April 2003

2003 04 28
The next war (between State and Defense)

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

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

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

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2003 04 28
Spreading the blame

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


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

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2003 04 26
One cheer for President Bush!

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

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

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

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2003 04 25
Off without a Hitch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 23
The Laws of War?

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


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

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2003 04 23
How much evidence of how much trouble?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 22
Where are the WMD?

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 21
Jus Post Bellum

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

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

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

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2003 04 20
Spy Stories!

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 18
Should they stay or should they go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 17
I’m just obsessed about the Kurds!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 15
How strong do you like your Kofi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

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2003 04 15
On to Syria?

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

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

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

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2003 04 12
How much of the looting was avoidable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2003 04 11
So . . . should I eat crow?

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

Or will it?

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

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

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

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

It was a stupid plan. I’m not taking it back.

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