The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


A Veritable Orgy of Anti-Bush Sentiment at the Guardian!

The Guardian has asked some estimable folks to write in to George Bush. So, with some trepidation, I checked out the sixty odd letters to Dubya.

Note: Bolded language below is my emphasis.

Here are some of the more memorable ones:

Dear George,

Under your friend Tony Blair, the British government has implemented harsh immigration laws. The pretext has always been that the arrival of certain immigrants would not be conducive to the public good because it would create social disorder, and that the majority of British people would not stand for it.

I am opposed to these laws on principle. But, given the number of deaths you are responsible for, the social disorder your arrival will create and the fact that most British people would rather that you did not come, your case is an exception.

If you feel this is unfair, I am sure the Home Office would be happy to incarcerate you in a hostel while it considers an appeal.

Gary Younge
New York correspondent, the Guardian
PS When you go, can you take Tony with you?

And you wonder why the Guardian is so often blatantly anti-American and has been known to have problems with fact-based reporting and such journalistic niceties?

After all, Younge (remember, their very own NY correspondent, a plum posting, it should be said) wrote that "most British people would rather that you [Bush] did not come..."

But his very own paper is running a poll to the contrary!

I mean, a majority of Guardianish Labour voters support Dubya's visit.

Say it ain't so Gary!

It's not just Guardian journalists who are all in a tizzy. Some scientists are too--as this hateful screed reveals.

Dear Mr Bush (I'd say President Bush if you had actually been elected),

"I've been asked to give advice to you on touching down in Britain. It is this. Go home. You aren't wanted here. You aren't wanted anywhere else either, but you may have been misunderinformed that Britain was the one place where you would be welcomified. Wrong. Well, presumably your best pal Tony welcomes you. But that's about it. Your motorcades, your helicopters, your triggerhappy guards will try to protect you from the people of Britain, who would otherwise spoil the photo-ops for the folks back home. But be in no doubt. We despise you here too. After you and Jeb stole the election (by a margin smaller than the number of folks you executed in Texas) you were rightly written off as a one-term president: a fair advertisement for Drunks For Jesus but otherwise an idle nonentity; inarticulate, unintelligent, an ignorant hick. September 11 changed all that. Not that you covered yourself with glory that day. You are said to admire Churchill. Can you imagine Churchill, at such a moment, panicking all around the country from airbase to airbase? Even nasty old Rummy bunkered down where he belonged.

Never mind, your puppeteers from the Project for the New American Century recognised the opportunity they had been waiting for. September 11 was your golden Pearl Harbor. This was how you'd get elected in 2004 (not re-elected, elected). You would announce a War on Terror. American troops would win. And you would be the victorious warlord, swaggering in a flight suit before a Mission Accomplished banner.

It worked in Afghanistan. But then those puppeteers moved on to their long-term project: Iraq. Never mind that you had to lie about weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that Iraq had not the smallest connection with 9/11. The good folks back home would never know the difference between Saddam and Osama. You would ride the paranoid patriotism aroused by 9/11 all the way into Iraq, and hand out oil and reconstruction contracts to Dick Cheney's boys. That escapade is now backfiring horribly, as many of us said it would. No wonder young American travellers are sewing Canadian flags to their rucksacks. What we in Britain won't forgive is that you have dragged us down too. Go home
Richard Dawkins

Oh the hatred!

Wait though, want the invective even worse (at least in its succinctness)?

Well, there's Harold Pinter, of course:

Dear President Bush,

I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.
Harold Pinter

Remember, this is the eminent intellectual who has written such (what to call it?) doggerel in the past:

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false." [ed. note: He wrote that in 1958]

"I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false

Deep, huh? Talk about a mega-poseur and a charlatan.

Oh, check out this missive from a Princeton prof that fairly drips with contempt.

Dear George,

First, do no harm. Your state visit to the UK is risky, unpopular and awkward enough. Many Americans will be nervously peeking at the TV news from between our tightly crossed fingers and praying that you don't utterly disgrace us. Don't go all folksy and Texan, thanking Tony Blair for his friendship. He has enough to deal with already in the Labour party without receiving any more public kisses of political death from you. Don't interrupt when someone is asking you a question. Try not to puke on the Queen.

Second, despite all the security arrangements, physical barriers and traditions that make a state visit - as you have said yourself - like travelling in a bubble, you can make an effort to learn from this trip. You've said that you admire the longstanding British tradition of free speech. This week, free speech will be blasting in Trafalgar Square and in the streets. Pay attention. To British ears, your claim not to read polls sounds like stolid indifference to public opinion, not moral strength and political courage. Even if you are sheltered from the demonstrations, read the British newspapers - the whole raucous range of them. Watch television; listen to the radio. Competition as well as tradition makes the British media the feistiest in the world. If you argue your position from awareness of what they are saying, rather than ignorance, you may win some respect.

Ride in a London taxi. Why don't we have those superb vehicles here in Washington? Please get us some. And meditate upon the traits of intelligence, humour and dignity that will always make Britain great, whatever her status as a military power.
Best wishes for a safe journey,

Elaine Showalter
Writer and professor of literature, Princeton University

While she's at it, Ms. Showalter might dig into her previously published tracts to enhance her self-understanding.

Shall we go back a bit more towards the hateful screed motif rather than contemptuous dribblings from points Princeton?

Here's a "human rights" lawyer:

Dear George Bush,

I address you, George, in your capacity as the world's leading terrorist fundamentalist. Secure in your multimillions of dollars and your helpfully reinforcing pieties, I doubt you will see any reason to be interested in what the rest of the world makes of you. Thankfully, an increasing number of Americans are beginning to see you through the eyes of the rest of the world, so your reign could be shortlived.

Truthfully, George, you are a disaster. You have managed, in a few short months and years, to identify the first part of the 21st century as the time when a voracious new American empire burst upon the world. In the world outside the US, nobody believes in your calls for democracy. You stole your own election. You try to strangle democracies, like Venezuela, which do not deliver pliant regimes. And everywhere the ordinary people of the earth, the overwhelming majority, will pay the price for your corrupt adventures.

Nearer your home, hundreds of men rot in Guantanamo Bay without access to justice. Thousands have "disappeared" on the US mainland. You preside over the worst witch hunt in public life since Senator McCarthy. Poverty, unemployment, racism are all on the rise. Like most "emperors", you poison your homeland while trying to devour the resources of the world.

We live in a world, George, where we have to live together, to find common solutions to the huge problems that afflict us. The horrific irony is that there are answers to poverty; to war, racism, disease and ignorance. You, in the name of your god and your country, are deliberately drowning out those answers in your patriotic and bellicose clamour, because as you know they imply a world without you or your kind.

Imran Khan [ed. note: No, no, this isn't Jemima's hubby]
Human rights lawyer

Tell me Imran, who are these "thousands [who] have disappeared"?

I mean, you're a lawyer. Might you essay the merest of evidencings of your wild and baseless contentions then?

Oh, but why bother? The chaps in Shoreditch, Islington and Hoxton will have just loved your letter.

Of course, you can't even begin to evidence your absurd claims, can you? Your credibility thus plummets.

Anyway, have you, dear B.D. reader, a pretty good taste by now? It's pretty much a veritable orgy of anti-Bush (read: anti-American?) sentiment.

Mostly mendacious claptrap, to boot, of course. But boy is it hateful mendacious claptrap!

NB: But click through the link at the top of the post for more. I didn't just "cherry-pick" the worst of the lot. There's more!

Don't miss a 12 year old Bush-hater trotted out (an opinionated little chap, he starts his letter thus: "I would just like to say how much I hate you"!), the obligatory note from a sibling of a Gitmo detainee, a pretty lame missive from Salam Pax, some offensively poor poetry (about, you guessed it, Pinteresque 'bomb' themes), and more.

The Guardian, of course, had to print a few pro-Bush missives too.

I mean, you know, they aren't the Independent or some such ultra-left outfit...

Here are the better ones:

Dear Mr President,

Today you arrive in my country for the first state visit by an American president for many decades, and I bid you welcome.

You will find yourself assailed on every hand by some pretty pretentious characters collectively known as the British left. They traditionally believe they have a monopoly on morality and that your recent actions preclude you from the club. You opposed and destroyed the world's most blood-encrusted dictator. This is quite unforgivable.

I beg you to take no notice. The British left intermittently erupts like a pustule upon the buttock of a rather good country. Seventy years ago it opposed mobilisation against Adolf Hitler and worshipped the other genocide, Josef Stalin.

It has marched for Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov. It has slobbered over Ceausescu and Mugabe. It has demonstrated against everything and everyone American for a century. Broadly speaking, it hates your country first, mine second.

Eleven years ago something dreadful happened. Maggie was ousted, Ronald retired, the Berlin wall fell and Gorby abolished communism. All the left's idols fell and its demons retired. For a decade there was nothing really to hate. But thank the Lord for his limitless mercy. Now they can applaud Saddam, Bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il... and hate a God-fearing Texan. So hallelujah and have a good time
Frederick Forsyth

Oh, and check out this wonderful note from Charles Powell that also echoes my previous post of yesterday on Mugabe etc:

Dear Mr President,

You will certainly have been briefed that various quaint rituals have their place in a state visit to Britain. One of them is a noisy and possibly violent demonstration. This is reserved only for the heads of state of Britain's closest allies. If you are merely President Mugabe or erstwhile President Ceausescu, you don't qualify for a demonstration, and poor old Saddam would never be paid the compliment were he to make it to Britain - certainly not by the people who will be demonstrating against you.

There are many of us in Britain who admire the way in which you have declared war on terrorism in what our own prime minister has described as "the battle of seminal importance for the first part of the 21st century". We respect you for ejecting the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq, even though the situation in the latter country still presents serious challenges. We share, too, your belief that the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the hands of plainly evil and dangerous regimes is something which cannot be tolerated and must be stopped.

Sadly, there are so-called allies who do not have the stomach to face up to these threats but prefer to duck them or procrastinate. We in Britain don't hesitate to challenge your decisions when we think you are wrong. Such as your overambitious initial plans for postwar Iraq, your steel tariffs or your rejection of the Kyoto accord. We shall continue to push you in directions in which you are reluctant to move, like the road map for peace in the Middle East. But when the chips are really down, Britain is as always a firm ally, standing alongside the United States in the cause of making the world a safer place. That is what we have done for well over half a century and what we shall continue to do, whatever the chants of the demonstrators. It's called the special relationship.

So welcome to Britain, Mr President. The state visit is a compliment to your great country, to your high office and to you.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Powell
Member of the House of Lords; foreign affairs adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major

Well, Maggie's foreign affairs adviser would say that, wouldn't he? Bravo.

posted by Gregory| 11/18/2003 11:19:00 PM

The London Follies

Some recent visits to London that didn't create quite the ballyhoo that Dubya's appears certain to (juxtaposed with some interesting information regarding the relevant human rights records of said leaders).

1) Jiang Zemin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"In February a domestic publication reported that an engineer in Liaoning province, suspected of theft, suffered brain damage as a result of hours of beatings while in police custody. The police eventually determined that the engineer was innocent and released her. She later sued the local government. Chinese reporters who attended her trial said that there were efforts in court to intimidate them. Also in February, a government-owned television station in Sichuan broadcast film taken secretly of city police officers beating and spitting on suspects in an effort to coerce confessions and to extort bribes. In June a Hong Kong human rights group reported that labor activist Guo Xinmin was beaten repeatedly and hung by his tied hands by police interrogators trying to extract a confession. The same human rights organization also received a letter from a former vice mayor of Harbin, which had been smuggled out of prison, in which he claimed to have been beaten and given electric shocks while in custody. According to Amnesty International, some adherents of Falun Gong were tortured with electric shocks, as well as by having their hands and feet shackled and linked with crossed steel chains."

2) Vladimir Putin.

The human rights record.

A sampler:

"New rounds of Russian sweep operations affected central and eastern Chechnya in late 2001 and early 2002, with some villages targeted repeatedly over several months. During these operations, Russian troops detained numerous men, often arbitrarily, and looted civilian homes. Detainees routinely faced ill-treatment and torture, and many subsequently "disappeared."

More on the "disappeared" here.

3) Bashar Assad.

The record.

Key graf:

"Despite the presidential succession, Syrians continued to be denied civil and political rights. Freedom of expression, association, and assembly were strictly limited in law and practice; the local media and access to the Internet remained state-controlled; and the pervasive powers of the security forces under the country's long-standing emergency law, in force since 1963, were intact. There were no effective safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture; civilian and military prisons, including the infamous Tadmor in the Palmyran desert, remained off-limits to independent observers; and the Kurdish minority continued to be denied basic rights, including the right to a nationality for tens of thousands. No one inside the country dared to advocate justice and accountability for current and former government officials responsible for gross human rights abuses, including the massacre of possibly as many as 1,100 unarmed prisoners at Tadmor in 1980, and the military assault on the city of Hama in 1982 in which thousands were killed."

4) Robert Mugabe.

The human rights track record.


"The attacks by state security forces were very brutal. In addition to beating victims with blunt objects, police and army personnel burned victims with cigarettes, forced them to drink poison, urine or other toxic liquids, sexually assaulted them with blunt objects, and beat individuals on the soles of their feet. There was no distinction made between family members of suspects and the suspects themselves. In some cases, it seems that family members were brutalized either to punish suspects or in the hopes of extracting information. In other cases, family members were mistaken for suspects or were thought to be hiding them. When security forces arrived at the house of a MDC activist two days after the stayaway, for instance, they mistook the suspect’s mother for her. The attack on the mother did not stop once the activist identified herself: “I heard my mother screaming from inside my room, so I came out. Unfortunately, I had a poster of Morgan [Tsvangirai, MDC President] on my wall, and when they saw it they went crazy. They started beating me with a cord and broken hosepipes, and they were yelling and calling me names. I saw the piece of cloth my mother was wearing had fallen down, and they were beating her. And they made her part her legs, and they put the AK inside her.”

5) Jacques Chirac.

OK, I'm kidding! (I think?)

Seriously, though, no judicious observer can place George Bush's human rights record in the same camp as leaders like Putin, Assad, Zemin, or Mugabe.

And yet all those leaders' London pass-throughs were delightfully non-eventful as compared to what awaits Dubya.

To be sure, the U.S. should be held to a higher standard as the self-proclaimed avatar of human rights on the world stage.

But these mega-protests aren't really about collateral damage, or Gitmo, or the Patriot Act. Nor are they about those nefarious neo-cons or the perils of the (supposedly extant) preemption doctrine.

This is really more all about the difficulties of being this epoch's Roman Empire. What do I mean? Simply that America's unrivaled power is the cause of so much of this hyperventilation and hand-wringing.

Put differently, a mixture of fascination, envy and fear bred of feverish hyperbole about the gunslinging cowboy George leading the biggest outlaw state of them all. And, the tired story goes, taking the world down a road to perma-war.

Yep, the fascination/resentment/obsession is deep. How else to explain such adolescently exuberant stories regarding the Emperor's movements?

Or that the most popular America bashers in Europe are themselves Americans. Such personages are the darlings of the chattering classes of the Euro-left--whose best 'domestic' competition appear to be pretty absurd characters like Red Ken.

It reminds me of the February 15th anti-war protest in Hyde Park. Jesse Jackson got the most reaction from the crowd--even with Livingstone (as well as the disgraced Galloway) strutting their stuff to the locals.

Bottom line: during this period of unrivaled hyperpuissance, the U.S.'s motivations will be subjected to the crudest conspiracy theories, stereotypes, and canards--mostly on the basis of the power the country wields on the world stage rather than any fundamental policy shifts Dubya has ushered in.

Yes there are intelligent critiques of U.S. policy to be heard. Sure, we could sometimes communicate better (Bush can obviously be tone deaf with audiences overseas sometimes). Yes we've made mistakes over the past couple of years in being overly aggressive in some of our diplomacy.

But, let's be honest with ourselves. It's simply not easy to speak rationally (about the very real security perils of a post 9/11 world) to the clownish coterie that will be burning Dubya in effigy at Trafalgar Sq. in a couple days.

Especially given that the very same individuals were doubtless silent when the leaders I blogged about above were passing through olde London town.

All leaders with far worse human rights records than Dubya, no?

So tell me again what exactly these protests are really about? Because I'm not sure I fully get it.

UPDATE: Adesnik's feedback.

posted by Gregory| 11/18/2003 12:09:00 AM


40 Terror Warnings

On Israeli or Jewish targets worldwide at this time. Israel's spymaster, in rare Knesset testimony for a Mossad chief, has the worrisome details.

Oh, and put his take on the Iranian nukes program in the proverbial "No Shit Department." Teheran is, of course, continuing to move ahead on acquiring a nuclear capability.

UPDATE: "I wouldn't have gone quite as far." Heh.

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 08:57:00 PM

The Guardian

Its blog has some links up on the impending Bush visit to the UK. Go there for the Frost interview (video via RealPlayer), the Sun interview, a Telegraph parody of a State Dept memo and other links. I'm in London right now--and will likely be in town through the visit. So I hope to have more on all this soon.

In the meantime, I might just mention that some of Sully's readers get the current mood in these parts about right.

Oh, and here's a fairly typical treatment of the visit (from the usually pretty pro-American Spectator).

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 08:23:00 PM

Keller Watch

Check out a pretty typical (if somewhat subtle) example of NYT spin in a story about the Saddam tape that emerged yesterday:

"If the new tape broadcast by the station Al Arabiya in Dubai proves genuine, it would be the first message from Mr. Hussein to be aired in two months, revealing a belligerent conviction on his part that Iraqis want him back seven months after he fled ahead of American forces.

Here in the northern city of Mosul, where Mr. Hussein's Baath Party, now banned, had deep roots and former army generals were elected to run the city after the war, American military officials said they were still investigating whether ground fire contributed to the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters here on Saturday
." [emphasis added]

It's almost like Saddam shot down the Black Hawk himself, isn't it?

posted by Gregory| 11/17/2003 09:25:00 AM


The State of France

Collin May looks to have an interesting series of posts on tap over at Innocents Abroad. In particular, I will look forward to his comments on Revel (who penned this excellent book) and literary gadfly Michel Houellebecq.

posted by Gregory| 11/15/2003 07:08:00 PM

Israeli Politics

More on the failed policies of Arik Sharon from domestic critics (and not Yossi Beilin or Shimon Peres "dreamer" types). The pressure on the embattled Israeli PM continues to ratchet up.

It's increasingly clear there won't be a "Nixon goes to China" under his watch. Sharon's PM-ship will be viewed mostly as a failure. In the end, he will be seen as never having been able to outgrow his military-centric world view (unlike Rabin or Barak).

Put differently, he was incapable of truly grasping that no morally viable military solution exists to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that therefore peace feelers, during key moments of opportunity, need to be pursued with real alacrity--despite the attendant risks that are so often part of the perilous landscape there.

Yes, Arafat's refusal to give up (fully, irrevocably) terror as strategy is most to blame for the awful state of affairs in the Holy Land. But Sharon never made serious efforts to give the Palestinians enough by way of concessions (particularly during the short, and ill fated, Abu Mazen period) to ever persuasively signal he had a serious interest in a non-military strategy.

And the abdication of a serious peace processing role by Washington has been just shy of breathtaking.

"In unusually brazen criticism of the government's handling of the conflict with the Palestinians, four former heads of the Shin Bet security service warned Friday of a "catastrophe" if a peace deal is not reached with the Palestinians.

"We are heading downhill towards near-catastrophe. If nothing happens and we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves," ex-security chief Yaakov Perry told the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, reflecting a consensus among his three colleagues - Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom and Carmi Gillon

posted by Gregory| 11/15/2003 06:54:00 PM


"Guarded Optimism"

More fair play over at the NYT.

The obligatory reference to Vietnam, to be sure, but the chart (with accompanying text) that is given prominent play in today's op-ed pages strikes the right notes.

posted by Gregory| 11/14/2003 09:30:00 AM


We Told You So!

You're not surprised are you? The self-congratulatory chit chat is perking up over at Le Monde. Schadenfreude over the Seine is being combined with the self-satisfied snickers of the omniscient 'I told you so' Bordelaise schoolmarm--an offensive mixture, to say the least.

Le Monde's correspondent even eagerly relays that the French Congressional Club is becoming the ne plus ultra of select Beltway precincts.

Who would have thunk? The French is back in Freedom Fries. The chic is back in Chirac.


Because wasn't Dominique de Villepin telling all of us so many months ago to handover power to the Iraqis soonest?

And isn't that what hapless Georgy is so belatedly doing now?

Except that's not quite what the U.S. is doing. And that's not quite what the French had recommended we do. Otherwise why would the French still be complaining their position on Iraq is still too divergent with the U.S. one?

Because, for one, the Bush administration still realizes that a rapid fire full-blown handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis could well backfire in a very big way.

Here were de Villepin's key post war strategic musings (also, surprise, courtesy of Le Monde!)

Don't (lucky sap!) read French? I blogged about some key portions a while back here.

De Villepin was advising that U.S. troops be scaled down and authority be handed over to the Iraqis more quickly (mostly simply so that we defused that alarming Rive Gauche construct called the "logic of occupation").

But how, I mean, really how is that an efficacious policy option back when he was writing or, more importantly, now?

Without really ensuring adequate security, somewhat stabilized economic conditions, a burgeoning sense of ethnic cooperation--how does one just, willy-nilly, hand off power to a provisional government?

Such complexities were never really discussed by de Villepin.

He would have liked to U.N-ize the effort (think Srebrenica); scaled down U.S. forces (think greater Ba'athist resurgence), and had a provisional government up and running within a month or so (think mega-ethnic bickering without a proconsul mediating).

So how to combat an effective and determined counter-insurgency? And how to so expeditiously create a provisional government amidst all the secretarian and ethnic differences in Iraq?

De Villepin had written:

"Today, it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves so as to allow them to fully assume their responsibilities. Then the different communities, I hope, will find the strength to work together." [emphasis added]

But "hope", as is often said, doesn't a strategy make.

Even for de Villepin the notion of the Shi'a, Sunni, Turkomen, Kurds (not to mention internal rivalries amidst said groups) beginning to work together as a sovereign, effective government within a month was a long shot.

Sure the Governing Council often feels ineffective and unwieldy. Maybe we need a smaller body.

But who will get ejected from the present body? Who decides?

Do the French have suggestions on all this that are detailed, implementable, in a word, serieux?

Or is it all pretty much take-a-good-pull-on-the-Gauloise-and-exhale-derived-musings that aren't really, at the end of the day, practicable?

So What to Do?

Some people are proposing potentially implementable ideas that had seen some light in the not so distant past.

Juan Cole, a passionate and smart observer of the Iraq scene (though unfortunately too myopically focused on solely the bad news from Iraq) writes:

"The US must go back to the Garner plan, of calling a national congress of about 250 delegates from all over the country, chosen by their townships or clans. They must elect an interim president, who could appoint a cabinet. Holding such a national congress is risky, since the outcome is unpredictable. But it is the only way to get a legitimate government...

That shouldn't be so hard. In fact, that's what I thought the Bush administration had been saying it was aiming for in removing Saddam. Any other way of proceeding will make the political and military situation worse, not better

But it is going to be hard.

Damn hard.

The Sunnis will be even more concerned about a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerging if the township ballot counting occurs so soon--in times of such great uncertainty and historical flux--especially for the Sunnis who feel pretty embattled at the moment.

I agree with Cole that an attempted resurrection of the Hashemite throne would be folly and immensely dumb policy.

But between and among crowning a Hashemite (or an Ahmed Chalabi) Supreme Leader, slogging along with the unwieldy Governing Council or calling for a national congress--there might be some viable middle ground to be found.

Perhaps a less unwieldly pared-down interim authority. Perhaps with fewer exiles in it--and more leaders with real grass roots support in their communities (yeah, that means no to Chalabi).

But I'm just too worried that conditions in Iraq are not ripe for a national congress just yet. Imagine the elections in the environs of Tikrit, Falluja and the like.

Ballot-counters and poll attendants would be viewed as collaborators. They might be protected at the polling stations--but not in their beds at night. And there would be bombing attacks in predominately Shi'a and Kurdish regions too.

Anything to scuttle the balloting project. Remember, democratic processes spell the very death-knell of the Baathist or jihadi project.

My point? We need security re-established first. That's not to say that we can't pursue a more serious counter-insurgency efforts while simultaneously handing off more powers to Iraqis--perhaps via such elections. But conditions won't be ripe for such an exercise for a while, I fear.

The Road Ahead

Listen, no doubt, the U.S. has its hands full. A too rapid turnover, even with a sizable (or ideally increased) U.S. force presence could backfire. And a too slow handover increases the percentage of Iraqis who views us less as liberators and more as occupiers.

Somewhere amidst all these complexities lies a middle path that we need to navigate.

Meanwhile, security needs to be established so that conditions of normality enhance the prospects of an effective handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, ie. one that doesn't lead to the potential dissolution of the state amidst secretarian and ethnic bitterness.

But we're simply not at the point yet. We still need the 'benign MacArthur' that is Jerry Bremer.

The trick is looking benign in the midst of an ongoing war. Remember, Japan and Germany had unconditionally surrendered. The Ba'athist guerrillas are still hard at it.

Defeating the Saddam loyalists must be the priority task. Even more than rushing towards the erection of a provisional government that is likely to totter easily given current conditions in Iraq.

That's what de Villepin and his ilk don't get. And what we must hope Bush does.

It's becoming a mantra over here at B.D.--but I'll say it yet again.

We need more troops. The quicker the insurgency is quashed--the quicker the handover of sovereingty to the Iraqi people themselves. We can be a bit more willing to hand over responsibilities and real authority to the Iraqis--but only, finally, in tandem with real progress vis-a-vis an improving security situation. Therefore, ensuring a better security environment must be the focus of our main efforts at the present time.

Put differently, we aren't nation-building and setting up polling stations just yet.

We're still at war.

posted by Gregory| 11/13/2003 08:40:00 PM

A Turning Point in Iraq

The significant uptick in violence of the past few weeks, the rapid-fire Jerry Bremer visit back in Washington--speculation is mounting that we are at a pivot point in Iraq.

Some are getting a bit carried away (speculation that Saddam planned all of this to happen just so; that U.S rule in Iraq is simply collapsing etc.) but we are clearly at a critical juncture.

Like often in the past, I think John Burns has got the best pulse on the situation when he reports:

"Aides to General Sanchez said the choice of the word "war" was part of a conscious effort by senior military officers to inject realism into debates in Washington. American officials disclosed Tuesday that the chief American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, had left abruptly for talks in Washington."

If true, and if the new realism is being appropriately digested by the key actors in Washington--than this is actually a good development--if we back all this newfound realism up with more troops.

As John McCain recently put it (and I quote at length for those who don't routinely click through to the links):

"It was clear during the summer that we didn't have sufficient forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations within the Sunni triangle, secure necessary facilities, guard the borders to prevent foreign jihadists from flooding across or responding to an upsurge in violence if it occurred. In early September, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, admitted that his forces could not handle any new eruption of conflict in Iraq. Quote: "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt," he said, "that would be a challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for."

Since then, attacks on American forces have doubled to over 30 a day, and their increasing sophistication has made them more lethal. American military commanders have acknowledged that the Iraqi resistance shows signs of being centrally planned and coordinated. Yet the number of American forces in Iraq has not increased. Given the large support tail required of such a force, it is estimated that the number of American troops on patrol in Iraq at any given time is under 30,000. This is an insufficient number of troops to even play defense, much less take the fight to our enemy and create the conditions for the lasting peace that will enable Iraqis to assume full political authority and Americans to go home.

Our overall troop level in Iraq does not reflect a careful assessment of what it takes to achieve victory. It reflects the number of American forces who were in Iraq when the war ended, minus the Marines who were sent home. Simply put, there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq, other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives. It makes even less sense to defend a troop ceiling that has been in place since April as American forces and our Iraqi allies come under increasingly savage attack.

U.S. military forces have sealed off the town of Tikrit. This is a welcome step. It's a hotbed of resistance. It would make sense to pursue this same strategy in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other Ba'athist strongholds within the Sunni triangle. But we do not have the forces in place to do that.

To win in Iraq, we should increase the number of forces in- country, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. I believe we must have in place another full division, giving us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts search and destroy operations and holds territory. Such a strategy would be the kind of new mission General Sanchez agreed would require additional forces. It's a mystery to me why they are not forthcoming. We cannot achieve our political goals as long as a strategic region of Iraq is in a state of fundamental insecurity. The transformation that matters is in Iraq and the Middle East, not in some abstract conception of military reform

Put differently, I'm not sure these types of invigorated tactics will get the job done adequately (though they might induce some chest-thumping among some of the dimmer Fox News anchors and commentators).

But even worse than merely relying mostly on air strikes that don't really lead to controlling territory and truly pursuing the long, hard slog of a sustained and serious counterinsurgency campaign--even worse would be a rush to Iraqify followed by a sizable reduction of U.S. forces.

Many Dems are likely hoping this happens, and are already spinning it as the Karl Rove 'get the boys home and the poll numbers up' option.

Note that those fledgling Iraqi forces, especially if they are too hastily trained, could well be bloodied up very badly by Ba'athist remnants, Saddam Fedayeen, criminals killing them for cash, and foreign jihadis--especially in the midst of a serious dimunition in the American force presence.

If that's our game plan (and I still believe it's not--but have Adesnikish gnaws of doubt)--Bush loses me and, I suspect, many others who are serious about the disciplined pursuit of the American national interest in the post 9/11 world.

UPDATE: Oh, and sending in the blue helmets ain't gonna cut it either.

posted by Gregory| 11/13/2003 01:06:00 PM


A Belated Veterans Day

I often criticize the NYT in this space. But they struck just the right tone and provided an immensely moving Veterans Day remembrance by printing excerpted text of letters home from now deceased servicemen and women.

The letters weren't somehow strategically selected to score cheap political points. They fairly represent that mixture of pride, fear, boredom, exhilaration, and homesickness of the soldiers serving in Iraq.

As someone who supported this war--these letters hit me hard. I read them more than once--remembering that the "each death is a tragedy" mantra (typically employed when taking stock of Iraq body counts as compared to previous conflicts to make the point that fatalities aren't high on a historical basis) must never be standard boiler plate that one merely inserts into text clinically.

It really means something--as these letters remind us so very vividly.

Take the unabashed pride and total lack of cynicism in the letter of this Captain, about my age, to his parents. He closes:

"I love you both with all of my heart! I'm working very hard here — adding honor to our country and to our family name!"

What a refreshing tonic to the cheap, irony-infused popular culture we mostly inhabit. To the feverish whines of those obsessed with diet fads, materialistic prestige, botox injections, and so on.

Or this female soldier, now dead too, describing the effects of hitting an improvised explosive device ("IED"):

"I'm doing fine, Mom. Yes, I did get into a sort of accident, if that's what you call it. We were hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) or RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), which set our truck on fire because it struck the battery and fuel line. My neck and shoulder were pretty banged up for about two weeks. My shoulder popped (dislocated) and I jammed my neck as well. I lost my hearing in my left ear for a few weeks. My hearing in general isn't good at all anymore. I've been through my share of explosives. I'm sending pictures home to be developed of my truck (or what's left of it). I took a few of me with the truck, so you could all see that I'm O.K."

She was 19.

There really aren't words for all this beyond reading the letters themselves.

I guess though, in the final analysis, Gregg Easterbrook gets it about right:

"And we must marvel at the nobility of people like Rachel Bosveld, Joshua Byers, Robert Frantz, Jesse Givens, and Kevin Moorhead, whose boots we are not fit to wash."

posted by Gregory| 11/12/2003 01:10:00 PM

Italian Military Police HQ Attack

The guerrillas in Iraq are showing a real degree of sophistication re: timing (in terms of maximizing political impact) with today's attack on the Italian MP HQ in Nasiriya.

President Ciampi's visit to Washington will now be totally overshadowed by this attack--particularly, of course, in the political discourse in Italy.

posted by Gregory| 11/12/2003 12:15:00 PM


Scheduling Issues

I'm on a deal that is ramping up and will be in meetings pretty much around the clock. Unfortunately, the hotel where I'm at doesn't have Internet access in the rooms and the business center closes at the (astonishingly early!) hour of 7 PM. So, while I do hope to pursue intermittent blogging by somehow getting through these various hurdles, don't expect the typical output from B.D. through the week. Apologies!

posted by Gregory| 11/09/2003 09:58:00 PM


Bush's Speech

Check out this somewhat critical WaPo analysis. I hope to have more on this soon.

UPDATE: I'm a little late to the party (wait, the party's bigger than I realized!), but wanted to put down a few comments on Bush's recent speech at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Like much of the blogosphere judging from the above links--I found the speech to be highly impressive and inspiring. You can't help but be inspired by the hugely bold and ambitious task that George Bush outlined in the speech.

Despite that, however, I'm going to focus on some of the problems I had with the speech that I haven't seen commented on in the blogosphere.

I've got three main beefs with the speech. One, per the WaPo article linked above, the noble rhetoric isn't always matched by our policy. Two, the Arab world is hugely skeptical of the President's message which will, in turn, hamper our efforts to pursue the democratization project in that region. And three, I've seen no thinking about what occurs if democratic elections, should they be held in certain countries in the region, lead to results that are contrary to the U.S. national interest.

For instance, what if extremist Islamist movements were to gain power through the ballot box? The so-called "one man, one vote, one time" issue.

Relatedly, this begs a deeper question that American commentators rarely confront--is democratization in the Middle East definitively in the U.S. national interest?

Why the "Democratic Exception"?

Let me start with the third problem I've got with the speech first. Richard Haass has spoken of a "democratic exception" that has characterized our Middle East policy over the past few decades. Put simply, while the democratization agenda typically was a major part of our diplomatic agenda in regions like Europe, Asia and Latin America--we tended to not pursue said agenda with as much alacrity in the Middle East.

Why, one wonders? Could it be that we have seen autocrats like the late Hafez Asad or Hosni Mubarak as bulwarks against the spread of Iranian style theocratic fervor in the region?

Or was the "democracy exception" partly in place because of the perennial (and often overstated) concerns about an Arab street coming to boil during major regional crises or periods of high tension with Israel?

Perhaps some U.S. policymakers prefer established leaders who can control, almost like a spigot, the anti-Israeli or anti-American vitriol that might emanate from the Arab masses?

What's my point? I'm saying we need to really question why this "democratic exception" has been a pretty pervasive part of our Middle East policymaking landscape for a good while now more thoroughly than we have to date. We have to be honest with ourselves about it and think about it comprehensively.

Relatedely, of course, we need to analyze what the neo-conservative vision of large scale attempted exportation of democracy would accomplish in terms of the specific furtherance of the American national interest in the region.

We need to be cautious to not be overly enraputured by the clarion call of democratization. Of course, it's a hugely important and noble goal. I mean, how can you disagree with sentiments that Bush enunciated like the following?

"There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying -- selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions -- for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty -- the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people."

Cautionary Notes

Still, we have to be careful not to get too carried away by a neo-Wilsonian fervor that has observers (ultimately hyperbolically and incorrectly) like historian Eric Hobsbawm comparing today's America to societies marked by too much revolutionary fervor in the past.

I think such claims are typically wildly exagerrated, as I've blogged about before.

And yet. We need to ask some tough questions--focusing on American objectives.

Put differently, is fostering increased democracy in the Middle East always in our national interest?

If Turkey were fully run (rather than just highly influenced) by its military leaders we would have definitely had a northern front during the major combat phase in Iraq. No nettlesome parliamentary debates would have held up the deployment of U.S. troops from Turkey.

How would a fully democratic Egypt act vis-a-vis Israel? Would the Camp David accords survive the exercise of the free will of the Egyptian people? Would the chances of a military conflict with Israel be increased--particularly during periods of robust IDF activity in the Occupied Territories that lead to rage in the streets of Cairo?

Would some states perhaps vote in, per free and fair elections, Islamist movements that going forward would not allow future voting in the relevant polity? I happen to think such extremist Islamic movements are less pervasive than many commentators relay--but prior events in Algeria are worth or thought or two on that score.

Beyond all this, many countries in the Middle East don't want democracy forced down their throats by the U.S.--even the intellectual classes that hunger for increased democratization have deep misgivings on this score.

I'm not saying that the President's vision is fatally flawed because of any of the above. But I am wondering if enough people in the Administration have given such factors protracted and judicious thought.

Double Standards?

I'm not going to blog extensively about the first and second reasons I have some reservations about the speech here today given time constraints (the 'double standards' issue and the massive suspicion of our motivations in the Middle East).

But do go read the WaPo article linked above. Think about Dubya's relations with an authoritarian Musharraf or (post-Khodorkovsky) Putin.

Doesn't it appear, when a former leader is more firmly behind our goals re: the war on terror, that we will provide quite a bit of leeway regarding their democratic bona fides?

I'm not saying that such a bias is necessarily wrong. We need to be realists in terms of pursuing our national interests in what are, after all, extremely complex regions.

But such close bilateral relationships with leaders that possess strong authoritarian stripes do force us to question the extent of our devotion to the democratization project, don't they?

Put simply, we need to strive to be more consistent in our democracy exportation goals--while being careful to not appear overly messianic in our pursuit of democratization.

Let us at least proceed with a modicum of caution that, for instance, the rapid exportation of democracy might not always represent the panacea we seem to typically believe it to be.

Final Thoughts

In closing, however, let me say again that I found the President's speech moving and impressive.

Take this line:

"We've witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy. Historians in the future will offer their own explanations for why this happened. Yet we already know some of the reasons they will cite. It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy." [emphasis added]

Euro-sophisticates will scoff that such rhetoric represents a crude vein of American exceptionalism. But there is undeniably much truth to Bush's statement.

What the U.S. accomplished in fighting back Hitlerism and Stalinism was hugely important in creating conditions of greater freedom for literally billions of people. Who can seriously deny this intelligently and honestly today?

We might be able to pull off such a feat in the Middle East too. But it will be a highly complex, generational project.

And we need to not just make passing mention of countries like Zimbabwe, Cuba and Myanmar in a Presidential speech--even one centered on the Middle East-dealing with the theme of democratization.

It looks too much like a throw away line to make the Arab (and Persian) world feel that we are also serious about spreading democracy in countries where our interests might not be as vital.

Unless we back up such rhetoric with action--there will be an even higher degree of suspicion regarding our motives that will perhaps contribute to helping scuttle our goals of democratizing the Middle East.

Put differently, Arabs will skeptically look at the history of the American "democratic exception" in the region, while thinking about our vital interests regarding Persian Gulf security, access to oil, Israel, controlling/quashing terror movements, and wonder whose interests we are really pursuing.

And, of course, before we pursue Bush's grand vision in earnest--we need to get Iraq in order. Needless to say, that's no mean task right there. Let's maybe concentrate on that and see where we stand in a year or so before getting too excited about meta-democratization projects through entire regions.

posted by Gregory| 11/07/2003 03:24:00 PM

Beeb Watch

How bad can the primitive anti-Yank spoutings over at the Beeb be?

Go read this.

A teaser.

Seems our intrepid correspondent stumbled upon some U.S. forces "kidding" around:

"There I was," says the young national guardsman, sitting round a table with his colleagues, "knee deep in discarded grenade pins, dead Iraqis all around me, in my left hand an empty 45 still smoking at the barrel."

"You ask: 'Was I scared?' Goddamn right I was scared - scared there weren't any more Iraqis left to kill
!" [my emphasis]

And I'm supposed to pay for this crapola?

Oh, the concluding graf:

"It is yet another illustration of the unbridgeable divide between the residents of Baghdad and the men who came to liberate them." [emphasis added]

Gee, well let's all pack up and go home, shall we?

posted by Gregory| 11/07/2003 12:15:00 PM

You've Entered A Spin Zone--Proceed with Caution

The Times really wants to keep pumping up this non-story doesn't it?

An "Administration response" piece (an embarrasingly thin article--because the non-story elicited so very little attention among Administation players--unless desperately hounded by correspondents' queries).

A lead masthead (entitled, you guessed it, "Rush to War, Revisited").

The masthead fairly drips with contempt for the Bushies:

"By March, Washington's military and political preparations for war were complete. The Bush administration was then showing little patience for diplomacy or anything else that might delay what it envisioned as a swift and easy military triumph, with jubilant Iraqis cheering American troops, a model Middle Eastern democracy rising in Baghdad, reconstruction paid for by Iraqi oil revenue and no lengthy military occupation."
[my emphasis]

It's not just MaDo who is "accelerating such memes".

Seemingly the entire editorial page shares her views and, indeed, similarly adopts her deceptions. Small wonder she's never reeled in.

But back to the Perle as peace mediator non-story story.

Post NYT-hype, our friends elsewhere are picking it up and it is quickly metamorphosizing into a heartwrenching tale of a historic missed opportunity.

A peace-loving Saddam, after all, was offering up to the Americans an almost innumerable number of concessions (advantageous petrol contacts too, cuz that's what we really wanted, bien sur!) only to be crudely rebuffed by the bloodthirsty hyperpuissance.

As I said, you've entered the W. 43rd St--Auntie Beeb--Liberation-on-the-Seine spin zone. Proceed with caution--and disregard much of what you're reading...

UPDATE: Sure, I could don a leftist cap and scrutinize the WSJ, Weekly Standard, and so on to play 'gotcha' from another political perspective--critics sometimes write in.

But none of those outlets pretend to be the neutral and oh-so judicious purveyors of the news. None proclaim themselves the "newspaper of record."

Listen, I think the NYT is the greatest paper in the world, all told. Thus the scrutiny and attention. They can (and must) do better.

That doesn't mean they need to steer to the right on the political spectrum--but it does means getting the news right.

This means, speaking generally, a couple things. One, they need to get their facts straight. That's what gets many of us all up in arms with so many of MaDo's columns.

And relatedly, they have to be careful how they position/play stories even where they may be factually correct.

For instance, a wise editor would realize that a couple hours of Richard Perle sitting down with a minor Lebanese-American businessman to ruminate about a (frankly risible) alleged back channel to Saddam doesn't warrant the copy, masthead, and general attention the Times has given it.

So why does Bill Keller play the story up?

Well, you can't help thinking there's an agenda at work there. And it appears a pretty simple one.

It's playing up the theme that Bush a) rushed us into a war and b) it's a war that is now becoming a Vietnam-style quagmire. They will, of course, be shifting more to "b" as the months go along.

There is much worrisome news emanating from Iraq--to be sure. But we need to continue to monitor the hyperbole, the spin, and, most important, the factual errors going forward where such bad news is purposefully co-opted by the Times. There will doubtless be many.

But note: It's a labor of love, folks. Bill Keller should thank us righty bloggers!

posted by Gregory| 11/07/2003 11:00:00 AM


News of the Weird

Saudi Arabia fears a "sand shortage." Export clamp-downs are imminent.

No, seriously.

Oh, and the Beeb is spotting some budding democratic dissent over on the Arabian peninsula.

Most Beeb readers, however, probably would want such Saudis to remain more compliant--at least judging from many of these comments.

posted by Gregory| 11/06/2003 05:48:00 PM

European Views of Israel

Remember the recent poll that had Europeans ranking Israel as the nation-state that represented the greatest threat to world peace? Here's some reaction from the Arab world and Israel.

Note too that an Israeli official notes that the poll occurred during a period when Israel was blowing up smuggling tunnels (and many dwellings) in Rafah, had attacked a target on Syrian territory, and was rumored to be planning an Iranian Osirak.

Most interesting, however. It's being reported that the higher the educational background of the poll taker--the greater the percentage judging Israel the greatest danger to world peace.

posted by Gregory| 11/06/2003 05:25:00 PM

Geneva Accords

It's not just Sharon who doesn't like it.

posted by Gregory| 11/06/2003 04:58:00 PM

Cronyism in Iraq?

Don't believe the Halliburton et al. hype.

posted by Gregory| 11/06/2003 04:56:00 PM

The Prince of Darkness Talking Peace in Knightsbridge!

The NYT has a piece that has a hyped-up, Dowdian "International Man of Mystery" Richard Perle meeting a Lebanese-American businessman in Knightsbridge (a Mr. Imad Hage).

The agenda? Allegedly exploring the potential for an 11th hour deal with Saddam that would allow the Anglo-American armada arrayed on the Kuwait border to stand down.

After all, Saddam wanted to make a deal!

Call it the NYT antidote to the WaPo story of a few days back detailing the Franco-Russian role in perhaps making war in Iraq more likely.

Over chez the de Villepin fan club, of course, it's the coarse, war-mongering unilateralist Bushies that are to blame for the rush to war:

"No meetings took place, and the invasion began on March 20. Mr. Hage wonders what might have happened if the Americans had pursued the back channel to Baghdad.

"At least they could have talked to them," he said
." [emphasis added]

With all due respect to Mr. Hage--the Iraqis could have chosen much more plausible intermediaries if they were seriously pursuing an 11th hour settlement.

Think I'm being unfair to our spur of the moment shuttle diplomatist?

Check out this humorous snippet:

"A week later, Mr. Hage said, he agreed to hold further meetings in Baghdad. When he arrived, he was driven to a large, well-guarded compound, where he was met by a gray-haired man in a military uniform. It was Tahir Jalil Habbush, the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, who is No. 16 on the United States list of most wanted Iraqi leaders. Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush asked him if it was true that he knew Mr. Perle. "Have you met him?"

Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush began to vent his frustration over what the Americans really wanted. He said that to demonstrate the Iraqis' willingness to help fight terrorism, Mr. Habbush offered to hand over Abdul Rahman Yasin, who has been indicted in United States in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mr. Yasin fled to Iraq after the bombing, and the United States put up a $25 million reward for his capture.

Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush offered to turn him over to Mr. Hage, but Mr. Hage said he would pass on the message that Mr. Yasin was available.

Mr. Hage said Mr. Habbush also insisted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and added, "Let your friends send in people and we will open everything to them
." [emphasis added]

This rings like an episode out of the Keystone Kops.

The risible query, "have you met [Richard Perle]?", from the Iraqi intelligence operative to Mr. Hage--as if to establish his bona fides in terms of access to the Straussian ruling class calling the shots in the Beltway.

The, hey, take one of the '93 WTC bombers home with you (btw, does this mean that the NYT does believe that Saddam had ties to international terror?)--he won't bite on the flight home!

Folks, all this is simply not serious.

As Perle says (the NYT spins it so that Perle is now "playing down" the importance of Mr. Hage as a serious channel to extract concessions from Saddam--but Perle actually said he was "dubious" about the whole affair):

"He said he found it difficult to believe that Mr. Hussein would make serious proposals through such a channel. "There were so many other ways to communicate," he said. "There were any number of governments involved in the end game, the Russians, French, Saudis."

"(I)nvolved in the end game"? France?

Say it ain't so. And in what fashion?

Developing, as they say.

Full Disclosure: In a previous incarnation, I worked for Richard Perle [ed. note: Do I have to say this each time I blog something about Perle? Think this will be the last].

UPDATE: Here's how a serious newspaper should have handled this story-- soberly and calmly--sans hype. (hat tip: Volokh)

Is Tina Brown sexing up NYT stories on the sly?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Check out the Beeb spin--there was a full blown Iraqi "package of concessions" that was rebuffed by Washington.

posted by Gregory| 11/06/2003 11:13:00 AM


Keller Watch

Boy, it's a bona fide 'Namapalooza over at the NYT today.

You've got LBJ-Dubya analogies.

You've got George McGovern weighing in on the presidential race (and guess what, he sees parallels btwn the '04 race and the '72 race--and sees "echoes" of his own candidacy in Dean's--let's hope he's right!)

You've got groovy pics:

A dejected George Bush (um, I mean LBJ)

A cheery, sprightly 'go get 'em Howard!' George McGovern:

I mean, even the Turkish Ambassador is asked about whether Iraq is the new Vietnam.

Vietnam vets write in to beat up Bill Safire.

We're even talking about Agent Orange defoliant.

And that's just one day--are the ghosts of Howell really stalking W. 43rd St. so soon after his inglorious demise?

posted by Gregory| 11/05/2003 03:51:00 PM

Marshall Plan Watch

Here's a mini-Marshall plan anthology for your reading pleasure.

posted by Gregory| 11/05/2003 03:26:00 PM

We Get Mail

No, I'm not being sued by the Quai D'Orsay.

Good news, rather.

"By general acclamation amongst the anarchic Samizdata Team, your site 'Belgravia Dispatch' has received the dubious honour of a permanent link on the weblog (Samizdata)


The Samizdata Team

Thrilling stuff this! Thanks guys.

Oh, if you're a blogger who reads my blog pretty regularly (hell, even sporadically) and haven't blog-rolled me, well, what's holding you up?

So here's hoping for a link orgy--and hoping you don't view me as a link slut.

(Yes, I know my blogroll is embarassingly thin. Forgive me and boldly throw reciprocity to the winds!)

posted by Gregory| 11/05/2003 01:52:00 PM

France Denies Tariq Aziz Disclosures, But How Convincingly?

A typical English language treatment of the denial here.

A French language AFP story is below:

HEADLINE: Paris reaffirme qu'"il n'y a pas eu" d'emissaire en Irak avant la guerre (Translation: "France reaffirms that 'there was not' an emissary in Iraq before the war")


BODY: La France n'a depeche aucun emissaire aupres de l'ancien president irakien Saddam Hussein avant le declenchement du conflit pour lui apporter "quelque assurance que ce soit", a reaffirme mardi le porte-parole du Quai d'Orsay.

"Il n'y a pas eu d'emissaire francais mandate pour se rendre en Irak (afin de) rencontrer Saddam Hussein et lui apporter quelque assurance que ce soit", a declare le porte-parole du ministere des Affaires etrangeres, Herve Ladsous, lors d'un point de presse. "Il n'y en a pas eu", a-t-il repete.

Le Washington Post, citant des responsables americains informes des interrogatoires de l'ex-vice-Premier ministre irakien Tarek Aziz, a ecrit lundi que des intermediaires francais et russes avaient "assure de maniere repetee a (Saddam) Hussein fin 2002 et au debut de cette annee qu'ils bloqueraient une guerre menee par les Etats-Unis a travers des reports et des vetos au Conseil de securite de l'ONU".

Ces "insinuations" sont "denuees de tout fondement", a affirme M. Ladsous. "Des rumeurs avaient deja circule a l'epoque, fin 2002 debut 2003, a-t-il rappele. Nous avions a chaque fois systematiquement et fermement dementi toutes ces rumeurs".

"Durant toute cette periode, la France n'a pas cesse d'appeler fermement les autorites irakiennes a s'acquitter de leurs obligations internationales telles qu'elles decoulaient de la resolution 1441 (du Conseil de securite de l'Onu), a poursuivi le porte-parole, car c'etait le seul moyen de denouer pacifiquement la crise

The key language is bolded. The headline is a bit deceptive. While it is a direct quote from the French spokesman, and sounds like a blanket denial, flatly stating: "there was not" an emissary before the war--it should be noted that this statement is in the context (and comes directly after) a sentence where the spokesman said:

"There was no French emissary commissioned to go to Iraq to meet Saddam Hussein carrying any kind of assurances." [my emphasis]

I've seen stronger denials. Notice some of the potential loopholes in the "denial."

For instance, the French spokesman said that no intermediary sent by France was carrying "any kind of assurances."

Depends what the meaning of "assurances" is, huh?

Maybe there were emissaries--but they weren't carrying "assurances"--just, what were viewed, somewhat expansively, as mere sentiments of fellow-feeling and empathy instead.

Note also that the spokesman says that no French emissary was specifically mandated to go to Iraq to meet with Saddam.

Well, maybe the intermediary was specifically commissioned to meet with lower level Baathist leaders but then, in 'impromptu' fashion, had an audience or two with Saddam.

Am I parsing too much? Perhaps.

But I'd be happier if the French spokesman had said something like:

"These rumors are outrageous and are the product of complete and outright fabrications by Tariq Aziz. There were never, in the entire period leading up the war at least from the passage of UNSC Resolution 1441 on, any French emissaries that went to Iraq--covertly or otherwise--to meet with individuals in the Iraqi leadership to discuss any of the matters alleged by Tariq Aziz to have been under discussion.

Let me be even more specific for the avoidance of all doubt. Let me stress today that no advice, by any French government official or individual acting at the behest of the French government, was provided to anyone in the Iraqi leadership regarding gaming the prospects for U.S. military action in Iraq or the manner by which such military action might be pursued.

We take these charges very seriously as they involve our good ally America. I hope my statement today finally puts this grossly irresponsible rumor-mongering to bed."

Or something like that.

Another reason I'd like to see stronger denials?

Because I'm reminded of blasts from the past per the below (detailed in a February 13th 2003 L'Express article by Dominique Lagarde and Alain Louyot that I paraphrase below retaining the complete accuracy of the original text).

On January 15th, 1991--the French Embassy in Baghdad (the last Western embassy still open for business) was given the order to evacuate. The Iraqis were still wishing for an 11th hour visit from Roland Dumas, a Concorde was at the ready in Paris, but President Mitterand finally decided not to dispatch his FM as he calculated that war was inevitable.

See these last minute Baghdad gambits are something of a rich Quai D'Orsay tradtion.

And this was when Mitterand was President.

Chirac, let us recall, is the man who approvingly declared, about that so noble Baathist brand of socialism, in a visit to Baghdad in December of 1974:

"Nationalism in the best sense of the word and socialism as a way to mobilize the energies and organize the society of tomorrow are sentiments very close to the heart of the French."

Hear, hear!

More of Le Figaro article paraphrased below:

On September 5, 1975, Saddam returned the favor and decamped to Paris. Chirac spoke of his "friendship" and "affection" for Saddam. After visiting nuclear installations in Cadarache, both leaders spent the weekend at L'Oustaou de Baumaniere (lovely, isn't it?), an auberge where Chirac had welcomed such leaders as Deng Xiaoping.

Back in Paris, it was on to a gala dinner at Versailles. Quite grand!

Ostensibly over dinner toasts amidst the palatial grandeur--Chirac averred that Iraq is pursuing a "coherent nuclear program" and France will "associate itself with the effort."

Just that week, and doubtless noted somewhere in the Quai D'Orsay, Saddam had given an interview in the Lebanese paper Al Ousbou' Al Arabi (The Arab Week) where he said that cooperation with France was the "first step towards the production of an Arab atomic weapon".

As I've said, lots of previous history here folks. Tout est possible!

posted by Gregory| 11/05/2003 09:47:00 AM


Troop Deployment Levels

As we've been arguing for quite a while over here at B.D.--more troops are likely needed in the Iraqi theater. Don't miss this succinct piece making the case in today's NYT.

And like Fareed Zakaria, I agree there are no quick shortcuts out of Iraq (see my October 30th post on this topic). Put differently: steady Iraqification is likely smart strategy in the long run (the Iraqis need to ultimately, of course, run their own show)--but can't occur overly precipitously.

The dangers of Baathist guerrillas overunning poorly trained Iraqi forces, or not having properly vetted former Iraqi soldiers re: their real allegiances, or an outright civil war--all these scenarios become bigger risks if Iraqification is pursued, as I'm concerned it may be, too quickly.

posted by Gregory| 11/04/2003 08:21:00 AM

Krugman Watch

Fresh from a suckup in the NYRB--Krugman dons his book reviewer hat there.

Most offensive graf:

"Religion is also part of the story: in effect, the religious right—a majority of whose adherents are very much losers in the new economic order—seems to have made a deal to support low taxes for the rich and weak regulation in return for a more Bible-friendly government. And 9/11 was, of course, the best gift the right could have wished for—a perfect occasion to shift politics to a permanent war footing, in which criticism of our leaders could be shouted down as unpatriotic." [emphasis added]

Charming, huh? 9/11 as gift...

Oh, and who brokered the low taxes/weak-regulation-in-return-for-tearing-down-the-church/state-divide "deal"?

Jerry Falwell in deep huddle w/ Dubya? Were Larry Lindsey and Paul O'Neill in on the backroom dealings before they were sacked?

UPDATE: Appears I may be one of the "Know-Nothings" led by "wannabe Ayatollah" Andy Sullivan.

Sample graf:

"Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent," he writes, borrowing from, of all people, Henry Kissinger on Metternich, "they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework." Not since Anthony Lewis took up the cudgel of the antiwar movement against the Nixon Administration has a liberal pundit used such blunt language to expose the collective maliciousness and mendacity of official Washington, and it hardly comes as a surprise that those who inhabit that world don't like it."

Do people like Alterman really buy this claptrap?

And, like me, are you sick of having the Krugman epiphany moment trotted out (when, in a moment of deep-think, Krugman espied Bush as a Metternichian revolutionary smashing the "existing framework", whatever that means)?

This is junior high stuff folks. Or the product of a bad acid trip. It's frankly risible.

I mean what, specifically, is the dastardly Bush 43 "revolutionary power" so irrevocably shattering that existed during the cheery Clinton polity (and don't tell me the Achesonian world order--my BS detector will start booming loudly)?

The Left's credibility plummets when it descends into such hysterical commentary.

Another example. See this hyperbolic "Stop the Madness" John Kerry ad.

Does John Kerry believe the great bovine masses are this gullible and easily scared (and not by his hair)?

I guess he does. Otherwise why run such an ad?

posted by Gregory| 11/04/2003 12:03:00 AM


French Perfidy Watch

Frankly, as the allegations are so serious, it seems almost trite to call this post "French Perfidy Watch"--language which has become, pretty much, slightly jestful code for Dominique de Villepin gallivanting about Cameroon, Guinea, Angola and the like to scuttle UNSC resolutions.

This important Steve Coll WaPo piece contains much more serious allegations of possible French treachery than all that whirlwind travel through Africa and related Turtle Bay machinations.

The piece is a must read, not only because of potentially damning information about secret French contacts with Iraq before the war, but also because it contains further information about Saddam's purposeful intent to run afoul of Resolution 1441.

But one thing at a time.

Here are the key grafs re France:

"Saddam Hussein refused to order a counterattack against U.S. troops when war erupted in March because he misjudged the initial ground thrust as a ruse and had been convinced earlier by Russian and French contacts that he could avoid or survive a land invasion, former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz has told interrogators, according to U.S. officials."


"Aziz's extensive interrogations -- eased by a U.S. decision to quietly remove his family from Iraq to safe exile in a country that American officials would not name -- paint Hussein on the eve of war as a distracted, distrustful despot who was confused, among other things, by his meetings with Russian and French intermediaries. Aziz said Hussein emerged from these diplomatic sessions -- some secret at the time -- convinced that he might yet avoid a war that would end his regime, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Aziz has told interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries repeatedly assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that they would block a U.S.-led war through delays and vetoes at the U.N. Security Council. Later, according to Aziz, Hussein concluded after private talks with French and Russian contacts that the United States would probably wage a long air war first, as it had done in previous conflicts. By hunkering down and putting up a stiff defense, he might buy enough time to win a cease-fire brokered by Paris and Moscow.

Aziz's account, while provocative, has not been corroborated by other sources, said U.S. officials involved in the interrogations. They said they were aware that Aziz might be trying to pander to his American captors' anger at French and Russian conduct before the war.

The public record of French and Russian back-channel contacts with Hussein on the war's eve is thin and ambiguous. Former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, long close to Hussein, made an announced visit to Baghdad in February and a secret trip just days before the war's opening on March 20. A few weeks later, after Baghdad's fall, Primakov held a news conference to explain that, at his clandestine last-ditch meeting, he had urged Hussein to resign...

The extent and character of French contacts with Hussein before the war is even less clear. Several media outlets reported early this year that France had opened a private channel to Hussein, but the French Foreign Ministry denied these reports, insisting that its diplomats had made plain to Hussein that he should stand down
." [emphasis added]

Coll is quite cautious here. We are told that the extent of French contacts, if any, is quite murky.

But there are a few reasons why I think that this story may have real legs.

One, I don't think Tariq Aziz is naive enough to believe that he would be treated materially better by his captors by "sexing up" his disclosures by creating a fictitious story about those perfidious Frenchies.

We're all adults here--and the other information Aziz provided on Saddam's contravention of the 150-km range limit on missiles is pretty damning on its own.

Second, the story just rings true. Saddam has often proved to be ruthlessly smart in terms of quashing domestic opponents--but a strategic blunderer on the international scene (see his military misadventures in Iran, Kuwait).

You can just see him completely misjudging Bush as another feckless Clinton-type-thus thinking Dubya would almost exclusively rely on an air campaign that, per Paris, Saddam might wait out.

Then, of course, Dominique would enter the fray and 'heroically' broach a cease-fire from those brutish hotheads in Baghdad and Washington. Peace in our time or such.

Third, the French (at least since de Gaulle but likely going back to nefarious Sykes-Picot days) have always deluded themselves that they possess a special 'Araby' policy.

Put simply, they think they get the Arabs--while the hapless Anglo-Saxons don't. It's really a carry-on from the rosy days when France administered Damascene and Allepin precincts--it was all jolly good fun and, bien sur, allowed the French to gain special apercus into what makes the Levant-zone tick.

These historically derived pretenses, combined with the folie de grandeur that has so often characterized de Villepin's stewardship of the Quai D'Orsay, make it possible (likely?) that French intermediaries would have opened up private channels to Saddam early last year (or in the Fall of '02) and helped delude Saddam that he wouldn't be facing an imminent American land invasion.

Fourth, and important, the French have made something of a speciality of this kind of thing before ("special" channels to Tariq, Saddam and gang).

From a 1998 WaPo piece by Barton Gellman and Dana Priest (via a Lexis search, article dated March 1, 1998):

"As the Clinton administration saw it, Saddam Hussein was intent on portraying a Washington-Baghdad confrontation, and the president's advisers were just as intent on casting themselves as speaking for a united "world community."

They therefore continued a seven-year policy of refusing direct diplomatic contact with the Baghdad government. That left the diplomatic field to Russia and France, each of which dispatched a deputy foreign minister to negotiate with Saddam Hussein and his wily, English-speaking deputy premier, Tariq Aziz.

France had known for some time that Iraq was most concerned to protect eight "presidential sites," and the French diplomacy aimed to fashion special rules for inspections there.

U.S. intelligence assessed that Iraq is hiding several dozen Al Hussein missiles, a few of the longer range Al Abbas missiles, and substantial stocks of anthrax, botulinum, and nerve agents such as VX. But the illegal weapons, U.S. analysts believe, are not actually in the presidential sites. The Clinton administration and UNSCOM wanted to ensure primarily that the eight sites could not become sanctuaries for contraband shifted in a "shell game" from other hiding places.

By the first week of February, France perceived what one official called an "infernal machine" -- the threat Paris supported was about to become the war it did not want. To avert the launch, Paris promoted a trip to Baghdad by Kofi Annan to hammer out a compromise on the eight special sites
." [emphasis added]

There is no smoking gun here. But there sure is a lot of smoke.

Again, it's worth stressing, why would Aziz make this up from whole cloth?

And, it begs the question, is this the behaviour of an "ally"? If, on the cusp of a conflict, where the U.S. has amassed some 200,000 troops on the Iraqi border, perhaps even making a strategic blunderer like Saddam think twice about continuing to stonewall the international community--if at that sensitive stage French contacts work to make Saddam feel he is not really facing a full-blown American invasion--well, what's the result?

For one, it makes it less likely that Saddam will stand down.

And therefore more likely that U.S. troops will have to fight (and die) in a war.

I wouldn't expect such considerations to give a Yevgeny Primakov pause--but I would have expected it to give a nominal ally a reason to abstain from such diplomatic foul play--or at least cause a little crise de conscience style navel-gazing about back-stabbing a friend that had acted as guarantor of Western Europe's stability through the Cold War and saved the French from the Hitlerian project.

Well, as I said, especially if this story gets a lot of play--expect fervent Gallic denials, denunciations of the U.S jingoistic yellow press, and damage control from the French Embassy in Washington.

The story is still very much developing. But it makes me, at least potentially, very angry.

And reinforces what a poor prognosticator I was when (what seems to be a long, long time ago) I started this blog (with more faith in Parisian diplomacy).


More on the French "Araby" policy via Amir Taheri.

Thanks to reader TM for the link. TM, based in Belgium, also writes:

"I'm not sure, however, that anger is not a counterproductive response, at least if it's not carefully expressed. I live in Belgium and can see something has gone seriously wrong in continental Europe, but that all the French-bashing drowns out those voices which are making serious points and engaging in constructive criticism. Indeed, the same thing is happening here, with the reasonable European voices also being drowned out (I mean Bruckner, Glucksmann, BHL, Kouchner, and those guys)."

Fair point. Perhaps alluding to anger wasn't necessarily how I should have ended my post.

That said, however, and if the allegations detailed above are true, I don't see how one can avoid being mightily steamed by the actions of the French government.

ANOTHER UPDATE: How credible is the French denial regarding all the above?

posted by Gregory| 11/03/2003 09:35:00 AM


MaDo Distortions Department (Continued)

Another offensively inaccurate piece from MaDo today. Leave aside the gratuitous insult about Sports Illustrated being the on-board read on Air Force I rather than TNR.

Leave aside how Dowd depicts Bush in a harsher ethical light than the Jayson Blairs, Stephen Glass' and Janet Cooke's of the world.

That's all pretty predictable fare coming from Maureen Dowd.

But check out this factually inaccurate (surprise!) commentary:

"Now we're in the postwar war, and President Bush is still manipulating reality. He wants to obscure the intensity and nature of the opposition, choosing to lump anyone who resists the American occupation in the category of terrorist." [emphasis added]

This bothered me for a couple reasons.

For one, as I'll detail below, it's flat out false.

For another, I myself had criticized Bush in the past for having a tendency to describe too much of the resistance in Iraq as terrorist in nature (via a piece I had up contra Flypaper).

But here's the point. Bush, for a good while now--including back during his September speech to the United Nations--has increasingly made reference, not only to terrorists opposing the U.S. in Iraq, but also regime "holdouts."

Put differently, he's been more frank about the somewhat variegated nature of the opposition in Iraq recently.

So my concerns at least, as someone who has followed the issue pretty closely, have been allayed somewhat recently.

But then MaDo comes in and ignores all the evidence to the contrary to facilitate her slanted, anti-Bush op-ed writing process.

I mean, take a look at what Bush has actually said over the past months.

For instance, check out the reference to "Saddam holdouts" in this speech.

And in a key national address, Bush said as follows:

"Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime, who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows. Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists, who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations. We cannot be certain to what extent these groups work together. We do know they have a common goal -- reclaiming Iraq for tyranny." [emphasis added]

Put simply, Bush has been careful to say that resistance in Iraq is stemming from both terrorists and Saddam loyalists/holdouts (with very few exceptions, where he doesn't make such a distinction, such as this one).

Most recently, Bush made the distinction just yesterday in his weekly radio address (see graf 4).

Veteran journalists like Mike Isikoff, in an article critical of Bush suggesting that Saddam is organizing some of the attacks, writes:

"THE OFFICIAL BUSH administration position is that the attacks on coalition forces inside Iraq are the work of isolated gangs of Saddam loyalists and Baathist die-hards who, in some instances, have teamed up with an assortment of “foreign fighters,” Islamic radicals and even common criminals for individual strikes on U.S. troops. But an alternative view is gaining acceptance within the U.S. intelligence community about the origins of the campaign. Scraps of evidence-most not publicly acknowledged by the administration—suggest that Saddam and some of his top Baath Party lieutenants began detailed logistical planning and purchasing for possible guerilla fighting in the months before the war, officials say." [emphasis added]

Leave aside any role Saddam may have in the increasingly sophisticated (and deadly) attacks.

The point here is that, if Mike Isikoff can see that the "official Bush administration position" (re: the source of the continuing attacks in Iraq) is that said attacks stem from a mixture of Saddam holdouts, Baathist die-hards, criminals and terrorists--why can't Dowd see it?

Perhaps, one might conclude, because she purposefully chooses not to?

Because acknowledging the Administration's more complex description of the nature of the Iraqi resistance might not be convenient vis-a-vis her thesis that Bush "lumps" all those opposing the U.S. occupation in Iraq as terrorists?

So, just like that, she chooses to simply ignore all the speeches and Administration statements to the contrary.

Listen, like Camille Paglia, I don't think the blogosphere should simply be relegated to the preserve of "political or media junkies preoccupied with pedestrian minutiae and a sophomoric 'gotcha' mentality."

Yeah, like Paglia says, I agree that such monomaniacal focus can get a bit "depressing and claustrophobic."

The problem is, however, Dowd's not writing in an obscure regional paper but rather splashing her (factually incorrect) musings in the opinion pages of the Sunday New York Times--surely the most influential single page of commentary in the entire spectrum of American print media.

Her misrepresentations therefore have a significant impact on perceptions of the honesty of the President, the credibility of the Administration's foreign policy worldview, and more.

So I'll risk coming off as a sophomoric gotcha type--as I think the stakes are well worth it. If the pattern of her seemingly willfull carelessness continues to be exposed here in the blogosphere, perhaps we might someday get results in terms of better monitoring of MaDo over at W. 43rd St.

I wouldn't ever have held my breath for Howell Raines to reel her in. But perhaps Bill Keller will take it more seriously.

The factually incorrect (and perhaps purposeful) misrepresentations are just coming too often.

UPDATE: A reader writes in:

"Why so much brain power wasted on this insignificant woman's blatherings? I think a lot of you men have a secret crush on her."

Flagler Beach FL


Well at least she doesn't have that intimidatingly large Friedmanian moustache.

Oh, and last I heard, no one is stalking her....

ANOTHER UPDATE: Check out my good friend Desmond Butler's excellent report on terrorists/foreign jihadis coming to Iraq from Europe (and no, I don't think his article contravenes my prior analyses contra the flypaper thesis--but it does give Dubya's references to terrorists more credence).

posted by Gregory| 11/02/2003 11:42:00 AM
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