. Hitchens writes in his latest piece in Slate:

The furthest the peaceniks will go is to say that Bush's rhetoric made these people turn nasty. I am not teasing here: The best of the anti-war polemicists is Jonathan Schell, who advanced this very claimin a debate with me earlier this month. Meanwhile, the overwhelmingmoral case for regime change in both countries is once again being left to the forces of neoconservatism, with the liberals pulling a long face while they wait to be reluctantly "persuaded."

I believe Hitchens is referring to the debate at Pace University which I attended.

This isn’t how I remember Schell’s remarks. Schell’s point, as I understood it, was that our actions do make some difference to how others behave, that aggressive behaviour, such as brandishing nuclear weapons (see Bush the elder’s threat to nuke Iraq if S.H. used chemical weapons; see also, the recent nuclear posture review), or waging preventative war, can actually spur proliferation.

Hitchens’ position, as I understood it, was that N. Korea and Iraq and a few other countries are run by totally homicidal maniacs who are utterly undeterrable, and have their own fixed, and malevolent, ends. Our own rhetoric or behaviour doesn’t make them more evil, or lead them to acquire nuclear arsenals – that’s inevitable, given how awful they are. It's silly, so Hitchens' argument goes, to think that the leaders of N. Korea were waiting around for the U.S. to be consistent about the issue of nuclear disarmament. They don't care a whit for consistency, only ruthless advantage, and Schell and co. are projecting their own obsession for this so-called consistency onto lunatics with no time for it.

There is a very important grain of truth in Hitchens’ criticsm of Schell here, if only because Schell's failure (in the debate, but also, I think, elsewhere) to spell out clearly just exactly how he divies matters up here leads to the suspicion that he might well be vulnerable to the charge. Schell, I think, really does underrate the extent to which insane dictators march to the beat of their own drum, and not ours. S.H. would have wanted nukes (I still firmly believe that S.H. wanted nukes.) even without the nuclear posture review, even if the U.S. disarmed as Schell believes it should. But, it is deeply unfair of Hitchens to distort this into the claim that Bush’s rhetoric made these people turn nasty. Come on, for one thing Schell knows perfectly well that both leaders of N. Korea and Iraq were in power long before Bush assumed the presidency. Satisfying polemic may be one-sided, but it has to at least hit home. This isn't satisfying polemic.

Although I think Hitchens is right to think that S.H. had an inflexible desire for nukes, and perhaps that N. Korea did too, he misses something by failing to take Schell seriously (which he couldn’t possibly have done, if that’s how he remembers, or at least, chooses to remember, the debate). American actions really can have an effect on the behaviour of even awful dictators, partly by moving a nukes program up or down in priority. N. Korea’s nukes predate that idiotic State of the Union speech inviting them into the axis of evil. But I would not be surprised if the speech prompted N. Korea to ramp up the pace of its program. (While we’re on the subject of idiotic and inflammatory political rhetoric, N. Korea, it should be stressed, is obviously a far greater sinner than the United States - in fact it is in quite a different league.) To think otherwise is to suppose that being evil makes you incapable of reacting in any intelligible way to greater or lesser dangers.

(The rest of Hitchen’s piece, by the way, is a decent enough take on the wimpy “convince me” school of democrats, though, again, Hitchens gets so carried away swatting at his straw man he forgets to investigate whether a sensible position might be constructed out of the more reasonable requests on offer from critics of the admin. ("Convince me" might mean: i, I have no ideas of my own, so if you don't show me the way, I'm staying put on this issue; or ii, I just do not see a case for regime change, and you haven't made one, so go ahead and tell what you know that I don't so I can see where you're coming from.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Because I'm a Canuck, I have a strict policy against lobbying American politicians (because it would only be effective if I pretended I was a a Yank). But I might as well post this, since it is a worthy cause. Come on, my Amurican friends! Do it!

Join activists around the world on Thursday June 26 for a day of
action in support of victims of torture!

Urge your Representative and Senators now to support funding to
implement the Torture Victims Relief Act through the appropriation
bills. The funding will enable those torture survivors in the U.S.
to become contributing members of our communities, and will enable
foreign treatment centers to provide care for torture victims and
advocate for the elimination of torture.

To take action, click on this link or paste it into your Web browser:

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Worrying development in Afghanistan

On June 17th, two Afghan journalists were arrested by Afghan authories on spurious charges. Karzai has, so far, been unwilling to intervene on their behalf, according to a recent protest by Human Rights Watch. Afghanistan, to be sure, has many problems which might seem to overshadow the fate of two journalists. But other journalists are watching this case, and a great deal depends on what happens next.
How does he know that?

N. Kristof argues in a column today that the U.S. has unleashed fundamentalism in Iraq, which may prove to represent the will of the Iraq people better than some of the alternatives that the U.S. is bound to favour:

Paradoxically, a more democratic Iraq may also be a more repressive one; it may well be that a majority of Iraqis favor more curbs on professional women and on religious minorities. As Fareed Zakaria notes in his smart new book, "The Future of Freedom," unless majority rule is accompanied by legal protections, tolerance and respect for minorities, the result can be populist repression.

Women did relatively well under Saddam Hussein (when they weren't being tortured or executed, penalties that the regime applied on an equal opportunity basis). In the science faculty at Basra University, 80 percent of the students are women. Iraq won't follow the theocratic model of Iran, but it could end up as Iran Lite: an Islamic state, but ruled by politicians rather than ayatollahs. I get the sense that's the system many Iraqis seek.

"Democracy means choosing what people want, not what the West wants," notes Abdul Karim al-Enzi, a leader of the Dawa Party, a Shiite fundamentalist party that is winning support in much of the country.

It certainly does seem that fundamentalism is gaining ground in Iraq. Resistance to the Ba'ath party for many years took a religious form. Now, these forces are released, and the religious parties often look good for having been on the right side of the struggle.

Still, Kristof doesn't cite any polls, of course. And growing membership in political parties is no proof: there weren't any parties before, so obviously all the political parties will be growing for a while. It's also important to interpret extremist violence carefully. A few extremists can create an enormous impact without necessarily commanding popular support.

I think it's too early to start making assumptions about what Iraqis want, or about the popular support that religious groups will command in Iraq. It's especially dangerous, in fact, to start making these excuses, because they may function down the road as a pretext to abandon the job of building a democracy: a costly committment, but one that the U.S. ought now to take seriously.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Canada in the Spotlight!

It's not every day that Canada gets blasted in a Human Rights Watch report:

Canada: Vancouver Authorities Downplay Rights Abuses

(New York, June 23, 2003) - The city of Vancouver's attempt to
Human Rights Watch only highlights the city's failure to address
about an anti-drug crackdown in its Downtown Eastside, Human Rights
said today.

Human Rights Watch's May 2003 report, "Abusing the User," presented
hand accounts from numerous Downtown Eastside residents, health service
providers, city officials and researchers suggesting widespread police
misconduct early in the crackdown on drug traffickers beginning
April 7. The
report documented violations of the due process rights of injection
users and actions that impeded their access to life-saving HIV
services. The mayor issued a 29-page open rebuttal to the report on
June 10.

"The mayor has chosen to shoot the messenger, rather than act on the
message," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights
Watch. "His
desperate public relations effort makes us more concerned than ever
about the
rights of vulnerable people in the Downtown Eastside."

In an open letter to the mayor, Roth responded to a series of claims
that he
characterized as "willfully misleading." The mayor claimed the
Human Rights
Watch report was based on "hearsay," discounting the detailed,
accounts on which the report was based. He also downplayed concerns
that the
crackdown was driving drug users out of reach of health services,
instead on an incomplete evaluation of the crackdown's impact.

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for genuinely independent
oversight of
the Vancouver Police Department and protection of needle exchange
and other
harm reduction services for injection drug users. Human Rights
Watch echoed
the concern expressed by many health service providers and some city
officials that intensifying police action in the fight against
illicit drugs
should be preceded or accompanied by intensification of treatment
and harm
reduction services, a principle inherent in the city's "four pillar"


On May 8, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting police
and other human rights violations in connection with an anti-drug
on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Canada. The poorest
neighborhood in
Canada and home to an estimated 5000 injection drug users, the Downtown
Eastside of Vancouver suffers from what may be the worst epidemic of
HIV/AIDS in the developed world. The city and the province have for
time invested in needle exchange, methadone maintenance therapy, and
harm reduction-based services to injection drug users in the Downtown
Eastside. In November 2002, Vancouver elected a mayor, Larry
Campbell, who
ran on a platform of addressing injection drug use and HIV/AIDS with
pillars" of treatment, prevention, harm reduction, and law enforcement.

Shortly into the mayor's term, the Vancouver police department
tripled its
presence on the Downtown Eastside and launched a crackdown that some
experts feared would contribute to a new wave of HIV transmission in
city. Human Rights Watch documented first-hand accounts of police
violating the due process rights of injection drug users through
use of force, illegal search and seizure, and harassment through the
use of
petty offenses. Human Rights Watch also documented the negative health
impact of the crackdown, including interference with needle exchange
programs, increased risk of drug overdose, and interruption of primary
health services. Our report recommended that the city of Vancouver
an independent investigation of all allegations of police misconduct
take steps to mitigate the health impact of the police crackdown.

Additional Information

Human Rights Watch's letter to Mayor Campbell:

Q & A on Human Rights Watch's report "Abusing the User: Police
Harm Reduction and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver,"

Human Rights Watch's report "Abusing the User: Police Misconduct, Harm
Reduction and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver,"

Sunday, June 22, 2003

More on lying

If you've got time, check out the latest, and most comprehensive, indictment of the Bush drive to war so far. (TPM linked there first.) The money graf:

The Bush administration took office pledging to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House. And it's true: Bush has not gotten caught having sex with an intern or lying about it under oath. But he has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make. The United States may have been justified in going to war in Iraq--there were, after all, other rationales for doing so--but it was not justified in doing so on the national security grounds that President Bush put forth throughout last fall and winter. He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war.

But, you may notice that they leave out the little tidbit I've referred to repeatedly: that Wolfowitz dropped the aluminum tubes theory 5 days before it showed up in the State of the Union speech. That remains a See Why exclusive!

Friday, June 20, 2003

Fuel your natural paranoia!

Here's FAIR's recent press release. The breathless tone is a bit irritating, but it's interesting nonetheless. My understanding is that W. Clark is a sensible guy: Why's he saying stuff like this if it isn't true? (Perhaps there's an answer to that. He is rumoured, after all, to want to run for the Presidency, which is a fairly reliable indication that you're ambitious and working an angle. But this kind of statement is an awfully risky way to do that.)

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

Media Silent on Clark's 9/11 Comments:
Gen. says White House pushed Saddam link without evidence

June 20, 2003

Sunday morning talk shows like ABC's This Week or Fox News Sunday often
make news for days afterward. Since prominent government officials
dominate the guest lists of the programs, it is not unusual for the Monday
editions of major newspapers to report on interviews done by the Sunday
chat shows.

But the June 15 edition of NBC's Meet the Press was unusual for the buzz
that it didn't generate. Former General Wesley Clark told anchor Tim
Russert that Bush administration officials had engaged in a campaign to
implicate Saddam Hussein in the September 11 attacks-- starting that very
day. Clark said that he'd been called on September 11 and urged to link
Baghdad to the terror attacks, but declined to do so because of a lack of

Here is a transcript of the exchange:

CLARK: "There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting
immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam

RUSSERT: "By who? Who did that?"

CLARK: "Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the
White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN,
and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected.
This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam
Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?'
And I never got any evidence."

Clark's assertion corroborates a little-noted CBS Evening News story that
aired on September 4, 2002. As correspondent David Martin reported:
"Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the
Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking
about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam
Hussein to the attacks." According to CBS, a Pentagon aide's notes from
that day quote Rumsfeld asking for the "best info fast" to "judge whether
good enough to hit SH at the same time, not only UBL." (The initials SH
and UBL stand for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.) The notes then
quote Rumsfeld as demanding, ominously, that the administration's response
"go massive...sweep it all up, things related and not."

Despite its implications, Martin's report was greeted largely with silence
when it aired. Now, nine months later, media are covering damaging
revelations about the Bush administration's intelligence on Iraq, yet
still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the
flawed intelligence-- and therefore the war-- may have been a result of
deliberate deception, rather than incompetence. The public deserves a
fuller accounting of this story.

If you'd like to encourage media outlets to investigate this story, please
see FAIR's Media Contact list:
Bad news in Liberia

Now Taylor says it was a big misunderstanding.

I was hopeful, but at the same time, it's very hard to see why he would step down. It probably means death or imprisonment for him, so we should expect him to cling to power for as long as possible.
Thank goodness that's over!

We Canadians are in the clear now. The U.S. ambassador to Canada has decided to let us off the hook.

Hope Turkey gets off so easy.
Site Counter Added

You may have noticed that I've added a little site counter thingie to my site. Click through to see just how many people read See Why (I only just put up the counter. But it should be generating stats for me from now on.)

Astounding! Talk about traffic, eh? Form an orderly line, folks, there's room here for everyone.

Hi Mom!
Pollack Revisited

Don't miss Kenneth Pollack's op-ed piece in the NYTimes today. Pollack was, of course, the brains behind the recent war in Iraq. His book, The Threatening Storm, was often cited for its meticulous case for war, though, I suspect, far less often actually read. A bit late in the debate this spring, someone at Slate noticed that Pollack hadn't in fact made a case for the admin's war at all, though the book was intended to make the case for a war. It was also interesting that Pollack built his case differently from the admin, which found it either desirable or necessary to dumb down the argument. I think that Pollack's book has numerous flaws, but it at least had the virtue of distinguishing between different kinds of WMD (important because the differences between them are big enough that it can be seriously misleading to lump them together), refusing to put any weight on the Iraq-terrorism angle, and taking the case against the war seriously enough to argue against. Pollack also always stuck to the line that Iraq was a long term problem, and that invasion was a response to that long term problem, not a response to an immanent threat. (There were also some serious flaws in the book, but I'll take a crack at them another time. The article I linked to above also has problems.)

I think that many people in the admin saw things roughly along these lines, but were pushed to make a weaker case by what they saw as the limitations of public debate. The public is often dubious enough about wars undertaken in the face of a threat. It's especially hard to talk the public into a war with such long term goals, when the threat is far from immanent. And so a decision was made to stress short term danger, immanent threat, the dubious terrorism connection, and so on.

I've harped on this enough, but I can't resist making the point (briefly) again: Iraq really did present the U.S. with a long term problem. S.H. really would have been dangerous if the sanctions had been lifted and oil revenues had flooded back into the country's, or rather his, coffers. The failure to discover significant WMD reserves does not remove from the anti-war crowd the responsibility to explain how we would have dealt with this problem. I think we can meet this challenge, but it's still one to take seriously.

The failure to discover WMD so far is not a scandal, then, because it shows that Iraq was not a long term threat. It is a scandal because it shows that the admin lied, and lied repeatedly, in trying to make the case for war. It squandered the credibility of the U.S. both at home and abroad, and if it gets away with it, American democracy will be that much weaker.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

One more thing

Can't resist reprinting a press release from the Center for Public Integrity:

New on The Public i:
The FCC's Strange Non-Profit
(WASHINGTON, June 18, 2003) -- A quasi-governmental corporation set up
to fund telecommunications company start-ups is spending nearly as much
on executive salaries and overhead as it is investing in companies, a
Center for Public Integrity investigation has found. The
Telecommunications Development Fund has paid more than $7 million in
executive salaries and other expenses while investing only $9.4 million
of seed money in start-ups.

For details, visit To know more about the
Center's telecom project, visit:

Two quick e-mails

Really busy today, so today's output will have to be limited to two quick e-mails I just wrote, the first to Slate and the second to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

1. Quick question for Slate. On April 9th, 2003, Michael Young wrote a piece called 'Looking for Mr. Khazraji' for Slate about a former Iraqi general who might or might not have escaped from Denmark with the help of the U.S.

Since then Slate has published nothing about Mr. Khazraji. Why? I've seen one news report that he is indeed now in Iraq, but I'm not sure what to believe. Why not do a follow up on this piece? No one else is!

Chris Young

2. Hello. A quick question about a news story that no one seems to want to investigate. On April 9th, 2003, Michael Young wrote a piece called 'Looking for Mr. Khazraji' for Slate about a former Iraqi general under house arrest in Denmark who might or might not have escaped from house arrest, and Denmark, with the help of the U.S.

Since then Slate has published nothing about Mr. Khazraji and as far as I can tell no one in the mainstream media has picked up the story. I'm not sure why. If Khazraji did escape from Denmark with the help of the U.S., it seems to me that that is newsworthy. He is, after all, implicated in some pretty horrific crimes. And the last time I checked, Denmark was an ally, so springing him from house arrest seems rude, to say the least.

I've seen one news report in the Arabic press that he is indeed now in Iraq, which would confirm part of the story, but I'm not sure what to believe.

Why not call attention to this?

Chris Young

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

This just in . . .

This just in from Human Right Watch:

Press Freedom in Morocco Set Back by Journalist Jailing

(Washington D.C., June 18, 2003) -- The affirmation Tuesday of a 3-year
prison term for journalist Ali Mrabet is a grave blow to press freedom in
Morocco, Human Rights Watch said today. A Rabat appeals court upheld a lower
court verdict that also banned the independent weeklies that Mrabet directs,
Demain and its Arabic sister Douman.

"With this unjust ruling, Morocco joins those countries in the region that
imprison journalists," said Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights
Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "Mrabet's weeklies were among
the brightest indicators of free expression in Morocco. They belong on the
newsstands, and Mrabet belongs at his editorial desk, not in a prison cell."

Mrabet has been in prison since his May 21 lower-court conviction on charges
of "insulting the king," "undermining the monarchy, and "endangering the
integrity of national territory" for articles, interviews and cartoons that
appeared in the two Casablanca-based publications. The appeals court reduced
his prison term from four to three years but left in force a fine of 20,000
dirhams (about U.S. $2,168).

Mrabet began a hunger strike on May 6 to protest the government action
against him and against his printer. He has been hospitalized since May 26
due to his hunger strike and did not attend the court's ruling.

The items in Demain and Douman that prompted the charges under the press code

- An article about the budget that the state allocates to the royal court;
- A montage that allegedly manipulated photographs from King Mohamed VI's
wedding to ridicule ex-interior minister Driss Basri and other political
- A cartoon on the "history of slavery" that lampooned the obsequiousness
of local officials toward the monarchy;
- An interview with Moroccan political activist Abdullah Zaƒzaa in which
he restated his well-known views critical of the monarchy as an institution
and in favor of self-determination for the people of the disputed Western
Sahara territory.

In a nearly unprecedented move against a journalist in Morocco, Mrabet was
imprisoned upon his original conviction by the Rabat Court of First Instance.
The judge invoked Article 400 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows
for the court to jail defendants who are appealing their convictions if they
are deemed dangerous or likely to flee. The appeals court judge rejected
defense motions to obtain Mrabet's provisional release.

Morocco's constitution guarantees freedom of expression. But the press code,
revised in 2002, provides prison terms for a wide array of speech offenses,
such as the ones for which Mrabet was convicted.

After this confirmation of the verdict on appeal, Mrabet's only legal
recourse is a pourvoi en cassation before the Supreme Court, a challenge that
can be based on procedural but not on substantive issues.

"This is a sad day for those who placed hope in the king's pledges to expand
public liberties," said Megally.

On April 17, prior to this conviction, Moroccan police prevented Mrabet from
traveling to France, a move that was rescinded a week later. In November
2001, a court convicted him for an article in Demain concerning reports that
one of the royal palaces might be sold for redevelopment. Sentenced then to
four months in prison and a fine, Mrabet had been free pending an appeal of
that verdict.

To read more on human rights issues in Morocco, please see:

The Moroccan verdict is a bad step in the wrong direction. It is also something of a fresh challenge to the Bush admin. It always puzzled me that the U.S. was supposed to be able to democratize Iraq when it often hadn't been willing to put more than minimal pressure on other countries in the region to democratize. (Though, I should say, the Bush administration did act wisely recently in pressing the Egyptian government to relent in its persection of the Egyptian intellectual Saad Ibrahim. The pressure worked, and Ibrahim was finally cleared of all charges and released.) This, I think, is an important test of the admin's credibility on this issue. It needs to make clear to Morocco that this sort of nonsense is going to do real damage to bilateral relations with the U.S., that it carries a real cost.

I believe that this is yet another area where moral responsibility overlaps significantly with self-interest. The U.S. has a real interest in Morocco's long term health, and that is precisely what is threatened by the recent crackdown.
When does a spin becomes a lie?

The spin in Charles Krauthammer's latest column is so strong, I think it pulls him over the line several times into outright dishonesty. Krauthammer thinks that critics of the war hyped the looting of Iraq's cultural treasures out of shame at the sight of cheering, liberated Iraqis. They've now moved on to bogus charges about missing WMD out of the same sense of shame, the shameless bastards.

Krauthammer's views would be silly enough to ignore if he didn't have a prominent perch at the WaPo to spread this sort of nonsense. But he does, and so it's worth trying to sort through the mess he's made of yet another issue.

K begins by quoting earlier erroneous reports that 170,000 artifacts were carried away from the museum in Baghdad. These reports have since been corrected and qualified. More on this in a moment. K comments:

Turns out the Iraqi National Museum lost not 170,000 treasures but 33. You'd have to go back centuries, say, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find mendacity on this scale.

This is the sum of what K has to say about the looting. His account is correct in several respects: The scale of the looting at the central museum in Baghdad was inflated in initial reports. Also, some of the looting of the best stuff appears to have been an inside job, by S.H.'s cronies. Moreover, it's important to see that what happened was in many ways a continuation of the general ransacking of Iraq's cultural heritage that began in the first Gulf War and continued through the 90s. It is an unfortunate mirror image of the looting that S.H. perpetrated on Kuwait during Iraq's brief occupation of the country.

What's grossly unfair in K's account is that it suggests that grounds for concern end there. The treasures confirmed stolen from the central museum happen to have been the most valuable in the collection. So quoting a figure here is seriously misleading. Moreover, the central library was also destroyed, leading to an enormous loss of priceless manuscripts. And the central museum in Baghdad was only one museum among many in the country which suffered far more extensive damage. This is now a matter of public record, and rather than dispute it, K simply pretends it isn't so.

Is K's account a spin or a lie? I think it's as clear an example of lying by omission as you can get. What K neglects to mention is absolutely crucial to the question of whether the admin's critics are as mendacious as he suggests. No one who cares a whit for Iraq's cultural heritage, for culture at all, could fail to be depressed, and even angry, at the massive pillage that went on in front of U.S. troops during the war. This was a failure, and you should think so even if you think that the broader context is one of success. K can't admit this because it would get in the way of his attempt to distort the motives of the anti-war camp.

K goes on:

Frank Rich best captured the spirit of antiwar vindication when he wrote (New York Times, April 27) that "the pillaging of the Baghdad museum has become more of a symbol of Baghdad's fall than the toppling of a less exalted artistic asset, the Saddam statue."

The narcissism, the sheer snobbery of this statement, is staggering. The toppling of Saddam Hussein freed 25 million people from 30 years of torture, murder, war, starvation and impoverishment at the hands of a psychopathic family that matched Stalin for cruelty but took far more pleasure in it. For Upper West Side liberalism, this matters less than the destruction of a museum.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein was indeed a very good thing. But it's premature to say that it liberated the people of Iraq. You are not liberated until you are free, and you are not free until you live under a functioning democracy. It is far to early to expect results yet on this front, or for either side to render verdicts. But it isn't too early for predictions. Until influential people like K fess up to the U.S.'s curious historical ambivalence about the value of democracy abroad, and the ways in which this ambivalence might complicate the project of nation-building in Iraq, I reserve the right to be fearful about the results of the current experiment. Iraq is a complicated place, and the U.S. is a complicated, and often imperfect power. Let me repeat my refrain: If Iraq is a functioning democracy in 5 or 10 years I'll eat crow. Big time. But until then I'm going to hold off on calling the people of Iraq "liberated".

I can't afford to live on the Upper West Side, but if I can speak for a moment for the political perspective K is attacking, I think K's saddles his opponents with his optimistic assumption that there was a choice to be made here between a museum and the liberation of a people. Since he supposes, at least here, that liberals share the assumption, and deplore the destruction of the museum, he feels free to argue that liberals thereby betray a strong preference for the former in their reaction to the fall of Baghdad. But if you're dubious about the prospects for a liberated Iraq under U.S. control, then there's no trade-off under consideration. Just the destruction of a country's cultural heritage for an extremely risky gamble in nation-building under the most difficult of circumstances, and not a gamble off to an auspicious start.

Do I honestly believe that the people of Iraq would be better off under S.H.? This is a good question, and one the anti-war movement needs to have a better answer to. First, this is an impossibly low standard to insist on if you're in the pro-war camp. I wouldn't deny that, for now, most Iraqis are better off with S.H. gone. But in order to justify a measure as serious as war, with such a high cost for both the people of Iraq (the kids killed playing with cluster bombs are not going to benefit from anything) and the U.S. (which expended, and will continue to expend, enormous amounts of economic, military and diplomatic capital on this project), the people of Iraq ought to be considerably better off. If your basic test for the legitimacy of an invasion is whether the people of Iraq are better off, without any further specification of how much better off, you will be able to justify all kinds of depredations.

As high, or low, a standard as S.H. has set here, I worry that it is possible at least to best, or worst, it. How so? There is a very real risk that Iraq will collapse into civil war sometimes in the next few years, or that it will relapse into another brutal dictatorship. All this might happen even with the best U.S. intentions, which the United States does not always have. If Iraq looks like Lebanon writ large, or Iraq under the Ba'ath, then I do think it will be worse off. But the verdict is still out.

K similarly distorts the furor over the failure to find significant evidence of WMD. If we find WMD, the debate isn't over. It's reset to where we started prior to the war when most people assumed that S.H. had them. If we don't find them, it raises further questions difficult questions about many of the assumptions that underlay that debate. Either way, though, it is clear that the admin led the U.S. into war by citing bogus intelligence, much which they should have known was bogus. It's no good saying that the war wasn't really about this, or that Iraq is liberated anyway. The worry here is about the health of a democratic system which permits this kind of manipulation and abuse of trust.


Extremely good news out of Liberia today. . . if Taylor actually follows through and steps down.
The death of clientism?

At a debate on Iraq recently I heard Christopher Hitchens say that one of the results of Sept. 11th is the death of clientism, the habit of cosying up to unsavoury dictators who are useful in the short term. (I should say that this is what I think I heard Hitchens say. It struck me as remarkable, and I wondered at first if I had misheard him. I think he takes this as the basic reason for the U.S.'s recent moves away from Saudi Arabia, and that he also sees genuine regret among important members of the admin for the U.S.'s former alignment with Iraq.)

I certainly agree that this is one of the lessons of Sept. 11th. But reports of the death of clientism are surely premature.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

13 Ways of Looking at Missing WMD

1. Excuse: Iraq's regime might have destroyed stockpiles of WMD prior to an invasion, either in the hopes of embarrassing the U.S. or in the faint hope that it could save its skin by declining to use them.

Merits of the excuse: It would at least explain something.

Problem with the excuse: It would show that S.H. was more deterrable than anyone had a right to hope prior to the invasion. Certainly it vindicates the judgement of those who argued that S.H. could be deterred by the U.S.

2. Excuse: The C.I.A. didn’t pass the information up to higher-level people in the admin. Oops.

Merits of the excuse: None.

Problem with the excuse: Transparent lie. The WaPo worked this angle a day or two ago, but by the end of the day a more convincing counterspin had emerged from the C.I.A. Dick Cheney’s office, for example, investigated the uranium story and found it to be bogus. Come on, folks, at least lie with a little imagination.

(And the WaPo should be ashamed of itself for printing an angle it surely knew was bogus. This kind of deal – I'll spin your story, you'll give me access later – is really smarmy. What's more, the only check on this kind of smarminess is public ridicule. Everyone join in!)

3. Excuse: This war wasn’t really about WMD. It was about an agreement that S.H. had with the U.S. that ended the first Gulf War. S.H. plainly didn’t live up to that agreement when he obstructed serious inspections for 12 long years. The U.S. stepped in to enforce it when no one else would.

Merits of the excuse: It’s clearly true that S.H. didn’t live up to his end of the bargain. And he sure acted as if he had something to hide.

Problems with the excuse: Um . . . wasn't war supposed to be a last resort? There were all kinds of military solutions falling short of full-scale war which might well have fit the terms of the agreement. Anyway, there are a whole lot of agreements that get enforced by measures short of full-scale war.

4. Excuse: Well, I didn’t support the war on the basis of claims about WMD and A.Q. I supported it for humanitarian reasons. So bugger off.

Merits of the excuse: Gets writer told-you-so-points.

Problems with the excuse: The American people didn't support the war on this basis. So, first, there's something seriously wrong about the fact that the admin manipulated people into supporting the war for bogus reasons. Second, don't get too smug. Your reasons for supporting the war depend on something which might prove even harder than finding WMD: the ability of the U.S. to make good on it's pre-war promises to provide stability and democracy. Stay tuned, your turn for recriminations and rebukes may be next.

5. Excuse: It would have been plainly irresponsible not to assume that Iraq had WMD, based on any reasonable assessment of S.H.’s character, Iraq’s past behavior, and reports from defectors. So the admin might have spun the evidence they had about Iraq’s WMD programs, but they clearly expected to be vindicated. So it’s not exactly a lie.

Merits of the excuse: It's fair as far as it goes.

Problems with the excuse: It doesn't go that far. The admin talked the public into the war by making specific claims. They said "Trust us." And people did. They shouldn't have. But they should have been able to. That's the scandal.

6. Excuse: The admin wasn’t alone in expecting to find WMD. Most of its critics did too. That includes Blix and all the people who warned that Iraq might use it’s WMD as a reason not to invade.

Merits of the excuse: Yeah, lots of people thought they had WMD.

Problems with the excuse: Lots of people thought they had WMD because the U.S. said it had specific intelligence to that effect. And lots of people who thought Iraq had WMD thought that the problem could be managed without invasion. It hardly damages their case that there were no WMD.

7. Excuse: The intelligence we get out of countries like Iraq is usually out of date. So if the C.I.A. reported that Iraq was X amount of time away from nukes, that was the most conservative estimate. To be safe, we should halve or quarter all its estimates.

Merits of the excuse: C. Rice tried this one out before the war, so I'm anticipating its resurrection as the Bush camp gets more desperate. It has the merit of being correct on at least one occasion, and intelligence history buffs could probably point to more. When Kamel defected from Iraq in 1995, the extent of Iraq's nukes program was revealed. This was particularly embarrassing to the U.N. inspectors and it jolted many into realizing that lots of things could go on in Iraq without our becoming aware of it, even with U.N. inspectors on the ground.

Problems with the excuse: I sure hope C. Rice was lying when she said this was a good general rule of thumb. The history of intelligence failures shows a broad trend in the opposite direction. Click here for a recent article with examples of this. Also, Kamel's remarks to U.N. inspectors were rarely reported accurately. Kamel had indeed dropped a bomb, so to speak, on the inspectors. But he also said that Iraq had halted its nukes program.

8. Excuse: It was reasonable to assume that after 1998, Iraq would have restarted it's WMD programs. But suppose they hadn't. It would still have left us with a serious long term problem, likely to be exacerbated by the eventual removal of the sanctions. The real problem was the fact that Iraq was likely restart its programs later. Even if Iraq relinquished its WMD dreams for the moment, it would never relinquish them permanently. And that poses a long term problem which the far-seeing Bush admin decided to deal with rather than postpone.

Merits of the excuse: This is the best excuse, in my opinion, though I would hardly describe Bush as far-seeing. The whole case for or against the war, as I understood it then, and as I understand it now, pivots around this problem. It's unfair of critics to think that the failure to discover WMD gets them off the hook here. Everyone has to deal with this problem.

Problems with the excuse: First, the war wasn't sold on these grounds. It was sold on false grounds. Second, although I can't argue it here, I've argued many times that there were better solutions to this admittedly real problem.

9. Excuse: We had indirect proof all along that S.H. had something to hide: He preferred to sacrifice a great deal rather than cooperate with inspectors. Why would he have done that if he hadn't had something to hide?

Merits of the excuse: Hmmmm. I confess, he did seem guilty.

Problems with the excuse: There are at least three other perfectly good (non-competing) explanations for S.H.'s behaviour. First, the U.S. made clear right from the start of the sanctions regime in 1991 that they would last for the duration of S.H.'s regime. He had no reason to think that they would ever be lifted. Why cooperate with inspections if there's no light at the end of the tunnel? (This isn't to excuse S.H. for anything, only to explain that that's how S.H. might have seen it—which is what this excuse focuses on itself.) Second, U.S. demands were designed to humiliate S.H. Both sides rightly saw loss of face as a threat to S.H.'s rule, which is why the U.S. pushed maximalist demands and S.H. resisted them. Third, having a rep as a guy who might or might not have WMD did help S.H. maintain internal rule. It even discouraged some in the U.S. from backing an invasion. So S.H. might have seen something substantial to gain in keeping his rep the way it was, despite all its costs.

10. Excuse: Bush is too stupid to lie. And the people around him are ideologues who genuinely believed what they said.

Merits of the excuse: Gosh, if Bush gets through this relatively unscathed—and he might well—I think this'll be what does it. No defender of the admin is gonna bite for it, but that hardly matters. This excuse will also get some boost from the absurd taboo against claiming that the president is a practiced liar.

Problem with the excuse: Oy vey! Is this what we've come to? Anyways, even if Bush didn't lie, he still showed terrible judgement by believing people who either lied or were themselves ideologues.

11. Excuse: It's in the nature of intelligence reporting that much of it is ambiguous and filled with error. Critics of the admin confuse the issue by pretending that this isn't always the case.

Merits of the excuse: Yeah, it's true that much intelligence is ambiguous and error-prone.

Problems with the excuse: That's precisely why the admin shouldn't have presented a set of supposedly irrefutable facts to the public and the security council, all the while hinting darkly that there were many other secrets which they couldn't afford to declassify (if so, where are they now?).

12. Excuse: Let's get real. This might be a mini-scandal. But it's clearly not as great a threat to American democracy as a President lying under oath about oral sex. Where's your sense of perspective?

Merits of the excuse: It's probably gonna work.

Problems with the excuse: Wow, the American chattering class has a lot to answer for. What a bunch of losers.

13. Excuse: It's still to early to tell. You have to have some patience. They'll show up.

Merits of the excuse: I suppose it buys people time. Given the public's short attention span, that's a good thing for the admin. (It's also a fair excuse for some of the current disorder in Iraq. It really is too soon to tell. What really matters is how Iraq looks in 5 years.)

Problems with the excuse: They have enough high-ranking people in custody that something should have come out by now. The chances of something unambiguous emerging at this point seem fairly slim. Not impossible, but getting slimmer every day.

Is it rude to point out that we had firm assurances that they knew where the stuff was, but couldn't tell Blix because he would botch it?

Friday, June 13, 2003

Bernard Williams

Bernard Williams, the British philosopher, has died. Click here for an obituary in the Guardian.
Aluminum Tubes and Uranium

In light of the recent debate over the intelligence behind Bush's State of the Union address, it's worth reposting something I wrote back towards the beginning of May. As far as I know, everyone seems to be focussing on the bogus uranium-from-Niger angle. But the debunked aluminum tubes theory is also worth noting. It came up in Bush's speech 5 days after perhaps the most hawkish member of his admin (Wolfowitz) publicly refused to stick up for the theory. Here's the original post:

First, read part of the transcript of a policy address by Paul Wolfowitz at the Council for Foreign Relations:

Q: Michael Gordon, New York Times. Paul, I'd like to just follow up on the first question. The Bush administration has asserted not only that Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction, but that it has resumed production of biological and chemical weapons. And President Bush, in his appearance before the General Assembly, cited Iraq's efforts to acquire aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq was trying to rejuvenate its nuclear weapons program.

But not all of these claims have been accepted by the U.N. inspectors that you cite. For example, just two weeks ago, the IAEA said that it had looked into the matter of the aluminum tubes and determined, on the evidence so far, that it thought they were for a conventional rocket program. And the IAEA also said that the uranium -- attempts to purchase uranium that you cited in your speech today -- that it had received no information from any governments that would allow it to determine the validity of this assertion as to when Iraq tried to purchase uranium, whether it was recent or long ago, as the Iraqis assert.

Given that we're talking about matters of war and peace, does the administration plan to make a further report and provide intelligence information to address these concerns stated by the IAEA in its public report, and to buttress its claims that Iraq has resumed the production of weapons of mass destruction? And if not, is this because of targeting concerns, sources and methods, or do you simply not have reliable information that would stand up in a public forum on this?

Wolfowitz: I think the short answer, Michael, really is there is a lot of evidence; as the evidence accumulates, our ability to talk about it undoubtedly will grow. But we don't have a lot of time; time is running out, and I repeat: What has clearly not happened is any change of attitude by the Iraqi regime.

Yeah, it's possible that we have been misinformed on some things. The only way to verify that you've been misinformed is with the kind of openness of the South Africans or the Ukrainians or the Kazakhs demonstrated. If you can go into places and talk freely to people and look at all the records, you might be convinced. But in a country that has a history of constructing Potemkin villages, there's absolutely no way to know whether what the inspectors were shown were indeed those aluminum tubes that we're concerned about or whether it was a whole facade constructed to substantiate a certain story.

Now, Wolfowistz was probably the biggest backer of the aluminum tubes theory in the admin. And here it seems pretty clear that he's given up on it. He's certain, of course, that other evidence will be found. But - and this is very important - he's basically admitting that this piece of evidence won't cut it. By the way, the policy briefing took place on Jan. 23rd, 2003. Keep your eye on the date.

Now here is Bush fils, in his State of the Union address:

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

This speech was "delivered" on Jan 28th, 2003. In other words, one of the most drammatic pieces of evidence cited in Bush's speech had been disowned by the most hawkish member of his own administration just five days before he gave the speech. Now, that's incomptence.

As far as I know, no one picked this up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Waxman Cometh

Thank goodness for Henry Waxman. The guy really enjoys digging. Check out his letter to C. Rice about U.S. intelligence leading up to the war.
The Nation vs. the Economist

I went to a debate between the editors of the Nation and the Economist last night. The debate was moderated by the always-solid Brian Lehrer. Unfortunately the debate was a little lame: neither editor was a particularly strong debater and the debate was very short of focus. The topic was the very broad "America: Predator or Protector". The two went around in circles debating the meaning of the the last fifty years. Van Heuvel, the Nation editor, was particularly weak: she had nothing to offer but platitudes about the Bush cabal. It reminded me why I let my Nation subscription lapse.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

WMD Again: A primer on what was and was not reasonable to assume about Saddam Hussein's WMD

Critics of the Bush admin have been struggling lately to contain their excitement at the continuing failure to turn up WMD in Iraq. The early leads were all busts, and the current favorite now is a looted trailer whose use is disputed by the different intelligence teams assigned to interpret it's obscure meaning. Distinctly underwhelming. There is real damage to the admin internationally, though it remains to be seen whether there will be any domestic consequences. But even hawks who supported the war - W.F. Buckley and Mark Bowden, to name just two - are starting to write columns expressing unease about the admin's salesmanship in the leadup to the war.

All of this is obscuring a fair picture of what it was and was not reasonable to assume prior to the war. The Bush admin clearly brought this on itself by exaggerating what it did know, but some of the criticism is unfair nonetheless.

But first, a word of warning to my fellow critics: Be careful how you frame the debate. The point shouldn't be the complete failure to find WMD. If that's the way you frame the matter the war will appear vindicated in retrospect by the discovery of even small though unambiguous stockpiles or precursors. And it's important to see that it will not. For the selling of the war depended on claims about relative degrees of danger - remember when Iraq represented a unique threat? - and for the war to be vindicated retrospectively on these grounds requires that significant WMD stores be found. So first things first: centering the debate around the fact that no WMD have been found risks ceding the main point for temporary rhetorical advantage.

I never believed the admin's claims that it knew lots about WMD in Iraq but couldn't say it, or that it had quality intelligence but couldn't share it with inspectors or allies. The issue was simply too important for the U.S. not to be leaking its best intelligence on the issue, and that made me fairly confident we were hearing most of what there was to know, or at least believe, about Iraq WMD program.

Still, it was reasonable to believe at the time that Iraq had an ambitious WMD program. In fact, it was foolish at the time to refuse to believe it. Prior possession, ugly news brought by defectors which could be independently confirmed, and five minutes spent reflecting on S.H.'s character all tended to suggest that Iraq had restarted its WMD program after the withdrawl of inspectors in 1998.

It was also reasonable to believe that even if Iraq did not have an active WMD program in 2002, it would restart the program in the event that the sanctions were lifted and significant oil revenues were again made available to the regime.

What's more, it is reasonable now to think that S.H. would have restarted the programs, given half a chance.

The fact that the U.S. has found no evidence of the programs so far does nothing to diminish the fact that it was once reasonable to assume he was hiding something, and it certainly does not provide evidence that he was out of the WMD game for the long run.

Trouble is, the admin was acting on long-term calculations about Iraq's capabilities, but it was trying to sell the war on short-term calculations of immanent threat. It was dishonest, perhaps impeachably so, but we shouldn't let that distort the fact that WMD were a genuine concern prior to the war. Opponents of the war, such as myself, still owe an account of how we would have dealt with this concern.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

A forum on Iraq and the U.S.

Yesterday I went to a forum organized by the editors of the new Iraq War Reader. The debate was lively, though a little lopsided. W. Kristol was supposed to balance things out, but he bailed for some reason or other. His replacement was more than worthy: Saad Ibrahim, whose case I’ve been following off and on in Human Rights Watch press releases, and occasionally, the mainstream media. Ibrahim is the Egyptian intellectual arrested by the government in Egypt for the reckless crime of attempting to monitor elections. After an international ruckus and American pressure, Egypt’s supreme court overturned the lower court’s ruling against Ibrahim. This was his first public appearance in the U.S. since. Although clearly in poor health, Ibrahim spoke engagingly about his attempts to build civil society in Egypt.

Also on the panel were Christopher Hitchens, Jonathan Schell and Chris Toensing. Hitchens was in fine form. He is a bit paunchy—though he was not as large as he appears on television. He looked a wreck: His face was puffy, his clothes rumpled, and his hair disheveled. For much of the debate, especially at the beginning, he rested his head on his hands. For a few moments when he first sat down, he looked as if he might vomit. As the debate swung into gear, though, he looked increasingly animated. He was the target for many of the comments, and obviously the most infuriating member of the panel for much of the crowd. Well worth it, and I was very glad I had seen him in person.

After the panel discussion, there was a book signing. Towards the end, I decided to buy one of Hitchens’ books so that he could sign it. I also wanted to ask him a question. Our exchange, as best as I can remember it:

Me: May I ask you a question?
Hitchens: By all means.
Me: If Iraq is a functioning democracy in 5 or 10 years, I’ll admit that I was wrong to oppose the war. What would it take for you to admit that you were wrong?
Hitchens: Very little that could happen would lead me to admit that I was wrong because it was the right thing to do. That does not mean that we might not fail. It’s extremely risky. But even if we fail it will have been right to try. For one thing, there was a confrontation brewing with Saddam Hussein anyway, and it was best that it be at a place and time of our own choosing.
Incredibly risky, though. In fact, that’s one of the things which counts heavily in its favour. Risk-averse strategies are almost always awful ones. It is a great merit of the current plan that it was so risky.

His assistant (manager? wife?) was getting impatient at this point, so I didn’t press it any further. It seems to me an awful lots of lives to wager. I’m not against wagering 25 million lives when the alternative is so bad and the odds are good. I suppose I just didn’t think the odds were very good.

I asked Hitchens the question, because I wanted to see if we had a moral disagreement at all, or if perhaps we simply disagreed in our assessments of what was likely to happen. I suspected the latter: that our disagreement was a factual or predictive one, rather than a moral one. But this turns out not to be true. There is, also, at the root of it, a moral disagreement about how good the odds need to be before placing – or supporting – a wager of this sort.
Peace in the Middle East?

Some of the best signs in a long time from the Middle East that both sides in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute are inching towards some kind of settlement. If Bush actually pulls this off, I'll take back a full one quarter of all the lousy things I ever said about him.

Hope it happens, but, sad to say, they're not out of the woods yet:
1. I don't believe that Bush understands the issues well enough to intervene effectively. Publicly, at least, he seems too indulgent towards Sharon.
2. I believe that Sharon wants peace. Who doesn't? But I don't think that Sharon would ever settle for a deal fair enough to bring peace about. If Abbas is gullible and bullied enough, they might get an agreement out of him. But to stick, the agreement has to be fair. That's seems unlikely.
3. Abbas has a very slender base of support. He's going to have to try to pull off an extraordinary balancing act between a civil war within the occupied territories and cracking down on terrorists. This would be hard enough for someone with popular support to draw on. Abbas doesn't have it.
4. Sharon has said some remarkable things recently. He's even used the word occupation (extraordinary when using ordinary language accurately is newsworthy!). No one, including the settler movement, knows what to make of all this. My distrust of Sharon is so deep that all this strikes me as tactical. But suppose it's genuine. The settler movement is now a deeply entrenched fact of life, so deeply entrenched that Bush's ultra minimalist request to take settlements back to 2001 is presented as a deep and difficult burden. I'm no longer sure whether Israel can restrain its radicals, even if it finds the political will to do so.

I could go on. I hope I'm wrong. But it ain't over till the fat general sings.

Bowden on Bush on Iraq's WMD

Also don't miss Mark Bowden's piece on the Bush admin's rhetoric about WMD. Bowden seems bewildered at the possibility that the WMD threat was hyped:

But when the President of the United States addresses the nation and the world, I expect the spinning to stop. He represents not just a party or a cause, but the American people. When President Bush argued that Hussein possessed stockpiles of illicit and deadly poisons, he was presumably doing so on the basis of intelligence briefings and evidence that the public could not see. He was asking us to trust him, to trust his office, to trust that he was acting legitimately in our self-defense. That's something very different from engaging in a bold policy of attempting to remake the Middle East, or undertaking a humanitarian mission to end oppression. Neither of these two justifications would have been likely to garner widespread public support. But national defense? That's an argument the President can always win.

I trusted Bush, and unless something big develops on the weapons front in Iraq soon, it appears as though I was fooled by him. Perhaps he himself was taken in by his intelligence and military advisers. If so, he ought to be angry as hell, because ultimately he bears the responsibility.

It suggests a strain of zealotry in this White House that regards the question of war as just another political debate. It isn't. More than 100 fine Americans were killed in this conflict, dozens of British soldiers, and many thousands of Iraqis. Nobody gets killed or maimed in Capitol Hill maneuvers over spending plans, or battles over federal court appointments. War is a special case. It is the most serious step a nation can take, and it deserves the highest measure of seriousness and integrity.

When a president lies or exaggerates in making an argument for war, when he spins the facts to sell his case, he betrays his public trust, and he diminishes the credibility of his office and our country. We are at war. What we lost in this may yet end up being far more important than what we gained.

I confess to my own bewilderment: I'm surprised that Bowden is surprised. You don't have to be a hardened cynic to suspect the Bush admin of playing a bit with the facts.

I have to admit, though, that I caught myself occasionally thinking of the Bush admin, "They've got to have something firm. If too much of it is a lie, their credibility will be shot - and they know that." But the fact is that admins lie all the time, and usually don't get caught for it. When they do, often pepole don't understand all the issues, or don't care.

To America's enduring credit, it has often (usually not enthusiastically) released documents which outline the policy debates of former admins. What the debates reveal, however, is not always to America's credit. Internal documents and memos show a longstanding tradition, hardly unique but disappointing nonetheless, of lies, evasions and fraud in the formulation and presentation of foreign policy. This does not mean that the U.S. govt is always lying. Still, no one with a passing acquaintance with this pattern of deception has any excuse for being fooled by an admin gearing up for war, especially a war like the most recent.

Bowden is surprised. He shouldn't be.
Salam Pax

Check out Salam Pax's first column for the Guardian. I think it's quite good.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Another HRW Press Release Worth Reading

Basra: British Forces Fail to Provide Security

(New York, June 3, 2003) - Nearly eight weeks after British forces entered
Basra, they still have not addressed basic security needs in Iraq's second
largest city, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a 23-page report released today, "Basra: Crime and Insecurity Under
British Occupation," Human Right Watch charged that U.S. and British
authorities failed to plan for or provide adequate forces to carry out their
international legal obligation as the occupying power.

U.S. and U.K. forces have defended their poor security performance in Iraq by
arguing that they lack personnel to patrol city streets. But the Human Rights
Watch report documents other failings that have nothing to do with the number
of troops on the ground.

"The coalition forces in Basra simply haven't made security a high enough
priority, and that was obvious from the moment they entered the city," said
Saman Zia-Zarifi, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Eight weeks
later, there's simply no excuse for the continuing insecurity on the ground."

Security conditions in Basra are better than in Baghdad and some other cities
occupied by U.S. forces, but Basra's citizens remain fearful for their lives
and property.

Human Rights Watch researchers spent four weeks in Basra and southern Iraq
interviewing residents and British soldiers and commanders. While the city's
streets showed some signs of improved security over this period, hospitals
reported up to five gunshot homicides daily, and another five or seven
gunshot injuries. Carjackings and organized looting continued to plague
neighborhoods. Women and girls were reluctant to return to jobs and schools
while criminals roamed the streets and attacked buildings.

Journalists entering the city in early April in the wake of British forces
reported thousands of looters carrying on their activity in plain view of
British troops. The failure to respond convinced many residents that security
was not a priority for the coalition forces.

The shortcomings of British efforts in Basra go beyond numbers, Human Rights
Watch said. The coalition has not communicated with the local population on
security issues; not deployed international police or judicial personnel;
relied on combat troops for policing and security duties without appropriate
training; and not arranged protection for victims and witnesses regarding
past and current crimes.

"Coalition forces had the duty to provide security for civilians as soon as
they took control over Basra," Zia-Zarifi said. "There is something terribly
wrong when Iraqis are now calling for their former corrupt and brutal police
force to provide some semblance of security."

British officers responsible for police forces in Basra told Human Rights
Watch they lacked sufficient troops and international support to provide
security for Basra's 1.5 million people. As of mid-May, some 480 members of
the Royal Military Police were available in the British-occupied provinces of
Basra and Misan, and only a hundred of these were carrying out street patrols
in Basra. A newly created Auxiliary Police has only 600 poorly trained Iraqi

A copy of this report can be found online at:
Worth Repeating

Here's a recent press release from Human Right Watch:

Uzbekistan: Torture Death in Prison

(New York, June 3, 2003)-Another Uzbek prisoner was tortured to
death, contradicting U.S. claims that Uzbekistan is making
progress on human rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

Otamaza Gafarov was due to be released in September from Chirchik
prison in northern Uzbekistan. Instead, he died there on May 3,
apparently from torture.

Human Rights Watch received information about his death shortly
after the U.S. State Department issued a memorandum certifying
that Uzbekistan has made "substantial and continuing progress" in
respecting human rights.

"Another prisoner tortured to death in Uzbekistan is not
progress-it is more of the same," said Elizabeth Andersen,
executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of
Human Rights Watch. "This is the tenth torture-related death in
custody we've documented in the past year and a half. The State
Department's claims of human rights progress simply do not
reflect reality."

Family members who helped to wash Gafarov's body told Human
Rights Watch that they observed a large wound to his head that
appeared to have been caused by a sharp object. There was also
bruising to the back of his head. Gafarov's rib cage, chest and
throat were also bruised, and his hands were scratched.

The State Department memorandum, signed in May 2003, specifically
cited torture among the areas where the Uzbek government had made
progress. The memorandum certifies that Uzbekistan made overall
progress in meeting its human rights and democracy commitments
under the "Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and
Cooperation Framework" that the two countries signed in March
2002. The certification is required semi-annually to release U.S.
assistance to the Uzbek government.

The March 2002 declaration committed Uzbekistan to ensuring a
"strong and open civil society," "respect for human rights and
freedoms," a "genuine multi-party system," "free and fair
elections," "political pluralism, diversity of opinions and the
freedom to express them," "the independence of the media" and
"independence of the courts."

In a critique of the memorandum (available at:, Human
Rights Watch noted that the State Department cited isolated
positive steps taken by the Uzbek government without
acknowledging ongoing practices that undermine these nominal
measures. The critique describes ongoing setbacks, including
torture-related deaths in custody; new arrests and convictions
based on peaceful religious expression; denial of the right to
register for political opposition parties; dismissals,
intimidation, and beatings of journalists; and harassment and
arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders.

With regard to torture, the State Department cited the Uzbek
government's "adequate cooperation" with the U.N. Special
Rapporteur on Torture Theo van Boven during his December 2002
visit as evidence that the government "has become more willing to
discuss torture." In fact, Mr. van Boven has made clear that he
did not receive adequate cooperation. Moreover, the Uzbek
government has taken no serious steps to implement his
recommendations for ending torture.