Liberating Iraq? Or privatizing Iraq? Another bad sign ...
Liberating Iraq? Or privatizing Iraq? Another bad sign ...
Here's more TPM required reading: "The Arrogant Empire: Americaâs unprecedented power scares the world, and the Bush administration has only made it worse. How we got hereâand what we can do about it now." It's just out in the new issue of Newsweek. This is an extremely thoughtful and subtle discussion of our current predicament. It shows how this is both the result of our current, objective predominance in the world and the ways in which the current administration has compounded the problem. The article, in case you're wondering, is by that notorious dove and America-basher Fareed Zakaria.
We're clearly moving into that fog of war phase where a lot of what we hear is going to be misinformation from one side or another. But there's some interesting information coming out in Kuwaiti press reports about at least some tiny fissures at the highest level of Saddam's power. In particular Saddam apparently placed his half-brother, Barzan, under house arrest after he refused to pledge loyalty to Saddam's son Qusay as his successor.
Here is a translation from a reportin Arabic which appeared today in Kuwait's Al-Ra'y Al-Amm ...
The sources said that Barzan was summoned to one of Saddam's headquarters on 5 March, along with his brother Watban, the former interior minister whom Uday Saddam Husayn shot in the leg in August 1995. In the meeting, which Saddam's third half-brother Sab'awi was supposed to attend, Saddam talked in length about the current developments. He indirectly expressed willingness to step down in favor of his second son, Qusay, and called on his half brothers to pledge allegiance to Qusay in case he decided to do that.Again, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this report. But it is what's being reported in the region.
According to the sources, when Saddam came to Shaykh Zayid Bin-Sultan's initiative, which was presented to the Arab summit in Sharm al-Shaykh on 1 March, he addressed Barzan saying: "What do you think of what your friend (Shaykh Zayid) has said?" It is known that Barzan had a good relationship with the president of the United Arab Emirates, especially after the Iraq-Iran war.
According to the sources, Barzan remained silent. But when he was asked to comment on the possibility of Qusay succeeding Saddam, Barzan told the Iraqi president: "I tolerated the situation for more than 20 years because you have been there. When you are not there I will act in a different way." Here the Iraqi president became furious and addressed rude words to his half brother.
The sources said Barzan and Watban were probably placed under house arrest because they have recently made moves within the family and among the public to press for reform measures that would lead to change in the structure of the regime. This angered Saddam, who discussed the possibility of his stepping down in Qusay's favor only to discover the real intentions of his three brothers, who have opposed his policies since the mid-eighties, when Husayn Kamil and Ali Hasan al-Majid began gaining ground. Al-Majid, who was just a driver of the defense minister in the early seventies, became the defense minister and was appointed a governor of Kuwait after the invasion.
The sources noted that Barzan's eldest son, Muhammad, left Baghdad immediately after his father was taken to Al-Radwaniyah. Jordanian sources said he was seen leaving Amman for Geneva on board a Jordanian passenger plane on Friday, 7 March. But the sources did not say if Muhammad Barzan al-Tikriti, who spent time in Baghdad and Tikrit working in coordination with his father and uncle Watban, remained in Switzerland or left for another country.
I have to tell you that I'm a bit surprised. The Washington Post editorial page has been extremely supportive of the president's Iraq policy for some time. But now he seems even to have lost them. The debate has become so polarized now that if you support anything but war next week you're "anti-war" and perhaps also a "surrender monkey" and various other bad stuff. And it's not that the Post has fundamentally changed its mind. "Military action to disarm Iraq [still] appears to us both inevitable and necessary," today's editorial says. But even the Post is calling for a delay of 30 to 45 days in order to gain more international support.
The key passage however comes here ...
... with more diplomatic suppleness, more flexibility on timing and less arrogant tactics and rhetoric, the administration might have won the backing of long-standing friends such as Turkey, Mexico and Chile. In effect, Mr. Bush and some of his top aides, most notably Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, have managed to convince much of the world that French President Jacques Chirac is right and that America's unrivaled power is a danger that somehow must be checked -- ideally by the votes of other nations on the Security Council.I couldn't have said it better myself. Or, wait ... Well, never mind. We don't have to go there.
As the Post aptly notes, we've made the job of the French government easy, alienating friendly governments which should have been our allies, not theirs. As each new government turns away from us, the president's allies at home heap new abuse on the new defector, explaining how they've never been good allies to start with, and how this is still more evidence we shouldn't rely on allies in the first place. It's not a policy or even an argument. It's a self-validating feedback loop which always leads to the same conclusion: we were right all along!
I'm not the first to note it, but this summit in the Azores really does capture our diplomatic isolation perfectly. In a certain poetic sense at least this is what's become of our grand Atlantic alliance: not the combined strength of the great north Atlantic democracies, but three men on a tiny fleck in the middle of a great ocean. For Spain, I guess, these are salad days. I'm not sure a leader of Spain has stood so tall on the world stage since Philip II, certainly not since the Spanish Habsburg line ended. Then there's Blair, the Odysseus who's tied himself to our mast.
Our arms have never been stronger. And we're about to show that. But we're gravely diminishing the deeper sources of our power.
A number of readers have written in questioning or criticizing my decision to call soon-to-be Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen "unquestionably one of the good guys" in this earlier post. The criticism stems from this article which says he published a book in 1983 -- based on a dissertation written years earlier -- in which he denied or questioned key points about the Holocaust, particularly how many people died.
Now, a few points. The article appears in Frontpage Magazine, David Horowitz's online blunderbuss, which routinely publishes misleading, hysterical and tendentious writing. Normally, I wouldn't credit anything that appears there. However, in this case, the author of the piece does seem to be quoting reliable sources. So I assume that Abu Mazen, whose real name is Mahmoud Abbas, did write these things.
So here's my response. When I wrote the post this morning I was unaware of this book Abbas had written. It is obviously deeply disappointing and ugly that he wrote such things. And I'm not sure I would have used the same words. However, it doesn't really change my mind about what I wrote this morning.
Here's why ...
Obviously, I now think less of Abbas personally. And I'd like to believe that Abbas would now recant such statements (I doubt the Frontpage article would include any mention of this if he had). Given his current status, he probably would have to. But that wouldn't necessarily prove anything. Unfortunately, many of the older bulls in the PLO were reared in an ugly amalgam of Arab nationalism, anti-semitism, revolutionary socialism and whacked-out pseudo-history. And I am willing to say right now that when Abu Ben-Gurion or Said Washington come along, I will vote for them for Palestinian leader over Abbas.
(LATE UPDATE: It turns out the Frontpage article did omit a more recent comment by Abbas. According to this article in Tuesday's New York Times, in the mid-1990s, Maazen told the Israeli newspaper Maariv: "When I wrote `The Other Side,' we were at war with Israel. Today I would not have made such remarks." Still not quite a retraction, but an important addition to the story. This statement, it would seem, escaped Frontpage's detailed research.)
But the point isn't that Abbas is a good person, or has ugly beliefs. My issue is his role in the peace process over the last decade -- Abbas was one of the architects of the original Oslo Accords. In the Palestinian Authority I think there are various camps. There are those who really don't want a just peace with Israel, those who do, and others who aren't really particularly committed to either outcome. Unfortunately, I think Arafat is in that latter category. I think Arafat was open to the idea of peace and at various points truly pursued it. But for a variety of reasons both personal and political was unwilling or unable to actually make the deal.
I think Abbas is in that category of Palestinians who really do want a just peace. I think his role in the various negotiations over the last decade shows that. Now, I'm no expert on the peace process. But I know a bit about it. And that's my opinion. To me, that makes him "one of the good guys" in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if he may have ugly beliefs and be an awful person.
(The proprietor of this website seems to say that I am a hypocrite for holding Trent Lott to one standard and Abbas to another. To this I would say, yes, I confess that I do hold the United States Senate Majority Leader to a rather higher standard than the capos of the Fatah faction of the PLO. But, you know, that's just me.)
Of course, many people in this country -- seemingly a lot of people on the web -- really don't believe in a two-state peace settlement; they think the whole Oslo Accord was just a con on the part of the Palestinians; and they prefer the stability and moral clarity of the on-going cycle of mutual death and destruction that has gripped the region for three years now. I guess we just disagree.
Here is some required reading for the day: Mike Lind on our current foreign policy predicament and how the Bush administration got us here.
This morning the president announced that the confirmation of a Palestinian prime minister with "real power" would trigger the release of the White House's long-awaited 'road map' for Middle East peace. The appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister, announced last week, is definitely a positive development. Abu Mazen, a key architect of the original Oslo Accords, is unquestionably one of the good guys. And the release of the road map is good too, though Bush advisors had recently been spreading the word that the road map was dead. The real story here, however, is the unmistakable cloud of desperation and bumbling that surrounds this announcement.
Little more than a week ago, when the scope of the diplomatic train wreck wasn't quite so evident, the White House floated word that the whole Middle East peace process was on ice until we'd finished everything we were going to do in Iraq.
What's so sad and revealing and pathetic about this is that it's only at the eleventh hour and the fifty-ninth minute that the White House realizes that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is one of the moving parts involved in dealing with Iraq. On the whole world stage we're watching the president and his crew driving at eighty miles an hour into a brick wall called reality. Too bad we're in the car with them.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we do talk trash ...
Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren't sure you have the vote?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I don't think -- it basically says that he's in defiance of 1441. That's what the resolution says. And it's hard to believe anybody is saying he isn't in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we'll call for a vote.
Q No matter what?
THE PRESIDENT: No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.
-- Presidential News Conference
March 6th, 2003
U.S. officials also began laying the groundwork today for Bush to reverse his pledge to call for a Security Council vote, no matter how bad the vote count looked, because "it's time for people to show their cards." Under one scenario, the administration could say the resolution was being withdrawn at the request of the co-sponsors, Britain and Spain.Spain ate my homework ...
-- Washington Post
March 14th, 2003
Don't miss this great Krugman column.
Did Jim Kelly cook the books? On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly told a Senate Committee that "The enriched uranium issue, which some have assumed is somewhere off in the fog of the distant future, is not ... It is only probably a matter of months, not years, behind the plutonium [program]."
You can find the quote here in this article on the CNN website. (Reader beware: Seemingly because of sloppiness, the CNN article contains at least one significant factual error. So don't put a lot of weight in it beside the quotation.)
In any case, is North Korea's uranium program really that far along? It would make the administration look better if it were. But is it?
Don't be so sure.
In his statement, Kelly implied that unnamed others had some misunderstanding about what stage the uranium program was at. But that's misleading because the US intelligence community was the source of what Kelly now calls a misunderstanding.
Indeed, Jim Kelly was one of the sources of this 'misunderstanding'.
(Parenthetically, let's note that, on balance, Jim Kelly is one of the good guys in this whole Korea debacle, though he did once accuse the proprietor of TPM of being a practitioner of "hack journalism" because of an article which caused Kelly some difficulty.)
This change of story caught my eye. So I called up a few of the most wired Korea watchers in town to see what they'd heard. None of them knew what Kelly was talking about.
Now, let's be clear. The current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia is going to have more immediate access to the latest intelligence data than almost anyone outside of government. Maybe some new information has come to light.
But this administration has already shown a distressing propensity to send the intell types back to the well again and again until they come up with intelligence that helps the administration's favored policy.
I'm going to do more digging on this. But we need to know more of what was behind Kelly's comment. He provided no reason for changing the time frame from that which administration officials had previously noted. So it looks a lot like he was massaging the data in order to retrospectively justify the administration's bobbling of the issue six months ago.