The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


Vitriolic Rants

How crazy can the anti-war left get? Take a peek at Wayne Madsen's latest:

"Bush, who fancies himself a "born-again" Christian, is actually a foul-mouthed and erratic alcoholic. For example, the "pretzel" incident had nothing to do with a pretzel. While watching a football game at the White House, the "leader of the free world" got so drunk he fell right on his face and blamed it on his inability to remember his mother's missive about chewing all one's food before swallowing. Such alibis and ruses are the trademarks of drunks. During the presidential campaign Bush called a New York Times reporter a "major league asshole." In 1986, a clearly drunk and disorderly Bush told The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt, "You fucking son of a bitch . . . I saw what you wrote. We're not going to forget this." The rich frat boy was irate about an article Hunt wrote about Bush's father. Time magazine is reporting that during a March 2002 briefing for three senators by Condoleezza Rice, Bush poked his head into a White House meeting room and bellowed, "Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out!"

Notice the personal hatred aimed at Dubya--reminiscent of an anti-war protestor in London I spotted with a mohawk simply walking around holding a pretzel high. But it gets worse:

"The Joint Chiefs of Staff, armed with enough support from their subordinate commanders, troops, and civilian staff, could place a team of Delta Force commandos and armor on the South Lawn of the White House and in front of the North Portico on Pennsylvania Avenue. Using large loudspeakers designed for use in civil action campaigns like the ones currently taking place in Umm Qasr, Basra, and Safwan, Iraq, the Delta Force commander would instruct the Secret Service to exit the White House and lay down weapons. Five minutes should be sufficient. They should then secure the "football" and the military officer who maintains it. The football is actually a large briefcase that contains the nuclear firing codes and it would have to be quickly separated from the madmen in the White House.

Bush, Cheney, Card, Rove, Fleischer, Rice, and the rest should then be taken into custody and transferred to a remote facility like Wackenhut's large detention center in Kern County, California, which was originally designed to hold American political prisoners and anti-war "protestors.

The Joint Chiefs should quickly name a transition Executive to plan for new presidential elections. Executive authority could be vested in the man who received the majority of votes in the 2000 election. Al Gore would be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. In the interest of national unity, Gore would be asked to pledge not to seek re-election in the upcoming presidential election, which should be held no later than nine months from his inauguration.

Former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter could be named as co-Vice Presidents (it would be constitutional since neither ever served two full presidential terms). These one-time political adversaries are also the best of friends. Although the Joint Chiefs would also have to remove Rumsfeld and his war hawk advisers, Bush Cabinet members (sans Ashcroft and Tom Ridge) who pledged to support the transition government could remain in office pending new elections. However, in all likelihood, many of the Bush appointees would probably be too embarrassed to remain in any official capacity. Washington, DC has a huge reservoir of talented people who could assume Cabinet and other governmental functions - there are a number of ex-senators, representatives, ambassadors, and cabinet members who could step up to the plate during such a national emergency transition."

You couldn't make this stuff up.

But wait! There is also the pernicious slur that Dubya knew about 9/11 before the attacks:

"An American Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would be named by President Gore, would look into what Bush and his cronies really knew about the September 11th attacks and whether they allowed them deliberately to occur in order to seize unconstitutional power, who was responsible for the anthrax attacks on the Democratic leadership of the Senate and the media, i.e., the attempted assassinations of the Democratic Majority Leader and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeb Bush's malfeasance in the 2000 presidential election in Florida, the alleged profiteering of George H. W., Marvin, and Neil Bush in post-September 11th Middle East business deals, and the role of The Carlyle Group, Halliburton, Enron, and others in disastrous pipeline politics in both Afghanistan and Iraq."

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2003 11:13:00 PM

NYT Hyperbole Watch

The mood in Washington hasn't been this angst-ridden since the Civil War--says the NYT. What about WWI, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11? No, this trumps 'em all:

"Baghdad is of course a lot farther away than Gettysburg. The sense of siege in Mr. Bush's Washington comes not from Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard but from the fear that battles fought in a distant land will inflame hatred of Americans and inspire new acts of terrorism against the United States.

Unlike the Civil War, when the sense of siege ended with the fighting, the current fear may never entirely go away, even after Baghdad falls."

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2003 05:41:00 PM

Taxi Suicide Attacker Hagiography

Is it just me or does Robert Fisk employ an almost breathless tone in his story on the suicide attack on U.S. troops?

"Sergeant Ali Jaffar Moussa Hamadi al-Nomani was the first Iraqi combatant known to stage a suicide attack. Not even during the uprising against British rule did an Iraqi kill himself to destroy his enemies. Nomani was also a Shia Muslim – a member of the same sect the Americans faithfully believed to be their secret ally in their invasion of Iraq. Even the Iraqi government initially wondered how to deal with his extraordinary action, caught between its desire to dissociate themselves from an event that might remind the world of Osama bin Laden and its determination to threaten the Americans with more such attacks."

"The details of the 50-year-old sergeant's life are few but intriguing. He was a soldier in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and volunteered to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, called the "Mother of All Battles" by President Saddam Hussein, who believes he was the victor. Then, though he was overage for further fighting, Nomani volunteered to fight the Anglo-American invasion. And so it was, without telling his commander and in his own car, he drove into the US Marine checkpoint outside Najaf."

Fisk's offensive tone aside, I think we should all be careful about labelling this attack as a terrorist operation as it was directed at combatant soldiers. One of the better definitions of terrorism I've seen is from Paul Pillar, a former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, who argues that there are four key constitutive elements of terrorism:

a) It is premeditated—planned in advance, rather than an impulsive act of rage.
b) It is political—not criminal, like the violence that groups such as the mafia use to get money, but designed to change the existing political order.
c) It is aimed at civilians—not at military targets or combat-ready troops.
d) It is carried out by subnational groups—not by the army of a country.

It appears that the attack fails parts "c" and "d" of the definition--so would better fit under the heading of guerilla tactics (if reprehensible ones). All this said, Fisk's article appears just shy of a hagiography of the perpetrator of the attack--and to describe the Iraqi government as, even briefly, desirous of "disassociating" from this act is a laughable contention given that the Iraqis actively publicize that they have thousands of such martyrs ready to attack allied troops.

The problem with all this, as with so many other aspects of this young war, is that now U.S. soldiers look set to encircle cities like Najaf while barely allowing vehicular traffic out. It makes the gaining "hearts and minds" aspect of this conflict much harder when residents of entire cities can't move around much. And, unfortunately, the Iraqis realize this and will continue using tactics that will provoke various responses by coalition forces that will doubless anger and frustrate many locals. I still believe, however, in cautiously optimistic fashion, that as we slowly take apart Saddam's Fedayeen, as the Shi'a in the south see that this is not a replay of '91, ie. that the U.S. is in it for keeps, and as humanitarian aid starts to get distributed in a more widespread and efficient manner-- more goodwill towards coalition forces will be earned from Iraqis. But there appears to be a lot of hard and messy slogging in the days ahead--particularly as U.S. forces aren't yet in predominately Sunni areas.

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2003 02:59:00 PM

Dubya Metamorphosized Into Nero

Comparisons of Dubya to Hitler are getting too cliched and hackneyed on the Left. So the Baudrillard crowd has come up with a new historical personage to compare Dubya to--Nero!

"How can we admit that we have returned to the worst hours of the Roman Empire, those that bear the tragic seal of Caligula and Nero? How is it possible now, in our day, when supposedly there is the most comprehensive application of "democracy" in the history of humanity, to accept the idea that the most "developed," wealthy and powerful nation in the world has a leadership that has come down with a devastating psychosis?"

"But the United States has also become a pathocracy, that is, a regime that is neurotic in essence, the leaders of which are, quite simply, psychopaths. I offer the hypothesis that the American president is personally suffering from a paranoid psychosis and that the quartet he has formed with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld constitutes a government that is both theocratic and pathocratic."

Francois de Bernard--moving well beyond the Dubya as religious nut argument popular in European circles--accuses a good chunk of the American leadership of simply being psychopaths. He is therefore the latest recipient of the Vidal award for heated anti-american rhetoric devoid of any fact-based analysis.

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2003 11:44:00 AM

Friendly Fire

Even when close allies are engaged in battle together--tensions spill over because of incidents like these.

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2003 02:19:00 AM


More on Rumsfeld's Warning to Syria

Haaretz has a piece up on this. The news is not good per my initial analysis here. It appears that this was another instance of Rummy freelancing without a unified Administration posture having been hammered out before:

"Despite this, Rumsfeld's statement surprised officials in the State Department and CIA. American sources said secret contacts are being held with Syria to stop the spill of equipment and weapons into Iraq and there was no intention of making this public. Yesterday, State Department sources spoke of the damage caused by Rumsfeld's statement. They said Rumsfeld was playing into the hands of those Middle East organizations and states that claim Washington's plan is not to make do with Saddam's head but continue from Iraq to other Arab states."

UPDATE: This story is getting more complicated. In a speech over the weekend to AIPAC, Colin Powell talked Syria too. Here's what he had to say:

Saying the country faced a "critical choice," Mr. Powell said, "Syria can continue direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein, or it can embark on a different and more hopeful course. Either way, Syria has the responsibility for its choices and for the consequences."

The language is not as belligerent in tone as Rummy's--but it looks sure to ratchet up the tension with Damascus more. Was Powell ordered to back up Rummy's tough talk by the President or did he decide to do so on his own because he believes the assistance being rendered through (or by) the Syrians to Iraq is too significant? And who at Foggy Bottom or Langley is leaking to Haaretz that there is discomfort that this spat has been publicized?

The Syrians, predictably, are sounding off in public more vociferously now too.

posted by Gregory| 3/30/2003 11:38:00 PM

Coalition Casualty Watch

Regular readers may recall an earlier post where I had expressed some surprise at the amazingly low casualties during the hostilities in Najaf--with reports of 1,000 Iraqis dead compared to a single U.S. soldier in fighting described by U.S. GIs as "Apocalypse Now" in intensity. Rusmfeld was asked a related question at last Friday's Pentagon briefing:

Q: And I had one follow-up, sir. The casualty figures currently officially released by the U.S. military show 28 dead and 40 wounded. Now the proportion of wounded and dead would be -- would seem to be historically way out of skew, because the number of wounded is usually far more than the number killed in action. Is there -- can you explain why that would be, or -- and is there any effort to either unreport or underreport casualties from the battlefield?

Rumsfeld: "Oh, my goodness! Now, you know that wouldn't be the case. There's no -- no one in this government, here or on the ground, is going to underreport what's happening. That's just terrible to think that. Even to suggest it is outrageous. Most certainly not! The facts are reported. (Pounds fist.) When people are killed, they're killed and we face it. When people are wounded, we say so. When people are missing and we know they're missing, we say so. And when we're wrong and they wander back into camp, as several have recently, having been lost or with other units, we say so. Absolutely not!"

Myers: "The only thing I would add to that is that there can be reporting lags. And with embedded media, you know, you can hear reports, but before the families are notified of either wounded or killed in action or missing, we don't release the figures. So, there could be some lag time. But we never -- we're never going to hide those numbers."

Rumsfeld's argument appeared a bit 'he doth protest too much' in nature, but I have to assume he is being completely honest. In addition, I take Myer's point regarding "reporting lags."

But the suspicions regarding casualty totals are, nevertheless, continuing to percolate, most recently, courtesy of the Week in Review section of the NYT:

"Snippets of news from Nasiriya give us a picture of chaotic guerrilla warfare, replete with hit-and-run ambushes, dead civilians, friendly fire casualties from firefights begun in the dead of night and a puzzling number of marines who are still unaccounted for."

I trust this administration to give the American public the unvarnished truth when it comes to casualty totals. What concerns me, however, is that firefights may have been more intense than we perhaps realize at this stage. And that, in the chaotic aftermath of myriad engagements, we are not yet fully aware of the human toll to date.

posted by Gregory| 3/30/2003 09:38:00 PM

Robin Cook to Cheney, Rummy and Wolfy--I Wish You Were "Embedded"

Robin Cook, fresh from leaving Blair's government, isn't staying quiet.

"We were told that the local population would welcome their invaders as liberators. Paul Wolfowitz, No.2 at the Pentagon, promised that our tanks would be greeted "with an explosion of joy and relief". Personally I would like to volunteer Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz to be "embedded"alongside the journalists with the forward units.That would give them a chance to hear what the troops fighting for every bridge over the Euphrates think about their promises."

Later, however, Cook clarified his position and says he wants the coalition to "see the job through."

resigned with some dignity. I agree that a protracted seige, which Cook suggests is the new strategy for taking Baghdad without any corroboration, would be a public relations disaster (though better than increasingly aggressive bombardments that lead to more destroyed marketplaces and the like) . But Cook isn't privy to the strategy that will be employed to take Baghdad. And this war isn't even two weeks old. So why this piece, now?

It appears, all in all, that Cook was simply emoting in the pages of the Mirror. Like him, we all want the troops out as quickly as possible, this war ended swiftly, few civilian deaths. But as even Cook admits, there is no question of now retreating and leaving Saddam in power. Better to focus our collective thinking on the least messy ways forward to secure victory and begin the mammoth task of creating a viable, integrated, democratic Iraqi polity. Cook doesn't help us, at all, on that score. Which is one of the many reasons that Cook would never prove to be a threat to Blair as leader of the Labour party.

posted by Gregory| 3/30/2003 08:36:00 PM


Rumsfeld on Syria

Rumsfeld's comments on Syria certainly did not appear to be off the cuff remarks like, perhaps, his "Old Europe" locution or grouping Germany together with Cuba and Libya as nations not providing any help with regard to the U.S. action in Iraq. As the linked transcript shows, they were part of his prepared remarks. His prepared language was as follows:

"And to Iraq's neighbor, Syria: We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles. These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

The FT, in somewhat sensationalistic fashion, has run a large headline in their weekend edition titled U.S. Warns Syria on 'Hostile Acts.' One might think the U.S. if off to Damascus in short order!

Meanwhile, the Syrian foreign ministry spokeswoman has described Rumsfeld's comments as "absolutely unfounded."

But one has too look at some of the Q&A to get a better feeling of what Rumsfeld meant. Here are all the relevant passages from yesterday's Pentagon press conference:

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about your statement about military supplies moving across the border from Syria. You described those as hostile acts. Are they subject to military action in response if that continues?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that to the extent military supplies or equipment or people move across borders between Iraq and Syria, that it vastly complicates our situation. And that is why I said what I said.

Q: But so are you threatening military action against Syria?

Rumsfeld: I'm saying exactly what I said. It was carefully phrased.


Q: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to clear up what you said earlier about the Syrian -- or the NBGs coming in through Syria. Are you suggesting or is there information that this in fact state-sponsored, these are state-sponsored shipments of military goods?

Rumsfeld: I don't think I want to get into it. It's an intelligence issue. They control their border, and we're hopeful that that type of thing doesn't happen. (Cross talk.)


Q: Mr. Secretary, for someone who's always advocating private channels of diplomacy, I'd like to go back to your statement about Syria and Iran. Be very precise. What message are you sending the governments of Syria and Iran from this podium? If the rules -- are the rules of the road for this conflict to other countries the same as they are for the war on terrorism: You are with or against us, which is the president's message? Is that what you are saying here, your message?

A: And specifically, with respect to Syria, I pointed out that we have seen military supplies and materials and equipment crossing the border, and we'd like it to stop. And to the extent it keeps on, we have to consider it a hostile act. [my emphasis]

The FT and other media outlets have headlined their stories per Rummy's initial remarks, ie. that the Syrians are engaged in hostile acts and they could be held accountable as a result. But, as the Q&A shows, Rummy later tipped his hand a bit by stating that, "to the extent it keeps on, we have to consider it a hostile act." In other words, it was the proverbial "shot across the bow," a stern warning to the Syrians (particularly, it appears, regarding night vision goggles--provision of which mitigate coalition forces advantages in urban fighting and, as the weather gets hotter, when allied forces might prefer to engage the enemy during the cooler night hours).

A couple points: I really hope that the U.S. approached Damascus on this issue through private channels before this highly public airing of Washington's concerns. If we did, and the Syrians denied they were allowing any assistance to cross their border to Iraq, and the U.S. had highly compelling intelligence that they were fully cognizant of such transfers, then I can understand Rumsfeld's need to issue a public warning to Damascus. But only if we made best diplomatic efforts in private first. Needless to say, the regional situation is immensely complex with each of Iraq's neighbors. There are, obviously, fears in Teheran and Damascus that they are next. To employ, in public, bellicose language about "hostile" acts in reference to one of these two countries should be done only when absolutely necessary--as it fans suspicions among Arabs (or Iranians) throughout the region that we have designs on strategic control of the entire region. It will be interesting to see if Powell has any comments on Syria in the coming days respecting this issue--I would be heartened if he backs Rummy up as it would show that the entire Administration has a coordinated posture on this issue and, likely, that we had already approached Damascus with our concerns to no avail. If Powell, instead, appears to differ with Rumsfeld on this issue it will be another example of lack of coordination between battling fiefdoms in the Adminstration--not what the U.S. needs during these critical times.

Another issue to keep in mind is whether Syria is allowing Hezbollah or Palestinian elements transit rights over their border and the equipment comes from such groups. If so, Syria still is culpable and needs to be held to account--but the tensions are unlikely to spill out of control. If Damascus itself is providing the equipment--and continues to do so after Rumsfeld's warning--the prospects of greater regional de-stabilization are significantly enhanced.

posted by Gregory| 3/29/2003 12:19:00 PM


Are These The Sentiments of an Ally?

"Svelte" Dominique de Villepin per a British journalist's query regarding where his sympathies lay in the war:

"I'm not going to answer because you have not listened carefully to what I have said before." The text of his speech, however, gave no particular clue as to what he meant, other than a comment that "I naturally wish that this conflict finds a swift conclusion with the minimum possible number of casualties."

Amazing. Shocking too that the NYT categorizes Dominique's lastest broadside against Washington as akin to the extension of an olive branch (albeit a "thorny" one). France's leading diplomat is not even willing to go on the record to say that France, at this time of significant peril to (ostensibly) friendly forces, would favor an American/British victory? This is an olive branch to Washington? Maybe for Howell's Dominique fan club. To me it's a bitter slap in the face. And I'm sure many in Washington will feel the same.

UPDATE: Now the French want a U.S. victory. Kind of like they would support us in the event of a WMD attack. The mere fact that the French Foreign Ministry would have to release a statement saying that France actually does want a U.S. victory in Iraq speaks volumes.

posted by Gregory| 3/28/2003 01:01:00 PM

Neo-Cons on the Defensive!

Richard Perle resigns as Chairman of the Defense Advisory Board, Paul Wolfowitz quotes in a WaPo story on the Turkey imbroglio display earlier overconfidence regarding Ankara's position, the Powell doctrine appears to be trumping Rummy/Wolfy style military campaigns of special ops, psyops, heavy reliance on airpower and lean troop movements, and Michael O'Hanlon says Perle and Ken Adleman thought an Iraq campaign would be a "cakewalk."

Well, I can certainly emphatize with Richard Perle's reaction to a NYT journalist's phone call today (they have, of course, been leading the Perle resign bandwagon via mastheads, Maureen and "investigative" journalism a la Hersh):

"In a brief phone conversation this afternoon before the Pentagon's announcement, Mr. Perle sounded angry. Asked whether he had resigned, he replied: "Let me just tell you something. If I had, you'd be the last person in the world I'd want to talk to." He then slammed down the phone."

Did the NYT really have to provide all the gritty details? So, uh, National Enquirerish of them. Regardless, I still don't believe Perle will be found to have committed any illegal actions either on the Khassogi/Bandar Hersh opus or Global Crossing. But his resignation letter to Rumsfeld gets it about right:

In a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld dated Wednesday, Mr. Perle said he was "dismayed" that criticism of his business ties was distracting Pentagon officials while they were grappling with the war in Iraq. "I have seen controversies like this before, and I know that this one will inevitably distract from the urgent challenge in which you are now engaged," Mr. Perle wrote. "I would not wish to cause even a moment's distraction from that challenge. As I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors of fact concerning my activities, the least I can do under these circumstances is to ask you to accept my resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board."

Of course, many will continue to demand that he leave the Defense Advisory Board altogether--not just step down from the Chairman role.

posted by Gregory| 3/28/2003 11:37:00 AM


Vidal Award

To Wayne Madsen for showcasing the Vidalian penchant for wild anti-american rants devoid of any factual moorings:

"The nations of the world must learn how to cope with living on the same planet with a regime that has resurrected the Nazi war strategy of "blitzkrieg" (lightning war) by adopting the concept of pre-emptive "shock and awe" military strikes. Make no mistake about it, the Bush regime, which came to power through a manipulative election process and then conveniently used a domestic terrorist attack to seize unconstitutional powers, will stop at nothing from remaking the world according to its own concept of a "new world order" subservient to the United States."

Oh, cut through all the verbiage, won't you Wayne? The U.S. is a Hitlerian state is what you mean to say, right? And Dubya the new Fuhrer.

posted by Gregory| 3/27/2003 12:51:00 PM

Le Monde Watch

From a Richard Bernstein piece in the NYT:

"Le Monde, France's most prestigious newspaper, published a front-page cartoon by its caricaturist, Plantu, that showed an American soldier with an American flag marching over a heap of Iraqi corpses. The soldier says, "This sandstorm is terrible!"

See the cartoon here (scroll halfway down page). UPDATE: This cartoon has been removed (replaced with another anti-american one, however). I'm sorry I don't have a direct link to the original one described in Bernstein's piece.

Meanwhile, in a story on Syria, Le Monde reverses the September 12th, 2001 headline "We Are All Americans Now" with (from the Damascene perspective, bien sur) "We Are All Iraqis."

Speaking of Syria, Bashar Assad is ratcheting up the rhetoric. I suspect this is mostly for domestic consumption--the U.S. and Syria have been cooperating quite intensely since 9/11 on intelligence sharing related to al-Qaeda. Sure, it is a very difficult relationship, but not so bad (at least at the present juncture) that Bashar would credibly fear that he is "next."

posted by Gregory| 3/27/2003 11:24:00 AM

Letters Department

A reader writes in re: my somewhat gloomy Safwan post below: "You are not getting the full picture. Saddam's loyalists are still active there. Yesterday, a woman who greeted the British troops was found swinging by the neck from a tree. Reprisals have occurred to others, too. Plus, these Iraqis you speak of were on camera and knew it. After we abandoned them to slaughter in '91, the Iraqi Shia are understandably cautious about jumping into our arms so soon. They do not know for sure which way this thing is going to turn out. They do not know our level of committment."

I agree with all these sentiments, some of which are also reflected in Bill Safire's column today. In addition, reports that Iraqi officers are threatening to shoot soldiers who don't fight are increasingly popping up (for instance, here and here).

In short, we shouldn't necessarily get too caught up in speculation that anti-U.S nationalistic sentiment is sweeping Iraq despite widespread hatred for Saddam. But let's not instead get overly triumphalist and believe that we are going to be greeted with warm emotive outbursts the minute Saddam's loyalists are dead or captured or that the population is convinced that, this time contra 1991, we are committed for the long haul. The reality likely resides somewhere in the murky middle.

By the way, regarding reader mail, let me note that I will take the liberty of quoting letter writers by name unless the writer expressly requests that I not do so. And while on the subject of such in-house matters, a quick thank you to Andrew Sullivan and Dan Drezner for their recent links to my site. I hope the readers who have thereby been introduced to the Belgravia Dispach will keep coming around!

posted by Gregory| 3/27/2003 10:28:00 AM

The Medievalism of "Embedded" Journalism

Caleb Carr in the Observer. A bit hyperbolic in parts, but worth a quick read.

posted by Gregory| 3/27/2003 12:26:00 AM


Casualty Reports and Murkiness in Safwan

Alarming story in tomorrow IHT. Per my post below entitled "The Najaf Battle" it appears something fishy is going on with regard to coalition reports on allied casualty figures:

General Brooks declined to comment on the number of United States casualties in the war and explicitly said the military would not provide numbers. "As a matter of practice, we just aren't going to announce numbers of casualties," he said. [Brooks is deputy commander of operations based in Qatar].

That's certainly not a positive development and I'm hoping Vincent Brooks made a mistake when he said the above. The U.S. people need to know what is going on on the battlefield. We're adults, we can handle the difficult truths, transparency is critical. I am getting a nagging feeling that casualties are significantly higher than we are aware at this juncture.

He goes on: "The practices that have been conducted by these paramilitaries, by these others who are out there sometimes in uniform, sometimes not in uniform, are more akin to the behaviors of global terrorists than they are to a nation," General Brooks said.

Well sure. But as I've said before, no one thought Saddam was going to play by Marquess of Queensbury rules. There will be feigned surrenders, soldiers in civilians garb, all manners of ambushes--in a word, brutal guerilla warfare. But, apropos this discussion, that Brooks would say this, with apparent frustration, indicates to me that we've lost more than 20 odd GI's over the past six days.

And, sorry to be so damn gloomy (this article really got to me) but check this out:

"In Safwan, close to the border with Kuwait, reporters said food was distributed in a chaotic scene in which local residents chanted their support for Mr. Hussein even as they collected boxes of goods. Scores of Iraqis scrambled into the backs of three trucks driven over the border by the Kuwait Red Crescent Society. Some 21,000 meals were packed into the convoy, including bread, flour, tea, water and cooking oil.

"With our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam," a group of Iraqis were reported to chant."

Safwan? Shi'a territory just over the Kuwaiti border? Folks, if we're having difficulties there then it's not looking pretty regarding a warm reception in the Sunni heartlands (of course, locals could have been putting on a show for the journalists).

Could it be that, even when on the cusp of liberty from the most brutal totalitarianism, populations revert back to a nationalistic posture when they begin to suffer significant losses from a foreign invader? Another reason to be very intent on keeping to a minimum civilian casualties in the difficult days ahead.

UPDATE: Video from Safwan food distribution.

UPDATE: Publicized coalition casualties to date.

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2003 11:51:00 PM

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

One of America's political giants, dead at 76.

More detailed obit here.

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2003 10:56:00 PM

The Najaf Battle

The media has been full of reports of a major battle near Najaf that reportedly killed perhaps up to 750 Iraqi soldiers with no U.S. casualties:

"Hundreds of Iraqis died in the attack near Najaf, American military officials in central Iraq said on Wednesday, after the fighting ended. North of town, 400 to 500 Iraqis died, and to the south, another 150 to 200 were killed. These forces were overpowered by American superiority in ground armor, including the Abrams tanks. No American casualties have been reported, but two tanks were lost."

I don't want to sound overly pessimistic regarding coalition casualties, but does this sound strange to anyone else? Particularly as it is the Iraqis who initiated the attack? And were there any personnel in those two tanks?

And take a look at this story:

"Sean D Naylor of the American Army Times quotes a US soldier describing the fighting as so intense that "it looks like Apocalypse Now".

"So intense was the fighting that at one stage the 3rd Squadron commander's driver, Private First Class Randall Duke Newcomb, was forced to steer his Humvee with one hand while firing out of the window with the other."

This sure doesn't sound like a zero coalition casualty fight to me folks. Now maybe the Pentagon will provide figures once they can further confirm the full extent of what occurred on the battlefield--but we have to feel confident that they are not keeping the bad news from us. The public needs to be informed as swiftly as possible about developments so that it retains full confidence that the Pentagon is disseminating information as expeditiously as possible. I hope I'm wrong and we won an amazing victory in Najaf with no U.S. victims. But it's tough to believe, isn't it?

UPDATE: Link to the Army Times story on Najaf:

"The captain said he didn’t count the Iraqi corpses. However, his troops did hang around long enough to confirm they were Republican Guard soldiers by the distinctive red triangular shoulder patches and red brassards they wore on their olive-drab fatigues. One Republican Guard soldier was also carrying a gas mask."

Why are Republican Guard soldiers carrying around gas masks? It appears we may have to increasingly brace ourselves for possible use of nerve gas as troops get closer to Baghdad. The one thing that might keep Saddam from using such agents is the near universal condemnation such tactics will bring. Right now, particularly given events like this, the Iraqis are winning the propaganda war throughout the Arab world (and much of Europe). Such "gains" will be greatly mitigated if the Iraqis go chemical. But, on balance, I fear Saddam will employ whatever means at his disposal to survive (as long as possible) the coalition onslaught. (UPDATE: John Burns must feel like he is back in Sarajevo. Recall that, during the siege of Sarajevo, there was occasional speculation that the Bosniaks were sometimes shelling their own people so that images of slaughter would expedite the arrival of Western powers combatting Bosnian Serbs arrayed around the city. There is some similar speculation in Baghdad about whether the Iraqis orchestrated the attack themselves in a bid to enhance their standing as "victims" per the propaganda war.)

UPDATE: This story has one American fatality and an estimated 1,000 (you read right) Iraqi military deaths. I'm hopeful but still dubious that the ratio is 1:1000.

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2003 04:18:00 PM

"This is Not Our War"

The latest (good) news from Ankara:

"This is not our war," the general said, reading from a prepared text at a local military base here. "This is not our mission."

"His announcement eases fears of a war-within-a-war on the northern front, though General Ozkok did say that he reserved the right to send additional forces into Iraq if the situation there spins out of control."

Needless to say, the situation in the north remains highly fluid but, at least today, developments there are quite helpful to Washington.

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2003 02:19:00 PM

Fischer's Hyperbole

Joshka Fishcher has been making some pretty inflammatory comments recently:

Referring to Britain and Spain, he said: "One must ask whether the countries that are such close partners of the US had or have an influence [over Washington's Iraq policy]." He said the positions taken by the British and Spanish governments had led to "major [domestic] problems that bordered on the destabilisation of democratic systems".

The destabilization of democratic systems? I can assure the German Foreign Minister that presently, the U.K. certainly doesn't feel like, say, Weimar Germany. Democratic moorings appear well intact. The PM faced the Commons and won majority support from the two key parties in the land. His popular support is on a major uptick. What is Joshka Fischer talking about?

He also is trying to paint an impotent Aznar and Blair who constitute an amen corner to whatever diktats emanate from Washington. Another impolitic slur which will do little to begin to provide a better climate for mending fences. Gosh, what an awful team over in Berlin. The irony is, sadly, they are keenly aware that their chances of staying in power are increased by a constant resort to such primitive anti-American rhetoric. But one must ask, to what extent is the German leadership responsible for fanning and intensifying the anti-americanism currently sweeping Germany?

Note too, the Development Minister didn't want to be left out of the Washington-bashing Berlin fun:

Ms Wieczorek-Zeul, who is known for her leftwing views, also lashed out at the US military. "As we see, there are none of the 'clever bombs' that the US military claim; bombs are always destructive and murderous," she said.

The "poisoned" relations might just get worse, I'm afraid.

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2003 11:03:00 AM


"Find and Fix"

Current coalition military strategy per Janes.

"A major effort has been underway in recent days to 'prepare the battlefield' ahead of the advancing US armoured columns in what military doctrine describes as the 'deep battle'. The Apaches of the 11th Aviation Brigade have been in action, trying to find and destroy Republican Guard tanks in the towns and villages south of Baghdad. Once these efforts to 'find' the main Republican Guard positions have been successful, reconnaissance forces, including attack helicopters, will be sent into action to 'fix' them in their positions while the 3rd Infantry Division's three armoured brigades position themselves to strike.

The 'find and fix' phase of the battle is the most crucial for US commanders because they have a numerically inferior force to the Iraqis and have very exposed flanks and supply lines. If US reconnaissance forces and surveillance assets fail to find the Iraqis or misidentify the main Iraqi defensive positions then the US armoured brigades could be committed in the wrong place, exposing them to counter-attack while refuelling or re-arming."

But how will this "fixing" be undertaken?

Thomas Ricks takes a look at the WaPo:

"The impending battle confronts U.S. forces with a dilemma that goes to the heart of the complex mission in which they are engaged: They can maximize the advantages of their overwhelming firepower and bomb a wily adversary hiding heavy weapons in built-up areas, which would inflict civilian casualties and set back the U.S. campaign for public opinion. Or they can try to attack precisely with low-flying helicopters and ground forces, which could mean losing more U.S. troops. If the fight against the Medina Division ends in just a day or two, or if parts of the unit even surrender without a fight, that will send a powerful signal that the climactic battle for Baghdad won't be as difficult as some have predicted, or won't occur at all.

"But if the 10,000-man Medina division manages to undercut U.S. momentum, and especially if it inflicts heavy casualties in the process, or if it just retreats from a battlefield strewn with dead civilians, then the tone of the war probably will change. A bitter fight that takes a week might even persuade the U.S. military to alter its strategy and dig in to wait for reinforcements from the Army's tank-heavy 4th Infantry Division -- which probably would take at least two or three weeks."

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 08:33:00 PM

Northern Front Dispatch

Tim Judah has a good piece in the NYRB.

On the positive side of the ledger, Judah quotes a Mr. Omar, the leading Kurdish official in the small town of Shoresh (just inside the autonomous Kurdish zone):

"Mr. Omar thinks that not much is going to happen here. That is what the Iraqis across the front line are telling him. According to Mr. Omar, Iraqi officers and ordinary soldiers slip across it several times a week to give him detailed information to pass on to his bosses, and to beg him not to attack when the US-led war begins. He told me: "They are saying they will not fight. They say: 'Just don't attack us, give us time to join you or to escape.'" There have always been contacts between the two sides, he told me, but in the last two months the number of men crossing over to visit him has increased dramatically. He explained that Saddam's men "have a contact who brings them over." They change into civilian clothes and, he said, "they come especially at night."

On another topic, as regular readers know, I've defended a good deal of this Adminstration's diplomatic efforts but have criticized occasional U.S. heavy-handedness in some of our diplomatic efforts (Mexico, Turkey). If this vignette is accurate, it's a prime example of some errors the U.S. made in our approach to Ankara:

"In a largely Muslim country of some 57 million people, well over 90 percent of Turks are opposed to the war and there have been large-scale demonstrations against it. While many in the government and especially in the military believed that Turkey's strategic and economic interests lay in cooperating with the Bush administration, "the Americans," Mr. Dulger complained, had disparaged the Turks as haggling "rug merchants" and "belly-dancers" and had refused to listen to Turkish concerns as a good ally should. In the Foreign Ministry an official told me that when Yashar Yakis, the foreign minister, told President Bush that Turkey had severe problems with the war and with complying with all of America's requests, Mr. Bush brushed him off, saying: "I understand, but now go back to Turkey and do the job." The official thought awhile and said of President Bush: "The man is ill."

Well, I certainly don't think Dubya is ill (perhaps a bit cocksure, occasionally)--but, if true, such an approach was a bit too haughty to take with a Foreign Minister tasked with persuading a government to support an action opposed by approximately 94% of the population. Powell should have flown out to Ankara and done some immediate face to face clean-up after this episode--if indeed it occurred.

That said, the Turks were likely communicating to the Americans that approval of a sizable troop deployment was in the bag--and key interlocuters in Ankara were probably just as stunned as U.S. Administration observers when the parliamentary motion was defeated. Powell and team also likely felt, in the final analysis, that the Army would deliver the Parliament. But with Turkey going through chaotic, historic deliberations over matters they consider of the utmost vitality to their national security (even if many of their fears are exaggerated)--more observers should have been cognizant than anything could happen. And in an environment like that, you don't want the diplomatic wires to get soured because of diktat-like formulations or even the perception that there are Washington whispering campaigns that the Turks are just in it for the cash.

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 12:58:00 PM

High Baathist Death Toll Good

Or so says Daniel Drezner in a provocative post. Drezner thinks we reap the gains of a more expeditious de-Baathification in such fashion--making the post-war scene easier to navigate for allied forces. Sorry to say, I think a much better way to go about de-Baathification will be through a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Committee or former Yugoslavia style war crimes tribunal once the conflict is over rather than higher body counts at the present juncture.

Why? Well, for one, there are well over a million potential sympathizers of the Baath Party but a much smaller number of actual Baathist leadership:

"....the Baath Party claimed about 10 percent of the population, a total of 1.5 million supporters and sympathizers; of this total, full party members, or cadres, were estimated at only 30,000, or 0.2 percent. The cadres were the nucleus of party organization, and they functioned as leaders, motivators, teachers, administrators, and watchdogs. Generally, party recruitment procedures emphasized selectivity rather than quantity, and those who desired to join the party had to pass successfully through several apprentice-like stages before being accepted into full membership. The Baath's elitist approach derived from the principle that the party's effectiveness could only be measured by its demonstrable ability to mobilize and to lead the people, and not by "size, number, or form." Participation in the party was virtually a requisite for social mobility. "

There is likely a decent chunk of those 1.5 million Baathist symphathizers that may, at this juncture, still fight sporadically based on varied local dynamics underway during the current chaotic unfurling of the allied campaign (but are increasingly likely to lay down arms as Saddam's regime totters). Rather than calculate that we are making the post-war scene easier to manage by killing large swaths of Baathist supporters now, better to think solely in terms of engaging active resistance that must be defeated to assure success.

Further, and importantly, it is the approximately 30,000 cadre members that are the real objects of a necessary de-Baathification once a coalition victory is secured. And, unlike Drezner, I think these 30,000 are not so embedded into Iraqi society that we won't be able to identify them with relative facility once victory is secured.

Bringing them to justice via tribunals or a truth and reconciliation committee will prove an important mechanism for Iraqi society to grapple with the legacies of a brutish, tribal, neo-Stalinist regime. Running roughshod through population centers like Basra to hunt down tepidly motivated Baathist resistance now, at high cost to civilian lives, will be more likely to imperil the war effort than make for an easier post-war scene.

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 11:27:00 AM

Dueling Mastheads Redux

Pretty gloomy on the Hudson; pretty feisty on the Potomac.

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 11:18:00 AM

Nerve Gas Distributed to Republican Guard?

WaPo article quoting Ken Pollack contains the alarming contention that chemical agents have been passed along to Republican Guard units defending the capital:

"There are intelligence reports that Iraq has distributed chemical weapons, most likely VX [nerve gas] to the Republican Guard," including the Medina division, said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst of Middle Eastern militaries. When reconnaissance images showed munitions being delivered, he said, they were accompanied by chemical decontamination trucks.

Retired Rear Adm. John Sigler, a former chief planner for the U.S. Central Command, agreed with that assessment, saying, "I don't think you'll see bugs [biological weapons], but you might see gas."

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 09:31:00 AM

A Chilly Reception from the Shi'a in the South?

I am a bit concerned that certain observers are being a tad sanguine about the progress of the campaign (though I want to be careful not to overdramatize the difficulties and am still highly optimistic regarding ultimate coalition success). The key issue currently is that U.S. planners may have overestimated the support the oppressed Shi'a in the south would provide incoming coalition forces. The conventional wisdom in the Beltway was that the Shi'a, long under the brutal yoke of Saddam's predominately Sunni government, would rejoice when forces arrived whose objective was the overthrow of Saddam. The problem, however, is that it appears that many Shi'as assumed that U.S. forces would basically rush up to Baghdad and unseat Saddam and, voila, Saddam gone. Not to mention, Iraqi Shi'a-Sunni relations are a bit more nuanced than commonly appreciated. Regardless, resistance along the way has provoked significant firefights and allied bombing that appears to have reduced much of the good will in that part of the country because of civilian deaths and detiorating humanitarian conditions. Such, of course, are the unpredictabilities of even the best laid war plans.

So what's the key issue right now tactically? Retired Marine Corps General Bernard Trainor has a pretty good take on it:

Question: When we talked just before the war started, you were concerned about the size of the U.S. forces, that they might be too thin. Are the problems in the south attributable to the fact that we don't have enough forces there now?

Trainor: "It's certainly part of it. The military planners assumed that we would have the support of the locals and therefore we did not have to worry about our long, 300-mile supply line. But now we do because we don't have the locals. And the fact that the Iraqis have been able to contest us successfully has probably stiffened the resolve of some of the units which otherwise might have surrendered.

We don't have sufficient depth and weight to make up for that. We probably have enough to do the job--at least I hope we have enough to do the job--unless things really get nasty in downtown Baghdad. But we really don't have enough to complete the security of the entire area until we get more units ashore, and it's going to take at least a couple of more weeks to get the First Armored Division and the First Cavalry Division and the Fourth [Mechanized] Infantry Division. The Fourth Mechanized originally was supposed to go into Turkey, and now its equipment is being rerouted. So the troops are getting stretched rather thin and they are getting a little tired also. I still feel that the unease I expressed the last time we spoke still exists and I have greater grounds for it this time than just the speculation and suppositions I had the last time."

Another reason there is so much anger at Ankara in Washington right now.

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2003 12:11:00 AM


Ambush Alley

Marines have a nickname for the environs of Nasiriya: "ambush alley".

Aside from the unexpectedly high death toll to coalition forces, the story deals prominently with the dangers the recent battles in Nasiriya have presented to civilians in the area:

"Iraqi fighters pushed women and children into the streets to serve as human shields and drive up the civilian death toll, officers said. Civilian casualty numbers were unknown."

"It's not pretty," Officer Woellhof said. "It's not surgical. You want surgical, you should have left the place alone. You try to limit collateral damage, but they want to fight. Now it's just smash mouth football."

I have been worried that, confronted with significant urban resistance (particularly feigned surrenders, possible suicide attacks, "troops" fighting in civilian clothes) the degree of anger, frustration and urgency among allied military forces would ratchet up--leading to more robust (and less precise) tactics that would potentially kill significant numbers of civilians. These are the perhaps inevitable results of pitched battles being fought in unorthodox manner by Iraqis resisting the coalition advance. Of course, no one expected Saddam's thuggish regime to play by Marquess of Queensbury rules.

In addition, Saddam likely realizes that the propaganda value of such carnage, beemed back by Al-Jazeera T.V. crews in places like Basra, is almost as important to his efforts as holding back the coalition advance to Baghdad. Prospects of regional destabilization (I am particularly worried, currently, about Jordan) will be enhanced if the numbers of civilian dead begins to mount into the hundreds and beyond. Such developments, I trust, are still far-fetched. But we can be sure Saddam will enhance the chances of such regional shocks occuring so as to ratchet up pressure on Washington from the international community.

American war planners must remain keenly aware of this dynamic and not, in frustration, begin taking out targets where large numbers of civilians are located with any frequency. The problem is, of course, the lives of coalition troops are on the line as well--what to do when soldiers are being shot and killed from a building where civilians are located too?

The Colonel interviewed for this piece answered this question:

"If he puts his combat forces near hospitals, schools, or anything else that uses that area to direct fire, we will engage the enemy wherever he is shooting at us. The enemy commander is responsible for any collateral damage caused by putting enemy forces near a protected site."

We must hope and pray that such actions are not necessitated too often in the coming days.

UPDATE: The above linked NYT story has been significantly changed since it initially went online. There is no longer a reference to "ambush alley" and some of the quoted language I posted has been removed from the revised version of the story. It appears to me that quoted military personnel were emoting in direct fashion (given the strain of pitched battle) and higher-ups felt the language was too direct. Put simply, it appears as if the story were "sanitized" a bit per Pentagon request. Certainly, in my opinion, Howell Raines wouldn't have made these edits of his own volition.

UPDATE: See below a relevant quote from retired Marine Corps General Bernard Trainor:

Question: Are the Marines and the Army troops under too many constraints? They seem so worried about killing civilians that some people wonder if they are taking unnecessary losses.

Trainor: "That one's a judgment call. I mean somebody comes at you with a white flag. And even though you have to be wary of him, you still must make an assumption he's genuinely surrendering. You just can't shoot him. So that automatically makes you somewhat vulnerable. But there is not much you can do about that except keep your finger on the trigger, and if he makes a false move, then unload on him.

But the other restrictions, are they inhibiting us? Yes they are, but I think justifiably so. I mean, if we are going in there to liberate a place, it doesn't seem to me to be appropriate to take out a lot of civilians in the process of liberating them. For example, the British down around Basra have been wanting to open fire on some ancient T-55 tanks and some artillery pieces that the Iraqi military has in the suburbs of Basra. They are not getting the permission [to do so]. Why? Because if they fired on them, there would be collateral damage and civilian casualties. So, I think that's understandable. It's frustrating some of the military but then you have to find means around them. Properly so, the president said the war is not with Iraqis but with the Baathist regime."

posted by Gregory| 3/24/2003 05:51:00 PM

French and German Media Coverage of the War in Iraq

Another must read from John Vinocur at the IHT.

posted by Gregory| 3/24/2003 02:56:00 PM

The Baghdad Blogger

The Guardian has a story on the Baghdad-based blog here. Note, at least since the last time I've checked, Salam Pax hasn't updated his site since Friday Baghdad time.

One of the most poignant entries I noted over at his blog was his mixed feelings about pictures of Iraqis surrendering in the south. Even for this Westernized, "pro-liberation" Baghdadi, feelings of discomfort and humiliation arise when he sees his people surrendering to foreign forces.

"On BBC we are watching scenes of Iraqis surrendering. My youngest cousin was muttering “what shame” to himself, yes it is better for them to do that but still seeing them carrying that white flag makes something deep inside you cringe."

This is yet another example of the complexities that await U.S. forces during these momentous times. As Dave Ignatius writes in the WaPo:

"It's a criminal regime, and they execute everyone, for one word, even," said a 14-year-old boy named Mohammed, who said one of his brothers had been executed. Asked what kind of government he wanted to see in the future, a jubilant farmer named Salem Muhsen answered: "Anything but Saddam's terrorism." Two of his cousins had been executed, he said, for the crime of traveling to Kuwait to sell their vegetables. This was the face of Iraqi liberation. The farmers had gathered at the Safwan intersection, the same spot where the peace treaty ending the 1991 Gulf War had been signed.

"Yet soon after these happy sentiments were voiced, a battered white Toyota pickup arrived at the intersection bearing the bodies of two men who apparently died during American attacks. Cradling them was a woman dressed in black, who said the men were her father and brother. She wailed inconsolably, denouncing the American invaders. Her anguish was so intense that when she arrived in the nearby town of Safwan, reporters there said the anti-American mood turned ugly."

UPDATE: Salam Pax had just advised that he had lost Internet access and his server crashed due to huge incoming traffic. He advises that he will be posting a new entry soon.

UPDATE: An IHT story on blogs.

posted by Gregory| 3/24/2003 12:27:00 PM


The Neo-Sacco-Vanzetti Types

Are even bugging the anti-war crowd in the Bay Area:

"The protesters are acting like sore losers," said Aitan Melamud, a retired urologist, as he watched a protest outside Bechtel Corp. headquarters Friday morning. "Like if they can't have their way, then we can't go on with our lives."

posted by Gregory| 3/23/2003 06:59:00 PM

Said Smears Rudy!

Remember the $10,000,000 million that Saudi Prince Prince Ibn Al-Walid wanted to donate to NYC after 9/11? Then Mayor Rudolph Guiliani turned away the donation because of the below comments:

"I believe the government of the United States should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause," he added, calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis as the world (looks the other way)," said Walid, listed by Forbes Magazine as the sixth-richest man in the world with a fortune of more than 20 billion dollars."

When informed of Walid's comments, Giuliani retorted: "I entirely reject that statement. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered four or five thousand innocent people, and to suggest that there is a justification for it only invites this happening in the future," he said. "It is highly irresponsible and very, very dangerous. Not only are those statements wrong, they are part of the problem." [Note: The 4,000-5,000 figure, readers will recall, was the number observers thought dead through most of September 2001]

I believe Guiliani was spot on given that Walid's suggested linkage between Palestinian national aspirations and 9/11 was reprehensible. First, no matter how deep seated one's grievances about U.S. policy in the Middle East, the intentional murder of civilians wholly divorced from the conflict is unjustifiable. Second, recall that the first WTC bombing occurred in 1993--highwater mark of rosy Oslo talk with Rabin and Arafat feted on the White House lawn. The enhanced prospects for a Palestinian state then didn't stop theologically driven barbarians from attempting mass slaughter in our greatest city. It was disingenuous, tasteless and, yes, dangerous for the Prince to couple his gift with comments regarding how such actions might be caused by U.S. policy in the Middle East. Dangerous as they seem to provide justification for pursuit of, perhaps legitimate causes, through acts of grotesque violence.

What of Edward Said's take? In a piece ostensibly about a disunited wartime America (seemingly the length of a Tolstoyan tome) Said opines thus:

"In a fit of petulant rage, the then Mayor of New York (which also has the largest Jewish population of any city in the world), Rudolph Guiliani, returned the check to Al-Walid, rather unceremoniously and with an extreme and I would say racist contempt that was meant to be insulting as well as gloating. On behalf of a certain image of New York, he personally was upholding the city's demonstrated bravery and its principled resistance to outside interference. And of course pleasing, rather than trying to educate, a purportedly unified Jewish constituency."

Perhaps Said should forsake the pages of the Nation and other assorted leftish precincts and start submitting pieces over at the American Conservative?

Meanwhile, in a sloppy piece (gosh, doesn't even get Wolfy's title right!) written by one Josh Reubner, Paul Wolfowitz is derisively labelled a "court Jew" and urged to resign.

posted by Gregory| 3/23/2003 04:22:00 PM

Who Lost Russia?

Martin Indyk thinks Dubya did. He argues that failure to get Russia on board was the key variable that prevented the U.S. from getting a second UNSC resolution. (The latest "blame it on the bad diplomacy" argument, some earlier ones I addressed here.)

Indyk: "The failure lay not with the French but with the way we ignored the Russians. Remember Vladimir Putin? Up until last week, his alignment with the United States was the single greatest achievement of this president's personal diplomacy. Despite the Bush administration's trampling of Russian interests in abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Putin made a personal decision to forge a strategic partnership with the United States. On that basis, the Russian president was willing to abandon decades of Soviet and Russian support for Hussein. In the 1990s such an approach was inconceivable. The Yeltsin government, under the guidance of longtime Middle East hand Yevgeny Primakov, developed a strategic as well as commercial rationale for maintaining close ties with Baghdad. But after 9/11, Putin developed a very different strategic calculus -- that Russia's future lay in partnership with Washington, not Baghdad."

Indyk underestimates the continuing Primakov hangover effect on Iraq policy that colors the judgement of large swaths of the Russian foreign policy elite on matters related to Iraq. Putin, it is likely, communicated to Dubya that he would not be able to actively support a second resolution given a Soviet and then Russian policy that viewed Iraq as akin to a client state. All this said, however, particularly after the French dismissed the British bridging proposal out of hand, it is not inconceivable that the Russians would have abstained rather than vetoed a second resolution had it come to a vote. Regardless, however, this is less a failure of U.S. diplomacy than a reflection of special Russian realities that Putin had to navigate regarding Iraq policy.

Indyk goes on to write: "The Bush administration simply assumed that Putin was in the president's pocket and took him for granted. Even last week, when the president appeared to begin the effort to repair the damage in the Security Council, he chose to fete the president of Cameroon at a private White House dinner. Where was Putin? Left clamoring from the sidelines for the president's attention by personally criticizing our actions in Iraq."

Come again? From where does Indyk corroborate that Dubya assumed he had Putin in his pocket? The fact that the president of Cameroon had dinner at the White House has nothing to do with the conduct of our diplomacy with Russia over the past several months with the UNSC.

The most powerful argument regarding the shortcomings of American diplomacy since the entire U.N. process began on September 12th with Dubya's speech hasn't been widely aired yet. It is that we should have been more proactive about the potential for French trouble-making at the UNSC. In other words, we took Dominique de Villepin too much at his word that he would be willing to vote a second resolution if, per a good faith determination, a judgement were made that Saddam wasn't fully complying with 1441.

We should have, way back in December, for instance, devised highly specific targets that Saddam would have to meet and gotten the French to say on the record that, without Saddam meeting those requirements, Paris would support a second resolution calling for "serious consequences." In other words, rather than amorphous "material breach" language that the French could argue Saddam wasn't in violation of--we should have preemptively pinned Paris down on a specific series of actions Baghdad would have had to take by a time certain.

All this said, of course, hindsight is 20-20. Who could have expected that the French would have chosen this juncture to re-assert neo-Gaullist projects in contravention of matters of immense import to international security? But, aside from occasional heavy-handedness with allies like Turkey or Mexico or a dearth of what former Secretary of State George Schultz calls "gardening" (patient, routinized maintenance of alliance relationships), or a few Rumsfeldian excesses--I think the U.S. diplomatic effort was just fine, thank-you. The ultimate problem was that countries like Germany and France were (and are) still dwelling in a pre-9/11 modality--still not fully cognizant of the dangers presented by the intersection of WMD, transnational terror groups and rogue regimes. And, of course, Paris grabbed an opportunity to counter the hyperpuissance during a high-profile crisis to ratchet up their international profile a few notches--a short-sighted strategy that is bound to backfire.

posted by Gregory| 3/23/2003 01:43:00 PM


Poor Editing Department

In a NYT story about a Navy Seals operation to gain control of several oil platforms:

"Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night, Navy Seals seized two Iraqi offshore oil terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire." [my emphasis]

Did Joshkha Fischer's Greens pen this piece? Or the "newspaper of record"? C'mon Howell, less sloppy, please.

And here's a summation of what the battle is really over.

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2003 05:08:00 PM

Jacques Wants Another Resolution Tussle!

Not even three days into the conflict, Mr. Chirac is already looking ahead expansively towards the post-war scene! One might expect a little more solemnity and fellow-feeling now that troops are engaged in combat, non?

"Mr Chirac, in his end-of-summit press conference, also toughened his rhetoric against the war allies, claiming their action "breached international legality". His words reflect a French determination that having failed to stop the war, it will attempt to set the terms of the peace through the UN."

French diplomatic miscalculations and folie de grandeur, already embarrasing, look set to go on for a while it appears. As for breaches of international legality, I've addressed that earlier here.

Meanwhile, Le Monde reports a sudden request from Qatar (ie, Tommy Frank's HQ) to the French Defense Ministry for some chem/bio decontamination personnel to be deployed (relevant story at bottom of this link, sorry no time to translate). Perhaps some nascent Iraq-related U.S.-Franco cooperation is taking place to mend fences a bit? Anyone with more information on this please let me know.

By the way, is it just me, or is Le Monde and Le Figaro's coverage pretty slanted today? They certainly aren't headlining stories about the jubilant reaction to the arrival of U.S. and U.K. troops in certain villages in southern Iraq that even the Guardian and the NYT prominently covered. Sour grapes that the land of the French Revolution isn't involved in liberating a brutally subdued people?

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2003 03:52:00 PM

Saddam on a Stretcher?

This story, of course, is in the fog of war department, ie. veracity unknown.

UPDATE: A must-read from John Burns.

"But what has added mystery to the story since Thursday is that Mr. Hussein, normally inclined to issue long, discursive, grandiose philippics at times of crisis, has simply disappeared. All he has left to Iraq's 24 million people at a time of crisis is Thursday's five-minute, disjointed, hand-lettered denunciation of the "criminal little Bush," and his vow to Iraqis that "these days will add to your glorious history."

"Today, attempts by reporters to gain some elucidation met with a blank wall. At a news conference, an American reporter asked when Mr. Hussein would be making another address on the war to the Iraqi people. "Next!" the information minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, said sharply, beckoning to another reporter for a new question. Moments later, another reporter tried again. Had the minister seen Mr. Hussein in person at any time in the last few days. "Next! Next!" Mr. Sahhaf replied, still more testily, then demanded: "Please ask something reasonable."

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2003 02:31:00 PM

Rumsfeld's Hubris

The NYT has a masthead which is mostly a matter of fact recitation of the dramatic events of the past 24 hours. It also contains the following:

"Reporters in Baghdad say that civilian neighborhoods are near some of the targets, so some civilian casualties can be expected. Secretary Rumsfeld, in hubristic remarks that could come back to haunt him, stressed that today's weapons had "a precision no one ever dreamt of" in the past. He said every target was carefully analyzed, the most appropriate weapon selected, and the approach and time of day carefully picked in a humane effort to minimize the loss of civilian lives. There is evidence that the attacks are indeed carefully calibrated. The lights in Baghdad remained on, the water was running and the phones were working, reflecting a determination to avoid damage that would disrupt the lives of the residents. But technical glitches can thwart the best-made plans, and even a few errant bombs or missiles could cause substantial civilian damage....given the administration's insistence that it can pick its targets precisely."

I have to say I agree with some of these sentiments (though Howell, of course, pushes a bit with the "haunt" language). I caught Don Rumsfeld's press conference last night. He appeared overly defensive regarding comparisons between what is underway in Baghdad with Dresden-style fire bombing or the Christmas bombing of Hanoi. We are all aware that there is no valid comparison to be made to these previous bombing campaigns--that the precision weaponry being employed in Iraq is highly sophisticated and commands a great degree of accuracy. And yet, this is not a wholly clinical exercise with guaranteed results. I'm all for hitting with maximum pressure targets of Saddam's regime per "shock and awe." It is important that symbols of his power are dismantled promptly in dramatic fashion to enhance the chances of massive capitulation by large swaths of the Army--especially in the predominately Sunni areas where there is likely to be more resistance.

But there was too much of the Bob McNamara as described in David Halberstam's "The Best and the Brightest" in Rummy last night. In an almost annoyed tone, he described how much care was going into the target selection, even the timing of the bombings--so as to minimize the chances of civilian deaths. All true, doubtless, but let's be a bit more modest about the effect "shock and awe" has on civilians--including the vast majority who will emerge unschathed. Liberation may be sweet and anxiously awaited by the vast majority of the residents of Baghdad--but thousand pound bombs impacting your city is sure to be a terrifying experience. Let's all be sure to remember that during the coming days.

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2003 02:00:00 PM

Random Anti-War Movement Roundup

Snippets from the anti-war crowd looniness.

No Sleep Deprivation Here: In one protestors words: "I literally went to sleep and came back out to hit the streets again." Well, hot damn! The fellow protested, went home to get some shut-eye, and then "hit the streets again." A hero!

Stop the Presses!: The San Francisco Chronicle, on what is, to be sure, a busy news day, prominently headlines a story on opposition to the war by Mexican lesbians.

Rap Mogul Watch: P Diddy (or Puff Daddy, or Bad Boy, or whatever else this risible figure calls himself), he who, when not in proximity to Times Square club shootings parades around St. Tropez with bodyguards like a bufoon, is against the war. This opposition, of course, to be swiftly categorized in the moronic inferno department.

Sophisticated Tactics: Note too, "anarchists" are using "sophisticated tactics" during their protests: "The breakaway march wound its way through the city, using a number of sophisticated tactics to out-manoeuver the police. At times they stopped quickly and reversed direction."

Now that's absolutely brilliant, isn't it?

Bad Food: Some SanFran protesters spent the night in jail. Grievances abound, including: "They griped that their requests for water or food were ignored or delayed for hours. When they did get fed, they got cheese or peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches that didn't taste great."

Another gem:

"Those who were released Friday whooped it up as they reunited with their friends outside San Francisco County Jail on Seventh Street. A group of women hugged and cried. Many declined to give their real names as they ate hot cereal and drank tea provided by supporters.

I'm free -- no charges, no papers. Bonjour, mon ami!" exclaimed one man in a bright yellow sweatshirt."

A new rallying cry?

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2003 01:26:00 PM


Cheers in Safwan

Yes, people are feeling liberated (at least near Basra) as coalition troops advance:

"In Safwan, just across the border with Kuwait in southern Iraq, civilians greeted the First Marine Division with cheers today as they entered the town. After capturing the town, some of the marines pulled down pictures of the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein."

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2003 04:07:00 PM

Turkey Update

I take a good deal of what I read at Debka with a grain of salt as I suspect there is a decent amount of Mossad disinformation posted on the site (perhaps, roughly, a quarter of the information). But I'm seeing corroboration of the below elsewhere:

"Fresh flare-up of US-Turkish military frictions. Ankara holds back permission for American over-flights in reprisal for US denial of Turkish troop entry into northern Iraq.
Ankara also furious over US joining forces with Kurds for northern oil fields takeover."

If things continue to go relatively smoothly in the South, and there are no Stalingrad-like scenarios awaiting in Baghdad or Tikrit, the North may well prove the prickliest problem.

UPDATE: At the Pentagon briefing today Don Rumsfeld stated that it would be "notably unhelpful" for Turkish troops to go, in significant numbers, further into Turkey than the so-called refugee buffer zone. He also said it appeared discussions had reached an "end" regarding Turkish-U.S. cooperation on Iraq--ie. even the drastically scaled down U.S. request for air transit rights does not appear like it will be granted and, per Rumsfeld, no future U.S. requests for help appear in the offing. Turkish-U.S. relations have clearly taken quite a beating in the past month or so.

UPDATE II: Turkish troops (1,000-1,500) entering Iraq.

UPDATE III: Airspace now available to U.S. air force? Another take, including information that might explain why Rummy was seemingly so perturbed at the Turks:

"A few days ago, a U.S. Special Forces team operating in northern Iraq ran into trouble with Iraqi forces and requested air support. Turkey -- still negotiating the terms of granting overflights -- rejected a request to use its airspace, administration officials said yesterday. While the U.S. forces escaped unharmed, Turkey's refusal stunned Pentagon and State Department officials, who said U.S.-Turkish relations have hit a nadir after years of close cooperation."

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2003 03:02:00 PM

Tony Blair's Conviction

Today brings grim reports of the death of eight British commandos and four U.S. soldiers in a chopper crash. And it also serves to remind us that, far from a rhetorical flourish, Tony Blair meant it when he said the U.K. would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the U.S. throughout the war on terror. It is impossible to predict what will occur in the coming months in Iraq or perhaps in further trouble spots in the months and years ahead. But, for now, it bears mentioning that Tony Blair has honored his pledge in letter and in spirit. The British PM, for instance, could have arranged that the 40,000 or so U.K. troops based in Kuwait were somewhat of a fig-leaf--remaining in rear bases and following U.S. forces towards Basra in "clean-up" mode.

That they are anything but is a testament to Tony Blair's convictions. He believes (soberly, intelligently) in the justness of the cause. He believes Saddam was given a peaceful option out. He is now facing the moments of greatest difficulty for a nation's leader--committing his sons and daughters to potential (and now, actual) death on the battlefield. There will be much speculation about what Blair (or the UK) had to "gain" by standing by the U.S. during the war on Iraq. But beyond such short-term calculations Tony Blair will have earned a far rarer honor--history will smile upon him as a man of conviction and honor--not a cynical, cloying new Labourite devotee of polling and slick, modish campaigns.

Blair firmly believes the intersection of WMD, transnational terror, and rogue regimes represents a clear and present danger. In the face of strong internal opposition, he has rallied his party to action. He is the best the world has on hand in an era marked by the dearth of great leaders and significant perils. We should applaud him.

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2003 10:28:00 AM

Was Saddam the Man in the Taped Broadcast?

The debate continues.

Key language:

"Officials also said they were receiving conflicting analysis of the identity of the man in the broadcast, noting that Hussein has long been reported to use doubles as a precaution against assassination. Technical analysts, who used digital enhancement techniques and triangulation measurements of facial proportions, assessed that the broadcast depicted the real Hussein. But the government also consulted Parisoula Lampsos, who the Defense Department believes has passed a polygraph examination in support of her claim that she was Hussein's mistress in Iraq for many years. Lampsos has previously distinguished Hussein from his doubles in more than a dozen cases, one official said, and this time she said he was not the man in the broadcast."

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2003 08:50:00 AM


Bill Moyers on Flag Pins

Moyer's provides us with an example of grotesque moral relativism:

"I put it on to remind myself that not every patriot thinks we should do to the people of Baghdad what bin Laden did to us."

The U.S. is specifically making best efforts to strike at targets that butress one of the most brutish regimes of the 20th century so as to topple it as expeditiously as possible with minimum collateral damage. UBL's attack on the WTC was aimed at creating the greatest amount of carnage possible in NYC with the express intent of murdering thousands of civilians. And Moyer's equates these two actions?

posted by Gregory| 3/20/2003 10:40:00 PM

Reticent Ankara

The U.S.-Turkish relationship continues to detiorate:

"Today's developments caused an immediate plunge in stocks here. They also represented a setback for American military planning and reflected a serious strain in relations between Turkey and the United States, longtime allies and NATO partners."These two countries are strong partners," said a senior Turkish government official. But, the official added: "If you said there would be no impact on our relationship, that's unrealistic. There is going to be a sort of mark, especially on the American side. They are more upset than we are."

Clearly, the amount of influence Turkey will have in a post-Saddam Iraq continues to diminish from Washington's perspective. The question is, will it diminish so much that Ankara will feel compelled to protect its own interests by force in contravention of U.S. policy objectives?

UPDATE: Airspace transit (with limitations) approved.

posted by Gregory| 3/20/2003 03:52:00 PM

WMD Attack? Mais Qui, We Shall Help! (Well, Sorta)

Much noise yesterday regarding statements from French sources that, should Iraq employ WMD during the conflict, "that would change completely...the situation" and the French would support U.S forces.

Well, let's not get carried away:

France's ambassador in Washington, Jean-David Levitte, appeared to offer an olive branch to the United States on Tuesday when he told CNN that France could help the U.S.-led military coalition if Baghdad used biological or chemical arms. But French diplomats in Paris made clear this was not a change in France's refusal to join the war. "It is obvious we wouldn't sit back and not help if there was a chemical attack. But what we are talking about is medical assistance," one said. [my emphasis]

Keep the ambulances, Jacques. We've got plenty.

posted by Gregory| 3/20/2003 02:33:00 PM

John Burns

Regular readers might wonder, if you disparage the NYT so much, why do you continue reading it? One reason is John Burns, who in my opinion, is the greatest correspondent the NYT has. Who can forget his tremendously heartfelt yet sober, elegant yet blunt, panoramic yet highly specific reportage during the height of the Sarajevo seige? Via Andrew Sullivan, here's what Burns had to say on PBS last night:

"Iraqis have suffered beyond, I think, the common understanding of the United States from the repression of the past 30 years here. And many, many Iraqis are telling us now, not always in the whispers he have heard in the past but now in quite candid conversations, that they are waiting for America to come and bring them liberty. It's very hard though for anybody to understand this. It can only be understood in terms of the depth of the repression here. It has to be said that this not universal of course... All I can tell you is that as every reporter who has come over here will attest to this, there is the most extraordinary experience of the last few days has been a sudden breaking of the ice here, with people in every corner of life coming forward to tell us that they understand what America is about in this. They are very, very fearful of course of the bombing, of damage to Iraq's infrastructure. They are very concerned about the kind of governance, the American military governance, that they will come under afterward. Can I just say that there is also no doubt - no doubt - that there are many, many Iraqis who see what is about to happen here as the moment of liberation."

We must hope this war proceeds with minimum civilian casualties and expeditiously. We must hope for, as rapidly as it is safe to do so, allowing Iraqis to gain control of their polity so that a swaggering MacArthur like figure doesn't become a lighting rod for anti-American sentiment through the region. But these hugely important variables aside, read intently what Burns is stating: Saddamism (a brutish, tribal form of neo-Stalinism) is beginning to crumble under the pressure Dubya has placed on the Baathist regime even before the war has begun in earnest. And, most Iraqis would view Saddam's displacement as a liberation. Of course no one wants to be liberated under a hail of bombs--yet still Iraqis are "waiting for America to come and bring them liberty" knowing, tragically, that massive bombing campaigns are imminent.

Burns isn't some impressionable young hack, some Pyle-like figure out of a Graham Greene novel--full of Yankee idealism and thirsting to bring democracy to the natives. This is a great war correspondent who has been around the block for decades telling us something very important--that most Iraqis view the potential fruits of this war as their liberation. What could be more important?

posted by Gregory| 3/20/2003 11:34:00 AM

Of Priorities

The NYT, on the first full day of the war, takes us on a long, strange trip through California.

Money quote: "During some lunchtime and office-cooler chatter there has even been longing for President Clinton, a Hollywood favorite, who, the reasoning goes, would never have allowed a war to play havoc with Oscar night, one of the state's most hallowed traditions."

No, I'm not making this up.

Meanwhile, the NYT goes on to do one of its representative "mood of the nation" pieces. This time, however, we are treated to a tour d'horizon focused solely on NYC. Who, you might wonder, are the representative New Yorkers?

An upper west side family whose matriarch advises: "We're a family here...and there's all these families over there, with kids (her 18 month old son is conveniently lolling about during the interview squealing), and they don't have anything to do with this war"; a solitary protestor in Union Square with a poster sign entitled "George You Ignorant Slut"; a chef waiting for a bus who, perhaps resulting from a professional deformation, advises that the commencement of hostilities makes him "sick to my stomach"; a guy called Lars on the No. 1 train reading "The Great Gatsby" who states: "this concerns me only because I don't believe we gave peace a chance (Dominique wasn't available for a soundbite on the downtown train)"; Avenue A kids listening to a Japanese noise band at a cafe opining "This war is so wrong, I'm completely against it"; and a hapless fellow at a Little Italy cafe who wants the Knicks game on over CNN footage from Iraq.

Any balance? Any pro-intervention sentiment is disparaged in barely concealed fashion. Back at the bus terminal, we have a pro-war guy trotted out by the NYT whose favorite film is "Patton" (jingoist fool, right?), as well as veterans, one of whom is mockingly quoted as stating "Thanks God for satellite TV, we didn't watch WWII like this," and, and that's about it folks.

The message is clear: NYC doesn't want Bush's bloody war--or at least Howell's blatantly biased rendition of the city doesn't.

posted by Gregory| 3/20/2003 09:18:00 AM
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