Given the events of the day, I can’t help wondering whether maybe we really did get Saddam when we bombed that restaurant the other day. The regime really did seem to snap right after that, at least in Baghdad. And it seems like more than just a coincidence. On what was yesterday morning in Baghdad — i.e., the morning of the day that ended with the statue toppling — the reporters noted what then seemed like an eerie silence in the city. Even if he wasn’t killed, perhaps Saddam committed what amounts to political suicide — deciding it was time to just vanish. (Al Jazeera reported rumors that he had sought and received refuge in the Russian embassy.) Regardless of the details, something seems to have happened after that raid.
Yet another “man on the street” in the Arab world wire story, actually from the Washington Post Foreign Service, to add to the previous two posts. On this one the dateline is from Cairo, and the testimonies are more negative. But I think they’re all part of the same picture — a mix of shock, surprise, changed opinion, relief, humiliation, shame, suspicion, hope, anger. I’ll say more about this later. But tonight is set aside for paying work.
“Why did he fall that way? Why so fast?” said Yemeni homemaker Umm Ahmed, tears streaming down her face. “He’s a coward. Now I feel sorry for his people.”
“We discovered that all what the (Iraqi) information minister was saying was all lies,” said Ali Hassan, a government employee in Cairo, Egypt. “Now no one believes Al-Jazeera anymore.”
However, Tannous Basil, a 47-year-old cardiologist in Sidon, Lebanon, said Saddam’s regime was a “dictatorship and had to go.”
“I don’t like the idea of having the Americans here, but we asked for it,” he said. “Why don’t we see the Americans going to Finland, for example? They come here because our area is filled with dictatorships like Saddam’s.”
Those are just the most positive snippets, others are more dark and ominous. But, in the AP article at least, they are in the majority and they set the tone. Take a look at the whole thing.
This is heady, heady stuff. I woke up this morning to the scenes of US troops pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. This is joyous stuff, scenes of oppressed people tearing down the symbols of oppression. The question I have — it’s the critical question, I think — is how these scenes play in the rest of the Arab world. Of course, whether such scenes continue ranks pretty high up there too. But we’ll deal with that later. (Here’s a great Reuters story with on-the-street reactions around the Arab world: “Arabs Watch Hussein’s Demise in Disbelief.”) More broadly, how will it play in Europe and elsewhere? (We don’t, after all, live in Iraq. We live in the world.) Will they see this the way we do? Will it be reported in Germany and France, Riyadh and Cairo the way it’s being reported here? In one of the interviews I did for my “Practice to Deceive” article, I spoke to a neoconservative very close to the White House who described the great hope thus: if Iraqis welcome their liberation and you have a stream of books penned by Iraqis coming out over the next several years on how horrible Saddam’s regime was, perhaps the collision between this testimony and the certainties of Arab nationalist anti-Americanism will force a basic rethinking, perhaps it will break the back of those orthodoxies. If the testimonies are so clear, he supposed, perhaps Egyptians will ask themselves what could have led them to defend Saddam from a US invasion when he was oppressing Arabs more awfully than anything the Israelis ever did to the Palestinians.
The above-noted Reuters article contains at least one quote reconcilable with that view. An Egyptian engineer told Reuters: “It seemed that Iraqis were all with Saddam, now it looks like many didn’t like him. Maybe those destroying the statue are rebels against Saddam’s rule.”
This is a very good day for that hope. And if that hope is vindicated it will be a wonderful thing. I don’t think we’ll know today or tomorrow or next month or even next year. The challenges in the way of our success are vast, challenges that could quickly snuff out all of this, challenges that I don’t believe many who are guiding this effort truly understand. But today was a good day.
This evening on CNN Nicholas Kristof talked to Aaron Brown about what he had seen in his first trip into southern Iraq. (I believe he said Basra, but it could have been elsewhere.) Contrary to folks on the left who think we’ll be treated as conquerors and folks on the right who think we’ll be greeted as liberators, Kristof found a marvelous diversity, as we should probably all expect. Most are glad Saddam is gone. Many are glad we’re there. Others aren’t so happy about it. (See this Times article for a mix of appreciation and ambivalence in Baghdad.) But there seems to be a widespread suspicion — even among those who are glad we’ve overthrown Saddam — that we may be there to take their oil.
Which brings me to an op-ed column in today’s Times. A couple weeks ago, my friend Steve Clemons (check out Steve’s site to see his other articles and commentaries) came up with a novel, ingenious idea: why not divide up Iraq’s oil wealth like the state of Alaska does?
Back in the early 1970s Alaska set up the Alaska Permanent Fund, which holds the revenues from oil leases as a public trust, with a portions of the interest paid out every year to every citizen of the state.
Now, obviously this model couldn’t be applied directly to Iraq. After all, I imagine you’ve got a certain percentage of the population — those Bedouins our troops saw occasionally while they were streaking north — that isn’t part of the cash economy. But the concept is one that really merits attention. After all, if we give the Iraqis their oil in the way the Saudis have theirs — i.e., hoarded by a few moguls — how much will it mean? So we shouldn’t just be careful not to give any sign that we’re grabbing up Iraqi oil revenues — by cutting in all American companies, say — but actually go a whole step further and really spread the wealth in a way it’s never quite been spread around in all the Middle East. That could be truly revolutionary. (On the general issue of not squandering our apparent military victory with foolish triumphalism, see this excellent column by Robert Kagan in Wednesday’s Post.)
As Steve notes, giving all Iraqis a very concrete, material stake in the new regime would go a long way to securing a political constituency for the new order. Doing something analogous in post-war Japan played a key role in the success of our democratization efforts there. In its own way, pulling oil wealth out of the hands of parasitic states and oligarchic princelings could have as positive an effect as bringing something like democracy to Iraq.
Again, it won’t be easy. The Alaska model would be very hard to introduce. And it would probably need to be adapted to Iraqi conditions. But you can say pretty much the same things about bringing democracy to Iraq. And we’ve already signed on for that. So, really, why not?
In National Review Online, Stanley Kurtz has an interesting critique of my recent Washington Monthly article “Practice to Deceive” and a critique of … well, I guess of me. Let me just take a moment to respond to three of Kurtz’s points.
The first is regarding the concept of deception, which is central to the article. Kurtz says that none of the democratizing vision of the neocons is a secret. It’s actually been written about widely in the conservative press. Yes, I agree. And I’ve said as much repeatedly. Kurtz implies that my saying it in TPM means that I’m backtracking from my argument. But this isn’t true. The argument I am making is that there are many thoughtful and intelligent people who believe this is a good thing to do. Go back and read the last year of The Weekly Standard and see. Neoconservatives in the administration share these views but also know that such a grand plan would be almost impossible to sell to the American people, so they really haven’t tried. Instead they’ve sold regime-change in Iraq along the more modest lines of Saddam’s WMD and his relationship to terrorists. It’s good sleight of hand to say I’m accusing people of a “conspiracy” because, by common consent, people who believe in “conspiracy theories” place themselves beyond the pale of purely rational argument at some level. Kurtz is using the phrase, not me. I’m saying something more prosaic and direct: the administration hasn’t been honest about its intentions or goals. That may be true or false. But it’s a direct allegation, not a conspiracy theory.
The second issue is what we might call Bush White House Kremlinology. Has President Bush really signed on to the maximalist democratizing, regime-change vision? Aren’t there more moderate neoconservative voices, sometime-Realists like Condi Rice, and even those like Colin Powell who never bought into the idea in the first place? Yes, of course there are. Frankly, that’s one of my great hopes. Such as it is. Indeed, Kurtz too expresses some concern about the aims of the more maximalist democratizers. The reason I think it is both accurate and fair to focus on those with the maximalist position is that it is this group that has consistently played the winning hand in pretty much every key intra-administration debate leading us to where we are today. So when we look at the future and where we’re going with this I think it’s more realistic to look at Cheney, Rumsfeld and their advisors rather than positing a point equidistant between Cheney and Powell and believing that that point is our final destination. I hope for the latter. But it’s a hope not based on experience.
The third point is more broad-ranging. Kurtz wants to portray my position on the war as a symptom or example of a deeper Democratic malady. To put it metaphorically, he’s saying that in the heart of even a seeming Joe Lieberman lurks a secret Ron Dellums. Not so fast. This is another way to polarize and thus simplify the argument, setting up straw men, and so forth. And Kurtz is only able to do it by asserting that I say things I’ve never said: that I’m indifferent to the issue of nuclear or other WMD proliferation, that I’m possibly a down-the-line UN man, or just generally that because I didn’t think we should start this war when we did that suddenly I’m Teddy Kennedy or Walter Mondale and have recanted views expressed on Iraq and other issues over the last two years. (If I wanted to be snarky I guess I could note that my indifference to nuclear proliferation is rather belied by my repeated insistence that North Korea’s resumption of plutonium production must be confronted immediately — hopefully through diplomacy, but through war if necessary — even as the administration has repeatedly expressed openness to the idea of allowing North Korea to become a nuclear power.) None of this is true. I just didn’t think we should pull the trigger when we did or, under the circumstances then prevailing, perhaps ever. It was a tough call, which I’m content to live with. Subsequent events may show I was right or wrong. Either is certainly possible. But the decision hardly makes me a dove.
More broadly, Kurtz is saying I’m in the camp of those who think nothing really changed after 9/11, that the nexus of terrorism, WMD proliferation, high-technology, globalization and the rest of it can just be handled by the same old-fashioned strategies we used ten, twenty or forty years ago.
This isn’t true, of course. But let me finish on this point of ‘everything changing.’ Much did change with 9/11 and more generally with the less visible changes that preceded and presaged it. But neither neoconservatives nor neoliberals have really changed all that much. Many of the same formulas and approaches the neocons now advocate are ones they advocated a half a dozen years ago when the bete noirs were China and others — greater skepticism toward Europe, more comfort with unilateral assertions of force, skepticism about the whole concept of deterrence, and so forth. The more things change, etc. The ‘everything changed’ argument often really boils down to ‘everything we were always for turns out to be right’ and if you don’t agree then you’re not serious about 9/11.
Neoconservatives and neoliberals just have different basic ways of approaching foreign policy — neither necessarily more hawkish or dovish. That was true before 9/11 and it’s true now. Who’s right has to be hashed out on the merits. Just referring to WMD or 9/11 won’t do.
Now that we’ve gotten most of the invasion done with, it’s time to get down to the real battle: whether or not to install Ahmed Chalabi as the next king of Iraq.
As you’ve probably heard, a couple days ago the Pentagon airlifted Chalabi and a slew of his troops into southern Iraq for purposes which weren’t entirely spelled out. Pentagon critics assumed it was to give Chalabi a leg up on other oppositionists.
The striking thing was that this didn’t just seem like a surprise to the press, but also to much of the US government. Here’s some more interesting reporting from UPI about an internal government report the CIA circulated last week detailing their arguments against Chalabi’s suitability to be the “Iraqi Karzai.”
The weird thing about Chalabi is that — whatever you think of him — he has a way of getting different arms of the US government fighting against each other. As a sympathetic Washington-based Arab journalist told me last year, “The problem with those guys [i.e., the hawks] is they’re so fascinated by Ahmed. They want to wind a policy around Ahmed. Find a policy. And let’s see where Ahmed fits in it. And at the same time, you have the State department, the opposite side, they want to make a policy but make sure he’s not involved in it.”
Let me comment briefly on Lawrence Kaplan’s new article in TNR about the Rumsfeld position. This is basically a brief for the Rumsfeld, or Pentagon appointees’ position. But it’s a good brief, certainly the most sophisticated and convincing I’ve seen. Still I think Kaplan conflates several issues and sets up at least one straw men.
The heart of Kaplan’s argument is contained in this paragraph …
There is a kernel of truth here. But few of these critics bothered to entertain a simpler and legitimate rationale for the war planânamely, that it was drawn up with an eye toward political as well as military goals. Principal among these goals was the need to fight the war as a “war of liberation,” which meant placing an extreme emphasis on minimizing Iraqi civilian casualties. Rumsfeld’s plan also had to contend with the danger of large-scale American casualties and thus precluded a months-long massing of American forces in Kuwait, where they would have been vulnerable to Iraqi attack. Finally, to limit Saddam Hussein’s ability to launch missiles, torch oil wells, and create mischief in southern Iraq, it called for a rapid advance to Baghdad and, hence, a smaller force. The alternatives being proposed by the generals today may arguably have enhanced the military effectiveness of the campaign. But they also might have led to political catastrophe.
There are several points here — either explicit or implicit — that are very worthwhile. The first is that Rumsfeld and the Army have built up quite a record over the last two years. So there’s a lot of pre-existing hostility in the air. What’s more, there is a natural tendency for the military to see wars in more purely military terms, i.e., in terms of securing military objectives and force protection rather than in terms of broader political aims.
So, to take an extremely crude, overstated formulation of this viewpoint, military planners might say that instead of a lightning strike, we should have mounted more lumbering, overwhelming force, a long run of bombing, and just crushed all resistance wherever it was before we sent our guys in. If there was one town where a lot of fedayeen were, just pulverize it and sort out the details later, rather than having a bunch of Marines have to get into a bunch of nasty firefights.
I’m not saying anyone was actually suggesting this. But this is the sort of trade-off Kaplan is talking about. We have enough power to just crush the place. But if we bring all our power to bear we’d end up … well, crushing the place. And that would be terrible for our actual political objective, which is to have most Iraqis feel like, on balance, our invasion was a good thing.
This is a good argument. And I don’t doubt that there were some planners — focusing on force protection and the need to mobilize more overwhelming force — who pushed for a more military and less political strategy, with a more massive and devastating use of force.
But I’m not sure how on-point this is.
As nearly as I can tell, the main argument from the retired military folks was not that our rules of engagement were too stringent or that we didn’t hit with enough force. The argument was that our ground forces were stretched too thin or that there was too little armor. They had a hard time protecting supply-lines, beating down resistance in the South, etc. Frankly, these seem like two separate issues, don’t they? The prime argument was simply that we had too few troops on the ground. Would having the 4th ID there on the ground in Iraq have led to a more punishing, politically-counter-productive war or just greater flexibility and an ability to react to the resistance from paramilitaries which eventually developed?
Another argument Kaplan puts forward is the massing of large concentrations of troops in Kuwait and whether that would have left them vulnerable to some sort of preemptive WMD attack from Iraq. If true, this would be a good argument for going in with a minimum of troops at first and then bringing in more later. What’s not clear to me about this argument, however, is whether having, say, one-hundred-thousand more troops on hand would have made them that much more vulnerable. A slow build-up of big numbers of concentrated troops is an invitation to various sorts of asymmetric attack. But we already had more than a couple hundred thousand sitting there around or in the general vicinity of the southern border. Would a third more have presented that much more tempting of a target? It doesn’t seem that way to me. But I put this forward only as a supposition. It does seem like a key issue to resolve to evaluate the overall good plan/bad plan debate.
On balance, Kaplan makes some very strong points. But there seems to be an apples and oranges issue at the center of his argument.
More later on this …
Two questions which one keeps hearing: Have we drawn up plans for an invasion of Syria? There are plans and plans, of course. It’s in the nature of Joint Staffs to have plans on hand for even most improbable of wars. (If I remember correctly, the US had battle plans even for going to war with Britain as late as the years between the first and second world wars, though perhaps it was earlier than that. Point being, it’s the job of the military to have plans on hand for even the most hard-to-conceive eventualities.) But in this case I mean real plans. The second is whether Ariel Sharon will use this moment to strike at Syria — not an invasion but taking out various stuff from the air. I’m not hearing this from doves or the establishment types, but from the hawks.
There are a slew of reports and images coming out of Iraq tonight, all of which point in one sense or another to the regime crumbling or just melting away. This is not the end of resistance but the end of anything you could credibly call a government in any but a nominal sense. There are some expressions of hostility, many of popular jubilation or simply relief. But some of the most visible images are of what can only be called indifference to our presence: namely, the looting. Looting was always to be expected. This is a country that’s been ruled by terror for at least two generations. And even if we had every person in the US military on the ground in Iraq we still wouldn’t be able to effectively police the place in the immediate chaos surrounding the fall of the government.
There do seem to be at least some instances of vengeance killings occurring. And there are sure to be many more. But what’s really striking is the fairly calm, unhurried looting. This is what happens in a society when everything has been held in check by terror and so many of the bonds which make up society have been slowly ground away.
Some time back I was talking to an Iraqi emigre based in the Washington. (My understanding is that he’s now in Kuwait readying to go back into the country.) This is not one of the name “oppositionists,” but someone who always struck me as the most authentically democratic of the Iraqis I talked to for my various reporting. He had a much less monochromatic sense of at least the original Baath party than we usually hear today, rightly or wrongly, in the US. And he spoke of the “excessive dictatorship” Saddam Hussein had imposed on the country and the way it had ground away all of what we usually call civil society. Ironically, sanctions had only tightened his grip and still furthered the process, giving the state — in its thuggish, smuggler, aid-administrator guise — even greater control over people’s lives.
Obviously, “excessive dictatorship” is a funny phrase to hear from someone I’m calling a democrat. But what he meant was this grinding down of institutions and allegiances and affiliations — everything but the autocratic state and the individual. One of the other distressing points was his description of how this breaking down of civil society had left only those sorts of leaders who could call on atavistic or sectarian loyalties. And this is what you see in most of the Iraqi opposition leaders, the Shi’a Islamists, the Kurdish parties, the various exile groups which have only a very uncertain command over any allegiance inside the country. Many of them, of course, the US essentially created.
The challenge is the lack of national institutions around which you’re going to be able or not going to be able to build some sort of unified state.
Even war with all its horrors has its small eddies and backwaters of farce and hilarity. One of those now comes in the stream of press conferences being held by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, in which he claims that Iraqi troops are beating back American forces, retaking the airport and perhaps even giving the GIs merciless wedgies in more light-hearted moments. These press opportunities, of course, are originating in a city which is now apparently subject to daily incursions by US troops, a jarring contrast of almost Monty Pythonesque dimensions. One almost expects before too long to see Al-Sahaf — with some embedded reporter’s videophone in hand — broadcasting from an American POW camp, telling listeners that reports of Iraqi battlefield reverses are vastly overstated.
Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, had a good column on Saturday in the New York Post belying the claims of the Rumsfeld cheer-leading squad …
Unable to admit that errors of any kind might have been made in planning the war, OSD spokespersons engage in a combination of outright lies, attacks on critics and highly selective memories.
As far as events proceeding according to plan, well, if your plan is vague enough, with a sufficient number of “branches and sequels,” as the military puts it, even defeat might be presented as having been anticipated.
Fortunately, we are not faced with failure. The outcome of this war, if not the timing of that outcome, truly is not in doubt. But events did not proceed according to plan.
The much-heralded initial airstrikes failed and are now conveniently forgotten. The ground campaign assumed the lead from the first days of the war – which definitely was not according to the plan. And the number of ground forces permitted to the theater commander was inadequate by any honest measure.
These are some of the more choice comments. But read the whole thing because Peters lays out a strong and broad-ranging argument. And he speaks with authority.
I think I can say with some certainty that Washington is the only city on the planet these days — at least last night, it was — where one can go to a party and hear someone do a Karaoke rap about regime change and the grand plan to democratize the Middle East. And, lest there be any question, no, the performer wasn’t TPM. Actually, it was pretty good, though I was more than a bit inebriated at that point. So who knows? In any case, I still wasn’t convinced, but I was entertained.
Earlier in the evening — a few hours after getting ambushed on Fox News — I got asked this question: setting aside the potential deceptions involved in getting the US into this broader conflict and the possible costs, do you believe in the goal? In other words, do you believe a) in the goal of democratizing the Middle East and b) that rooting out illiberal governments in both their authoritarian and fundamentalist forms will strike a fundamental blow against terrorism itself?
It’s a tough question on a number of levels. With some equivocation, I said I did. But then, I said, I would have to say I am also in favor of developing warp drive engines. And yet I think that’s a case where the investments required are sufficiently steep and the prospects of success so distant that I’m not sure I think we should really get into it too seriously at this point.
I don’t want to suggest that democratizing every country in the Middle East is as daunting a challenge as creating the technology for faster-than-light space travel. What I do mean, however, is that agreeing to a goal is only one step in a debate. Do you have any good plan to achieve it? What are the costs? Does the public get a say in the matter? Do the advocates of the liberal experiment themselves have deeply illiberal tendencies?
A colleague of mine and I have had a running conversation going for the last couple months over what a neo-con is, what’s the defining trait. Some definitions are biographical and others ideological. Few seem entirely satisfying. And one would want a definition that could be accepted by their supporters and opponents alike — to make it a basis for further discussions. As I noted in the article in the Monthly, I think one trait is a tendency to let advocacy get the better part of honesty, to privilege, shall we say, morality over facts. But the deeper trait or definition I’ve come up with is this: Neocons are people who don’t like muddling through — both in the good and bad senses of what that means.
One other point on this running discussion. I mentioned yesterday an article in Policy Review by Stanley Kurtz. Don’t miss another article in the same issue: “Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change,” by Ken Jowitt. This is a critical appraisal of the Bush administration’s foreign policy doctrines, and one I think only another conservative could write. It’s entertaining and insightful.
Tod Lindberg is the editor of Policy Review, and he is also one of the people I interviewed at length for my Monthly article. I don’t agree with Lindberg’s stance. But far from being one of the deceivers, he is someone who I think fully recognizes the difficulty of a years-long effort to reform and democratize the Middle East and entirely frank and the costs and dangers. He just thinks we have no choice. In any case, it’s a credit to him and Policy Review to have published this dissenting piece. This is an important debate to have so long as we can have it openly and on its own terms.
Mickey Kaus has a good run-down on the good-plan, bad-plan debate. And I think his conclusions are pretty much on the mark. His points are especially well-taken on Turkey. There’s one small point he neglects, though. Don Rumsfeld actually thought we could proceed even without the forty-thousand or so British troops now in the theater.
At around 5:15 PM EST this afternoon I’ll be going on Fox News to debate whether it’s okay for anyone to question or criticize Don Rumsfeld’s war-planning. We’ve gotten contradictory intelligence reports so far about whether I’ll be greeted as a liberator or an invader over at the Fox studios. So, to prepare for all possible contingencies, I’ll be bringing heavy armaments as well as candy for the children. You know, it always makes sense to be prepared: Hope is not a plan.
Everyone is in Kuwait. And I mean everyone. I was talking to a couple ex-CIA sources today, trying to get a handle on what’s going on with the Iraqi-occupation-government-to-be. I wanted to figure out who was in and who was out, who was worth trying to get on the phone, and so forth. How about this ex-CIA Iraq-hand? Should I give him a call? Oh, he’s in Kuwait working for General X. That anti-Chalabi Iraqi emigre? Oh, him? In Kuwait. He’s in the mix too.
Some day, and perhaps some day in the not-too-distant future, someone will write this book. How much of the Washington foreign policy politics of the last decade got compressed into this scrum at the head of the Persian Gulf, how everyone who has a theory about what the next government of Iraq should look like, everyone who wants to make money off it — in short, the level-headed, the hopelessly idealistic and the utterly craven — all descended on Kuwait City to jockey for position.
There’s the Pentagon and the State department, the three or four different “Iraqi oppositions” the CIA has courted over the last dozen years, the NGOs, the would-be Lawrence of Arabias, the gun-runners, the gentle-minded rule-of-law mavens, the ex-Generals, the constitutional lawyers, the hotheads and the maniacs.
Everyone’s there or soon will be. And they’re all waiting at the starting line.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the Iraqis …
Good for John Kerry. A few days ago in New Hampshire, Kerry told an audience “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.”
Following this, Republicans launched a highly coordinated attack, with blistering fire from all the name Republican leaders and equally heavy fire from their email, fax, and talk radio apparatus.
Here’s the text of an email Deputy RNC Chairman, Jack Oliver, sent out to the loyal GOP faithful …
Yesterday, John Kerry shocked many Americans when he called for “regime change” right here in the U.S. By comparing our commander-in-chief to Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime at a time of war, Kerry showed just what he is willing to say to appeal to liberal Democrat primary voters.
RNC, Chairman Marc Racicot quickly responded saying, “Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America’s commander-in- chief at a time when America is at war. Critical analysis offered in the best interests of the country is part of a healthy democracy. But this use of self- serving rhetoric designed to further Senator Kerry’s political ambitions at a time when the lives of America’s sons and daughters are at stake reflects a complete lack of judgment.”
Senator Kerry’s shocking comments come just three weeks after he said he would end any criticism if America goes to war, saying, “It’s what you owe the troops … if America is at war, I won’t speak a word without measuring how it’ll sound to the guys doing the fighting.” It appears Senator Kerry is more interested in appealing to a small, radical faction of voters than leading all Americans.
These comments are just the latest example of Democrat leaders blaming America first. Last week, Tom Daschle echoed the French line, blaming our nation for the war, even after the United Nations gave Iraq 12 years to disarm. Joe Lieberman called President Bush a “greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein.” Dick Gephardt claimed that President Bush is “bullying” the world.
Do you think these Democrat comments go too far?
Shocking! Did I remember to say shocking? Did I remember to say AMBITIOUS? Shocked many Americans … Compared Bush to Saddam Hussein! Please …
I’m just finishing up a study about how one group of people used overwhelming displays of violence to overawe and terrorize another group into docility and obedience. So, even though this is verbal rather than physical violence, I think I have an idea how this works.
The RNC is using the cover of war — ‘using’ isn’t too strong a term, though ‘exploiting’ may be better — to set a standard in which any critical comment about the president uttered by a political rival is greeted by an overwhelming fusillade. The idea is to set the standard for criticism extraordinarily high and scare any Democrat from criticizing the president at all as long as the war or probably even the reconstruction of Iraq goes on. It’s reminiscent of the cheap bullying Dick Cheney tried to pull in the months after 9/11.
John Kerry responded thus …
The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country … If they want to pick a fight, they’ve picked a fight with the wrong guy … I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year. Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now.
As it happens, I think Kerry’s original remarks are precisely on the mark. The 2004 election would always have been an important election. But the events of recent months have made it perhaps one of the most important elections in the last century. And the future of the country depends greatly on President Bush not being reelected.
But more on that point later.
For the purposes of our present discussion, the particulars of Kerry’s remark are almost beside the point. This is no better than cheap bullying practiced by the president’s hacks. And, in political life as in personal life, there is only one way to deal with bullies: you must fight back against them with at least the ferocity and intensity that they use against you. They understand nothing else and deserve nothing better. There’s no reasoning with them, no apologizing to them, no hashing out the particulars of remarks you’ve made.
Bullying, bluff and aggression have been the signature modus operandi of the president’s political operatives in domestic politics for the last two years. How many veterans will get their patriotism questioned by the president’s operatives and placemen before we see the mainline pundits say enough is enough? Recently, we’ve seen Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and now John Kerry get the treatment. The president’s operatives are using the presence of an American army in the field — Americans fighting and dying in Iraq– not only to land a few easy shots on the president’s opponents but to hit them so hard that they’re afraid to hit back. Don’t miss the point of this: it’s to scare anyone out of uttering any criticism. And it’s a cheap use of American blood.
It’s nice to see Kerry at least putting out word that he won’t stand for it. No one should.
I’ve gotten a lot of response to my article (“Practice to Deceive“) in the new issue of The Washington Monthly. But the most interesting response has been the lack of response or criticism from the main advocates of regime change in Iraq. I can’t say that I’ve received a lot of plaudits or thank yous. But it confirms a point I made on a radio show yesterday: there’s really no denying any of this because it’s really an open secret, if it’s even a secret at all. It’s been discussed and canvassed and argued over in The Weekly Standard, The National Review and various other publications.
In Los Angeles on Wednesday Jim Woolsey, one of the top regime change advocates, called this effort “this fourth world war [which], I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.” It’s a war, he said, against the mullahs of Iran, the “fascists” in Iraq and Syria and al Qaida. Addressing the Saudis and Hosni Mubarak, he said “We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you — the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family — most fear: We’re on the side of your own people.”
Jim Woolsey is currently in line for a top post in the American occupation government.
This afternoon I’m reading Stanley Kurtz’s “Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint” in the new issue of Policy Review. As I noted in the article, there are a number of different flavors of our would-be imperial project in the Arab world. And Kurtz’s isn’t exactly the same as the one I outlined in the Monthly. But it’s part of the same conversation.
I first got a sense of this larger program when I wrote my first article on the Iraq issue (“Bomb Saddam?“) but I got the idea to write the new article when I was at a panel discussion a couple months ago and one of the presenters used the phrase “Middle East reform.” The phrase rolled off his lips as though it required little explanation. And what he meant was pretty much what the phrase sounded like: the process of reforming the Middle East much as one might reform welfare or some institution that had fallen on hard times. He didn’t underestimate the difficulty of doing so, but was convinced that America’s security depended on it.
One point that remains implicit in the Monthly article is that there’s not that much deception among many of the people who’ve formulated this idea for launching an imperial project in the Middle East. The deception lies with the public propagandists and those in the administration who’ve worked to implement the plan without giving the public much of a sense of what they’re up to.
A brief note on the late Michael Kelly. It should come as no surprise to any reader of this site that I seldom, if ever, agreed with anything Kelly wrote in his Washington Post column. Indeed, my reactions were often far more visceral. When someone dies, especially so young and under such violent circumstances, it’s natural to praise what there is to praise and say kind words for the departed notwithstanding any shortcomings. But let me just go a bit beyond that in this case, because it’s deserved. To the best of my recollection I never met Kelly in person. But I know a number of people who knew him very well and worked with him closely while he was the editor of The New Republic and then of The Atlantic. I’d say most of these people had more or less the same basic reaction to his column that I did. But to a person, every one of them always told me how good and fair-minded he was, both as a person and professionally. The people who worked under him as an editor loved him, even if they were bewildered by many of his views. Long before this tragic news this morning, more than one of them told me they scarcely recognized the person they knew in his often impassioned and cutting columns. Good, fair-minded, honest, never one to push his personal political views on writers whose work he edited — a temptation which many are never able to master — all the stuff you’d want in a true journalist. I remember one friend from the New Republic telling me how he had a sort of moralism and straight-laced sense of journalistic propriety you’d expect from a newspaperman of a couple generations ago. Disagree with him, but grieve him no less for it.
Is William Safire just another Tricky Dick?
Ten days ago Safire fired off a barrage of accusations against America’s erstwhile ally, Turkey (“Turkey’s Wrong Turn,” March 24, 2003). He blamed Turkey’s refusal to give the US a northern front on an amalgam of incipient Islamism and greed for northern Iraqi oil. He said Prime Minister Erdogan had turned Turkey into “Saddam’s best friend.”
Thus Safire wrote …
Adding diplomatic insult to this military injury, Turkey massed 40,000 troops
on its border with Iraq, hoping to grab the oil fields of Kirkuk if Iraqi Kurds
rectified Saddam’s ethnic cleansing by daring to return to their homes.
The Turks’ excuse for seizing today’s moment of liberation to bite off a rich
chunk of their neighbor is this: they insist that Iraqi Kurds plan to set up an
independent state, which would then supposedly cause Turkish Kurds to secede and
break up Turkey.
That’s strictly Erdogan’s cover story for an oil grab, undermining the
coalition’s plans for an Iraq whole and free.
Now, as I noted in The Hill last week, Safire’s argument was really little more than a bundle of slurs built on a series of fairly straightforward logical contradictions. The long and the short of it was that Safire was just letting the Turks have it because they refused the United States. That required taking them down two or three notches.
But if Turkey really was refusing us because it craved the oil fields of Kirkuk, would Safire really be in much of a position to criticize them? Not really, since he’s spent the last eighteen months dangling the lure of Iraqi oil in front of the Turks as their reward for helping the US topple Saddam.
For instance, just after 9/11, Safire wrote a column in which he was supposedly “channeling” his one-time boss Richard Nixon about the wars on terrorism and Saddam (“The Turkey Card,” November 5th, 2001).
Here’s a snippet from the ‘interview’ …
Q: The Turks have already volunteered about a hundred commandos — you mean
we should ask for more?
Nixon: Get out of that celebrity-terrorist Afghan mindset. With the world
dazed and everything in flux, seize the moment. I’d make a deal with Ankara
right now to move across Turkey’s border and annex the northern third of Iraq.
Most of it is in Kurdish hands already, in our no-flight zone — but the land to
make part of Turkey is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of
Saddam Hussein’s oil [italics added].
Q: Doesn’t that mean war?
Nixon: Quick war, justified by Saddam’s threat of germs and nukes and
terrorist connections. We’d provide air cover and U.N. Security Council support
in return for the Turks’ setting up a friendly government in Baghdad. The freed
Iraqis would start pumping their southern oil like mad and help us bust up OPEC
Q: What’s in it for the Turks?
Nixon: First, big money — northern Iraq could be good for nearly two million
barrels a day, and the European Union would fall all over itself welcoming in
the Turks. Next, Turkey would solve its internal Kurd problem by making its
slice of Iraq an autonomous region called Kurdistan.
Now, that was “Nixon” talking. And even though it was pretty clear these were slightly more coarse and candid expressions of Safire’s own thinking, maybe you figure it’s unfair to identify him directly with these ideas. But how about another column (“Of Turks and Kurds,” August 26th, 2002) from just last summer, in which Safire speculated on what the Turks might gain from getting involved in the regime change game …
But many Turks, having just defeated their own Kurdish terrorists
headquartered in Damascus, are still transfixed by the chimera of Kurdish
separatism. They worry that when Saddam is overthrown, Iraqi Kurds will split
off into an independent Kurdistan, its traditional capital in oil-rich Kirkuk,
which might encourage Turkish Kurds also to break away. But that defies all
logic: would the Kurdish people, free inside a federated Iraq and with their
culture respected in Turkey, start a war against the regional superpower?
Turks also worry about the million Turkomen in northern Iraq. It should not
be beyond the wit of nation-builders to ensure that minority’s rights and
economic improvement. Turkey has a claim on oil royalties from nearby fields
dating back to when Iraq was set up [italics added]. As a key military ally in the liberation
and reformation of that nation, and with judicious U.S.-guaranteed oil
investments, Turkey should begin to get its debt paid.
See the game Safire has been playing? First, he tries to get the Turks on the regime-change bandwagon with the lure of Iraqi oil. When they refuse the temptation, he accuses them of cravenly lusting after the very thing he unsuccessfully tried to tempt them with. Yesterday in the Times he was actually at it again. What sort of weird combination of disingenuousness and projection is this? Tricky Dick? How ’bout just plain … well, this is a family website. But you get the idea.
We’ll be saying more about this later. But watch Colin Powell’s trip through Europe. On the surface, this is an effort at fence-mending with NATO allies after the lead-up to war and an attempt to make plans for post-war Iraq. In fact, this looks more like a three way battle between Europe, the State Department and the Pentagon, with Colin Powell trying to leverage the Europeans — and particularly Tony Blair — against the AEI faction at the Pentagon. Let’s hope he’s able to pull it off. On the other hand, in his battles with the hawks, look at his track record.
Yes, I think that’s more a political gamut. And quite frankly, I’m a lot less optimistic on the political side. I think we ought to make a sharp distinction here between two types of criticism that are being made. Some, even retired senior officers, are criticizing the plan, saying we don’t have enough force there, one way or another.
I disagree with all that. And I don’t think it’s helpful. Our guys on the ground are doing great. The plan is being executed well. We just have to be a little patient.
But there’s a second kind of criticism that says the political run-up to this thing was pretty ugly. The administration has managed to back us into a position where we’ve lost a lot of friends. Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are not on our side. Some of our oldest allies, France.
And so we’ve done a pretty good job on splitting NATO, the most successful military coalition in history. And so we’ve reduced our friends and multiplied our enemies in the political run-up to this, and that I think has enormous strategic consequences.
Remember, we never lost a battle in Vietnam, we just lost the war because the politics of it was so clumsily done.
“The striking scenes of Iraqis cheering and welcoming U.S. troops as liberators in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Wednesday came as no surprise to a handful of British and American undercover officials who have for months sought with sweet talk and hard cash to win over the country’s traditional tribal sheikhs and chieftains. ‘The most important duty of a tribal chief is knowing when to switch sides,’ one British official with knowledge of the undercover operation told United Press International. ‘In Najaf, the al-Jaburi tribe understood that Saddam Hussein’s time was over.'”
That’s from a story just filed by Martin Walker for UPI.
This doesn’t nullify the implication of those cheering throngs of Iraqis welcoming US troops. It just adds a deeper note of complexity to what’s going on. It also anticipates the growing debate over the character of the post-Saddam government. Says one British official interviewed by Walker: “This is not just about toppling Saddam with briefcases full of cash or telling their people it is time to welcome the coalition troops. The tribes play a long game. For them, the real currency is not just money but privileges and the promise of roles and influence in the post-Saddam government, whatever the United Nations or the Iraqi exile groups may say.”
A few thoughts. The chemical weapons issue is really becoming acute. CNN’s Walt Rodgers is doing amazing reporting this morning with the 3-7th Cavalry, speeding toward the outskirts of Baghdad. Earlier this morning he reported seeing many dead Iraqis that his armored column was leaving in its wake as it pushed ahead. According to Rodgers, they were all wearing gas masks — if not actually donned than at least at their side. Presumably that means the Iraqis are prepared and ready to use chemicals at any moment.
The question that arises is basically a political one for the Iraqis. Once they use chemicals, if they do, they will not only lose a lot of ground in the propaganda war in the Arab world and even more in Europe, they will also confirm a lot of the rationale for American action. So, for them, it must be a difficult calculation. If they have hopes of dragging this out in a guerrilla war or some urban fighting then you’d expect they wouldn’t do it — it would be counterproductive, since they believe they have some hope of eventually wearing America down and turning world opinion further against us. On the other hand, if they think they’re on the verge of complete collapse — which looks like a distinct possibility — then they may be in ‘go down in blaze of glory’ mode.
Now, for what’s coming next, be sure to read two key pieces today. The lead editorial in today’s Washington Post and this article by Jane Perlez in the Times. The Post’s editorial page has long been pretty friendly to the neo-con-Iraqi National Congress axis, so their note of caution on post-war plans merits considerable attention. Perlez’s piece gives fascinating background on Iraq’s government-in-waiting, currently kickin’ it in Kuwait. Three candidates are now in the running to administer the occupation government: the UN/international community, the United States government, and the American Enterprise Institute. At the moment, candidate #1 is at least a lap behind the other two, and candidate #2 is already starting to wheeze. AEI … well, they look like their just gettin’ their stride.
We’ve just gotten in the traffic stats for March and we’re very pleased: visitors 183,775, visits 495,507, and page views 1,411,073. As always, many thanks to everyone who visited the site last month. It’s much appreciated.
Still more goal-post-moving on the right.
Andrew Sullivan notes an editorial in Today’s New York Times as an example of a broad defense of Don Rumsfeld.
If you’re a member of the Rummy screwed-it-up department, it must be a little disconcerting to read the New York Times editorial this morning. When the viscerally, uncompromisingly anti-Bush Times pooh-poohs the notion of a military miscalculation, then the media tide must surely be turning.
He seems to have missed the deeper point of the editorial: that the immediate military problems are not so bad, but that the Pentagon’s and the administration’s political assumptions were poor and that they don’t presage positive results in the future. A few selections …
The Iraqi response to the American and British troops may warm up when Baghdad is taken. But so far, resistance in the south has been spoiling much of the original war plan … The big failure has been in political assessment, and the expectation that southern Iraqis would welcome the American troops and offer minimal resistance … The United States badly misjudged the Iraqis going into the war, and there seems little reason to hope that we will be much smarter when it comes to nation-building … From the beginning, the great challenge of Iraq has seemed to be less about winning the war than about securing the peace, and everything that has happened in the last two weeks reinforces that assessment.
Why the selective reading?
We’re beginning to hear a
lot more about US
plans for the post-war administration
of Iraq, as well as disagreements between the State Department and the Pentagon
over who should be involved and how it should be done. One of the key figures
in all this is Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi
National Congress, an Iraqi Shi’a emigre who is beloved and admired by the
hawks and often treated with suspicion and ridicule by their critics, particular
at the State Department and the CIA.
Here’s a snippet from an unpublished article of mine on Chalabi, based on reporting from last spring and summer …
In 1991 the CIA was looking to create what eventually became the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization intended to foster unity and cohesion amongst Iraq’s notoriously fractious exile and dissident groups. The man they chose to head it was Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi was charismatic and enterprising and he understood the pulse of Western politics and media something key to the sort of media and propaganda operation the CIA wanted to create. “He understands the West very well,” says Whitley Bruner, a retired CIA agent who was the first to reach out to Chalabi, “and he was very useful in the sense that he grasped what the Agency was doing, and what its aims were, and how to translate that back and forth to various Iraqis who were working with him.” Chalabi’s very lack of connection with any established dissident groups in or out of Iraq was actually one of his main attractions to the CIA since it set him apart from the parochial concerns of the various feuding groups and made him more useful to the United States.
Chalabi was dynamic and entrepreneurial. But he was also headstrong and he quickly alienated many of the other exile leaders operating within the INC fold, particularly those with greater bases of support inside Iraq. Chalabi, said some critics, consistently focused on Washington rather than forces in Iraq — a trait which both caused and fed off his antagonisms with other dissident leaders. “Chalabi takes the blame of taking the INC from its mission of trying to win the Iraqis and to reach out to the Iraqis to a new mission which is to try to win Washington and reach out to Washington,” says one Iraqi Ã©migrÃ© involved in the creation of the INC.
But this was only one of the problems plaguing the INC and American Iraq policy in the early 1990s. After 1991 American policy toward Iraq was confused and meandering. The Bush and Clinton administrations take a measure of the blame for this. But the real cause was more deep-seated. All US policy was based on a cardinal assumption — that Saddam could not long survive his massive defeat in the Gulf War — which was quickly proving to be a fallacy. During the first Clinton administration, while Chalabi was intermittently running the INC from the safe-haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, the CIA toyed with different strategies to topple Saddam. Chalabi’s plan was for a so-called rolling coup — essentially getting the INC to lop off chunk after chunk of Iraqi territory under the cover of US air power until the tide of defections swept Saddam’s regime from power. The US eventually lost faith in Chalabi’s plan and got behind a separate effort to foment a military coup using Iraqi exiles in Amman. Chalabi’s attachment to the rolling coup plan was not rooted in any ideological or operational compunction. He didn’t seem to have much of either. He just wanted to do something. Anything. Preferably sooner than later. “He was pushing the envelope and [the CIA was] not ready,” says a Washington-based Arab journalist.
That was part of the problem. The CIA was not sure Chalabi was up to the task; they were not sure what if anything they wanted to do or how they wanted to do it. The one thing the Agency was increasingly sure of was that whatever they were going to do they didn’t want to do it with Ahmed Chalabi. “If an error was made over the first several years,” says Bruner, “it was that [Chalabi] was so capable and so able to do these things that I think that a lot of the managers at [CIA headquarters in] Langley let him run, because he seemed to be able to do all this so well. And it wasn’t until later that he began to get out of control. And then it was too late.”
The latest word seems to be that Chalabi isn’t slated for quite so high a role as he would like. But with friends as powerful as he has among those running the post-war show, I’m sure that’s not the final word.
This article by Anthony Shadid in Wednesday’s Washington Post seems to best capture the flow of contradictory forces now at play inside Iraq. In the south you have the fedayeen Saddam and members of the Iraqi army keeping a tight grip on the cities, and apparently doing a pretty good job of it. Then you have the US-UK army trying to wrest control of these cities. And finally you have civilians — terrified of Saddam’s paramilitaries, frightened by the American bombing, at least suspicious of the Americans themselves, though not necessarily hostile.
Pretty clearly, most of these folks just don’t want to get killed and are most concerned about getting through all this with themselves and their families in one piece. But their plight deepens as the fighting drags on, supplies dwindle, and the infrastructure is degraded and broken down. The article doesn’t give you much of a clear sense of what will happen or what these civilians will be saying after Saddam’s regime is displaced. But it provides a compelling view of the fluidity and chaos of the situation, and how it could play out in very good or very bad ways.