OxBlog

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT ON THE MOVE: Mr. Yglesias is now writing for Tapped. His old site will live on, but focus on the non-political issues that aren't a part of Tapped's portfolio. So good luck to Matt at his new job and here's to reading Tapped!
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# Posted 11:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

READ MY LIPS: NO NEW TAX CUTS. It isn't everyday that OxBlog agrees with Paul Krugman. And while I don't speak for Josh or Patrick, I'm willing to speculate that they would agree with Krugman as well.

Leaving aside the partisan invective, Krugman's column basically says that it is embarrassingly irresponsible for the Bush Administration to push for massive tax cuts, run up a massive deficit and then ask for an $87 billion supplmental appropriation for Iraq.

In spite of its insufficient planning, the Administration should have known that the costs of war and reconstruction often outstrip pre-war estimates. I can't imagine that legislators on either side of the aisle would have objected if the Administration deferred its tax cuts pending the outcome of the situation in Iraq.

But that wasn't going to happen. This Administration has an ideological commitment to tax cuts and wasn't going to waste a golden opportunity to have them written into law.

So what now? Both George W. Bush and Karl Rove most certainly remember the damaging price that Bush 41 paid for breaking his promise of "no new taxes". They aren't going to admit they were wrong, although they may well limit their requests for further cuts.

As far as the nation's finances go, what's going to happen now is what happened under Reagan: the United States took advantage of its perfect credit rating in order to finance both tax cuts and military spending through increased debt. Thanks to spectacular economic growth in the 1990s, we never had to face the terrifying prospect of heading into a serious recession with a massive debt on our shoulders.

But there was one victim of Reagan's largesse: George Bush the Father. He had to break his "no new taxes" promise because there was simply no way for the government to go into further debt. That is a danger that the Bush the Son may have to face because of his current policies...in his second term. Thus if Bush the Son does have to reverse on tax cuts, then the Republican candidate in 2008 may be seriously damaged. The result? President Hillary.

UPDATE: CalPundit is also hitting Bush hard on the costs of the war/occupation.
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# Posted 11:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUAGMIRE! The death toll is rising. The government is trapped in its own incompetence. And the people are losing faith in their leaders. So isn't it fair to say that the French have sunken into a quagmire? (No wonder they didn't want to fight Saddam. They can't even beat the weather.)
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# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PURPOSE OF BRINGING IN THE U.N. (SOME TENTATIVE THOUGHTS): I still have a lot of news to catch up on, but have come to a few speculative conclusions after going through a dozen or so news articles about the Bush Administration's turn to the UN for help in Iraq.

First of all, no one seems to agree on why the United States is (or should) ask for UN help in Iraq. As best as I can tell, the fundamental issue is that we simply don't have enough troops to man the occupation forces past next march. While there has been a lot of talk about training Iraqi police and paramilitary forces, I'm guessing that the Administration: A) Doesn't know if they'll be ready in time and/or B) Doesn't have all that much confidence that they will be effective once deployed.

According to Joe Biden,
"The costs are staggering, the number of troops are staggering, we're seeing continuing escalation of American casualties, and we need to turn to the U.N. for help, for a U.N.-sanctioned military operation that is under U.S. command."
Lest one think that Biden is making a partisan point, one should note that John Warner (R-VA) has said that
"These casualties are beginning to unnerve Americans, and it concerns me...As I traveled through my state last month, people in very respectful tones came up to me and said, `John, we have to do something.' "
In other words, Biden and Warner want the Security Council to draw up a new resolution so that other nations' citizens can die instead of our own. While it's good to know that Biden and Warner are looking out for their constituents, the parochialism of their viewpoint is disturbing. After all, what good is it for a Frenchman or a Belgian to die instead of an American?

The problem here, as Phil Carter so ably pointed out, is that Americans often confuse success with a low casualty rate. While every effort should be made to minimize casualties, our purpose in Iraq is to build democracy and stop terror. Will bringing in the French and Belgians accomplish that task? If you believe that a multilateral occupation is more likely to succed, then yes. But Biden, Warner and others like them don't seem to be willing to say that. Perhaps they simply assume it. Or, as I suspect, they are unwilling to confront powerful arguments against the efficacy of a multilateral nation-building effort.

The next big question which no one has answered is what kind of quid pro quo the UN will demand for its consent. Before the Bush Administration approached the UN, Kofi Annan held out the prospect of the US maintaining a leadership role while sharing "decisions and responsibility with others". But now the NYT is reporting that
several Security Council members, like France and Russia, have said repeatedly that they would not support a measure that allowed the United States to maintain full military and political control.
Which brings us to the real question: What is it, exactly, that France and Russia want to change about the occupation? According to Dominique de Villepin,
"It is time to move resolutely into a logic of sovereignty for Iraq. A true change of approach is needed. We must end the ambiguity, transfer responsibilities and allow the Iraqis to play the role they deserve as soon as possible."
You can't disagree with that. It sounds exactly like what Donald Rumsfeld has been saying about giving the people Iraq more responsibility for their future.

While my spider-sense indicates that the French have some other agenda, the fact may be that they don't expect much of a quid for their pro-quo because they just aren't going to give that much to the occupation in terms of either time or money. While the French military has drawn up plans for the dispatch of up to 10,000 troops, other officials are insisting that France is already overcommitted to other peacekeeping projects. Thus, the French may be satisfied with the already impressive public relations victory they have scored by having Bush come back to the UN.

But if the French won't send troops, who will? I doubt that too many other European hold-outs would reverse course because of a new UN resolution. The real manpower will have to come from India, Pakistan and Turkey. Now, the prospect of having Indian troops is a good one -- after all, they are from a democratic country with a pretty good human rights record. Turkey is democratic as well, but less so. And its shared border with Iraq means that the Turks may turn a blind eye to smuggling, etc. Pakistan? I don't even want to go there. As thanks for its help in Afghanistan, we're already putting up with an incompetent dictator who is holding up peace talks with India and probably letting his subordinates indulge their taste for jihad by harboring all sorts of Islamic radicals. That is, when they aren't busy sending nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea.

The last big question for tonight is whether turning to the UN is a good thing. In a surprisingly judicious editorial, the WSJ argues that it may be worth the public relations cost of looking foolish if a new resolution lets Indian or Turkish forces focus on peacekeeping while mobile and heavily-armed Americans hunt down Ba'athist insurgents. Provided, of course, that France and Russia really want to help Iraq govern itself, rather than just forcing a US withdrawal or establishing their own fiefdoms in Baghdad.

What do I think? I'm not sure. What I want to know is whether the Bush Administration has suggested approaching the UN because it knows that it can work out a good deal, or whether its own deficient planning has resulted in the sort of confused and ad hoc decisionmaking that the Bush campaign once identified as the cause of Clinton's foreign policy troubles. I can imagine Rumsfeld wanting to go to the UN because he is desperate for troops, Cheney going along because he wants someone else to his nation-building for him and Powell agreeing because he cares more about rebuilding trans-Atlantic relations than rebuilding Iraq. And who would disagree if Powell, Rumsfeld and Cheney are all on the same side? Wolfowitz?

That's where Bush's speech comes in. He sounded much more like a Wolfowitz than a Powell, a Cheney or a Rumsfeld. He really seems to think we can get things right in Iraq. But how does the UN fit into the President's plans? I just don't know.

UPDATE: In an impressive debut column, David Brooks suggests some answers.
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Monday, September 08, 2003

# Posted 11:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE DIDN'T START THE SAFIRE: Yes, I pretty much agree with Bill Safire's point in today's column. But his presentation is so harsh and one-sided that I think he is doing more to hurt the cause of reconstruction than to help it.
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# Posted 12:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMING SOON...A lengthy post on the Bush Administration's efforts to get the UN involved in Iraq. So far, this looks like a big "I told you so" moment for liberal critics of the occupation. And conservatives seem to think it's pretty embarrassing, too. I'm gonna need some time to figure this all out. In the meantime, take a look at what Kevin Drum has to say here, here, here and here.
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Sunday, September 07, 2003

# Posted 11:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT EVERYONE LIKED THE SPEECH: Josh and I may have liked what the President said, but I think it's only fair to post some critical views here as well. For example,
The speech was Mr. Bush's first extended address about Iraq since he declared an end to major combat operations in a May 1 speech. He was more triumphal then, asserting that "the United States and our allies have prevailed."

But 149 Americans have died in Iraq since then, compared with the 138 in the invasion itself. The United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed last month, a low point in the United States' now five-month-old occupation...

In his 18-minute speech, Mr. Bush did not mention Osama bin Laden, who has so far eluded American capture in Afghanistan. He also did not mention the failure so far to find any unconventional weapons in Iraq, the major stated reason that the United States went to war. Nor did Mr. Bush dwell on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which he once predicted would abate if Saddam Hussein was ousted from power in Iraq. That conflict has worsened."
Despite sounding like something out of The Nation, the quotation above is actually from a straight news piece in the NYT written by Elisabeth Bumiller. While I'm still not enough of a Times-watcher to differentiate all that effectively between its correspondents' individual biases, I've long considered Bumiller one of the most biased.

Of course, when it comes to outright ridiculousness, no one can match Howard Dean. While I may have been defending the man just over a week ago (and still stand by what I said), the good Doctor isn't going to score any OxBlog points by saying that Bush's speech is
"beginning to remind me of what was happening with Lyndon Johnson and Dick Nixon during the Vietnam War."

Asked to explain the analogy to Vietnam, Dr. Dean said: "The government begins to feed misinformation to the American people in order to justify an enormous commitment of American troops, which turned out to be a tremendous mistake."
So it looks like Dean has bought into the quagmire myth hook, line and sinker. His first comment demonstrates that he has very little ability to distinguish between "nation-building" in Vietnam and nation-building in Iraq. However, his second comment shows that he isn't exactly ready to go public with that view. Instead of actually commenting on the supposed failure of the occupation, Dean's responded with a non sequitur about Presidential deception. Yes, yes, we've all heard about the uranium. But tonight's speech wasn't about uranium. From context, it seems clear that Dean's initial use of the Vietnam analogy concerned the President's decision to commit ever more resources to a failing cause. But he didn't have the guts to follow up that line of criticism.

Now, you might ask, why do I invest so much effort criticizing a candidate whose foreign policy I already know I don't like? Because I still haven't made up my mind what I would do if it were Dean vs. Bush in November '04. It's a question Josh keeps putting to me: What incentive does Dean have to be responsible about national security if even the most security-minded Democrats (e.g. me)will vote for him on domestic grounds?

With comments like the ones he made tonight, Dean has come that much closer to persuading me that I just can't trust him on national security. I may not like Bush's instincts or truly, truly trust him. But it seems that Dean's instincts are even worse.
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# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCHWARZENEGGER '08: The NY Times says immigrants should have the same right as everyone else to run for President. Yet strangely, the NYT's masthead editorial avoids any mention of Big Arnie. While that isn't exactly a sin, it does point to an important omission in the Times' remarks. Whereas the NYT says that letting immigrants run is the right thing to do, it fails to point out that there is also considerable room for bipartisan compromise on the issue precisely because both parties have important leaders born abroad. Welcome to Schwarzenegger vs. Granholm in '08.
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# Posted 10:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PROUD OF GEORGE W. Two years ago, I never thought I'd write those words. Yet in the face of intense criticism from all sides, George Bush has held fast to his ambition of bringing democracy to Iraq. I felt truly proud when the President declared that:
In Iraq, we are helping the long-suffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East. Together we are transforming a place of torture chambers and mass graves into a nation of laws and free institutions. This undertaking is difficult and costly - yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security.

The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism. The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.
Naive as I am, I recognize that many of the President's critics will write off the above as empty rhetoric. In response, I have two things to say. First, there are striking differences between tonight's speech and the President's February remarks on the rebuilding of Iraq. Whereas in February the President said that Iraq and its people are "fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom", he has now made it clear that the United States will ensure that the people of Iraq fulfill their democratic potential. This is a major commitment of presidential credibility. It is no different than a campaign promise. The President and advisers know that if he does not live up to his word, he will pay a heavy price.

My second point about the President's speech also concerns credibility. While almost every American president has spoken eloquently about fighting for the democratic cause, few have done as much for democracy as they have said. Yet George Bush is keeping 130,000 US troops on the ground in Iraq, where they are working extremely hard to build a democratic state amidst the ruins of the Ba'athist dictatorship. Not since Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur has the United States taken such dramatic action on behalf of the democratic cause.

Also surprisingly, the President explicitly committed himself to promoting democracy in Afghanistan, a country whose name he did not even mention in his February speech. While the President's actions re: Afghanistan have not been all that impressive up to this point, this kind of public commitment may begin to change that.

The question I am left asking myself now is "When will the disappointment come?" Proud as I am of the President for saying what he has said, part of me still suspects that he does not truly understand either what he is saying or the magnitude of it. This was the selfsame President who ran against nation-building as a candidate.

To be fair, it is not in the nature of Presidential speechmaking for the President to engage in the sort of introspective and confessional discourse that might convince listeners such as myself that he has recognized his previous errors rather than just chosen to forget them. Nor can the Presidently openly disavow the anti-nation building position of advisers such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and (possibly) Powell. The best one can hope for is an explicit and unequivocal commitment to doing that right thing. And George Bush has given us that.
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# Posted 9:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG COMES, ABBAS GOES: Josh is on his way to New Haven and I have moved into my new office at Harvard's Olin Institute. I really don't have any idea what's been going on in the real world this past week, although I can recommend an excellent BBQ joint near my office. Even that ornery Texan by the name of Chafetz thought it was good.

Speaking of ornery, things aren't going well in the Middle East, with Mahmoud Abbas resigning and the unknown Ahmed Qurei ("widely seen as the only internationally credible alternative to Mr. Abbas" -- NYT) emerging as the front-runner in the race to replace him.

Also, thumbs up to Israel for avoiding civilian casualties by using fewer explosives in their effort to kill Hamas "spiritual leader" Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Yassin survived the attack thanks to the small size of the Israeli bomb. But I'm guessing that he won't be able to run far enough or fast enough to avoid the next attack, given that he's a paraplegic.

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Thursday, September 04, 2003

# Posted 12:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

I'M PACKING TODAY. David's up at Harvard unpacking. And Josh's in transit. However, if any of our readers would like to come by and pitch in with the packing, I'm sure any of the three of us would be very happy to blog orally to provide entertainment.....
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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARABS LESS ANTI-SEMITIC THAN HARVARD: At least in this one instance. (Thanks to MV for the link.)
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# Posted 10:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

THANK GOODNESS THERE'S A BBC, PART I: Thinking Negatively Really Does Make You Depressed (headline from this morning's UK edition)
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# Posted 10:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

THANK GOODNESS THERE'S A BBC, PART II: Jazz Greats Blighted by Drugs, Alcohol, and Mental Illness." Wow. Pretty soon they'll be saying the same thing about heavy metal.....
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# Posted 10:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

JESSE JACKSON ARRESTED AT YALE: Several minutes ago, as part of a sympathy demonstration in support of striking service and clerical employees, Jesse Jackson was arrested after blocking traffic at the intersection of Elm and College. (See NYT, Yale's side, and the unions' side). Incidentally, Jesse has been arrested in connection with civil disobedience in New Haven before: in 1993, he was cited for public disturbance in connection with demonstrations in support of striking health care workers at Yale/New Haven Hospital.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

"DROP DEAD GORGEOUS" REALITY PARALLEL OF THE DAY: 40 of 100 semi-finalist contestants at the Miss Italy beauty pagent developed acute allergic reactions on their big night to a metallic decorative design used in their costumes, triggering massive rashes, puffy cheeks, and tearing. (Kind of gives the other 60 an advantage.)
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# Posted 12:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

"UMMM, RIGHT" QUOTE OF THE DAY: Via CNN: "For his part, Pollard contends that he was an Israeli patriot, spying not against the United States, but for Israel."
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Monday, September 01, 2003

# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACK! Glad to see Patrick's had a chance to get online. My landlord still hasn't finished installing the new windows in my place, so I haven't been able to move in yet. Expect the hiatus to last a bit longer.
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# Posted 6:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

A LETTER FROM OXBLOG'S NEPAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not Labor Day over there, thanks to the wonders of the international date line...so OxBlog's friend Joel Hafvenstein is at the office, logging long hours to bring us some ....
Bad news from Nepal.

When I was there last week, the peace talks with the Maoists were at an obvious impasse. The rebels yesterday cancelled the ceasefire, and have since assassinated one military colonel in Kathmandu, wounded another, and knocked over multiple banks in the south -- attacks clearly well-planned during the months of the peace process. The government has declared them terrorists, and America may well follow suit. A conflict which had already escalated exponentially since 2001 looks likely to get much bloodier.

See this article from Nepal News.

This time, the Maoists may also be directly targeting political leaders, not just military, police, and low-level party hacks and development workers. An attack on former PM Deuba's convoy on Monday (before the cancellation of the ceasefire) was described by apologetic Maoists as a mistake:

See here and here.

But they just made a (perhaps successful) assassination attempt against Devendra Raj Kandel, the hard-nosed Home Minister under the last Deuba government, which suggests that this time, the gloves are coming off. (Here's an interview indicating why Kandel was so hated by the Maoists: ) And the house of another political leader (negotiator in the recent govt-Maoist peace talks) was firebombed.

One of the more striking changes about Kathmandu this time was the number of sandbagged military emplacements that had sprung up around every major crossroads and government building. It's really come to look like a country at war. Which, sadly, it once again is.

Joel
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Sunday, August 31, 2003

# Posted 8:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOURNEY TO THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC...of Cambridge, that is. I'll be on the road today, headed up to my new place. Chances are no blogging tomorrow, either. With Patrick and Josh also in transit, expect light posting until after Labor Day. Happy BBQ!
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Saturday, August 30, 2003

# Posted 1:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAKING OF BIRKENSTOCK LIBERALS...Kevin Drum writes in [via e-mail] that
I actually thought "Birkenstock liberal" was a perfect term.  In two words it brought forth a whole slew of connotations and describes perfectly a certain kind of person.  I knew exactly what she was talking about.
Yet as RO points out, Dean himself has rejected the phrase "Birkenstock liberal" as an unfair cliche that the media relies on to marginalize him. RO writes that
Howard Dean used the phrase "Birkenstock liberals" during the Portland
stop during the "Sleepless Summer" [tour].

The Portland stop was two days before the New York stop that Jodi Wilgoren was reporting on.

Dean used the phrase as an example of something the press had been calling supporters of his campaign. I believe this makes the use of the phrase by Jodi Wilgoren all the more outrageous and seriously moots Kevin Drum's disagreement with your assessment.

Kevin seemed to believe it was nothing more than an "evocative" turn of phrase, in fact it would appear to me an example of a reporter using a loaded term she or he knew was objectionable to the subject of his or her article for no more reason than to poke a sharp stick at the subject and see what would happen.

At any rate, the audio from Portland still seems to be available in
the list at the bottomg of the main www.deanforamerica.com page. Dean may
have used the phrase in Falls Church the day before that, indeed he may
have been using it for some time before I became aware of it, but he
was definitely using it before Jodi Wilgoren used it to "review" the
Bryant Park speech.
Responding from the right, the ever-insouciant EP observes that
Please inform your readers, that the NYT not withstanding, there are many people who wear Birkenstocks who are not only not liberal, but rabidly conservative.  I am one such myself.  Not only that, but I lived in Vermont, yes Vermont, for many years before coming to my senses and moving to Florida...[D]uring those many years, I wore these extremely comfortable shoes (the sandal variety -- easily the most telltale politically and even occasionally with rag socks)  knowing full well that I was taken for one of 'them' even though I knew I was just funning them.
At risk of setting myself for a "yo-mama" joke, I'll add that my own mother wears Birkenstocks and is a centrist Democrat who voted for Giuliani and against Bloomberg.

On a more serious note, Rabbi MB -- a supporter of Howard Dean -- writes that
I think you identified an important factor in what drives media bias and why even institutions that are typed as liberal are often damaging to liberal and progressive causes.  To the jaded NYT, any one who claims to speak for the people or involve them in Democracy is playing the political game.  The more earnest they are, the more they must be knocked down. 

The elitist bias of a paper like the NYT not only leads to the dismissive tone that marked Wilgoren's article, but also makes the paper less likely to do the journalism necessary to document the abuses of the system perpetrated by some conservatives or Republicans.  Its only newsworthy when a  Republican crosses the stereotype and cares about social issues or when a Democrat can be exposed as a fraud or irrelevant. 

Unfortunately other mainstream news sources are not interested in seeing the nuanced picture you present and take every opportunity to bash "liberal bias" as a purely ideological phenomenon. All of us -- conservative, progressive, libertarian, or liberal -- with a serious commitment to resolving iddues and revitalizing the democratic process are done a disservice by elitism and media bias.
In contrast, Kevin Drum [same e-mail] asks
You completely lost me with the Julius Caesar stuff.  How did you draw all those conclusions from a simple paragraph saying that Dean's crowds were remarkably high this early in the campaign?  The "elitist liberal intelligentsia distrusts the common man"?  Isn't that a bit of a stretch from a fairly unexceptionable paragraph?
 
Anyway, I'm not trying to hammer you.  I'm just curious why you reacted so strongly to an article that seemed fairly ordinary to me.
Kevin is right to ask that sort of question. Wilgoren's article alone is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate an anti-populist bias in the mainstream media. I reacted so strongly because, in the course of my research, I have come into contact with a significant body of scholarship that assaults the mainstream "liberal" media for its anti-populist/anti-radical bias.

Thus, I was not deriving a conceptual framework from a single NYT article. Rather, I was applying a pre-existing conceptual framework to it. In that light, I think Wilgoren's word choices are extremely significant.

(For those interested in further reading, the classic work on this subject is Todd Gitlin's The Whole Word is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left)

Last but not least, a factual correction: Both Kevin Drum and VC -- an editor at a major metropolitan daily -- point that correspondents do not write the headlines for their own articles. As VC incisively observes,
One should not attribute a headline, bad or good, to the reporter who writes the story under the headline, since she almost certainly had nothing to do with
it and very likely never even saw the headline until, like you, she picked up a
paper the morning it was published.
Point taken. That's all for now, but if you're looking for more, surf on over to the Sarcastic Southerner for more on Dean.

UPDATE: Aziz over at Dean2004 (the unofficial Dean blog) is glad to have a "righty" on his side.
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# Posted 12:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOMBING UPDATE: Four suspects in the Najaf bombing have ties to Al-Qaeda. See Tacitus and Instapundit for some more details.

Also, Michael Ledeen writes in that
Sometimes I think that there is a real death wish in the West, which simply will not look at our greatest enemy in the Middle East, namely Iran.  Anyone looking at the devastation in Najaf, as at the UN hotel/office building in Baghdad, has to think automatically of Imad Mughniyah, the Iranian-created operational chieftain of Hizbollah.  

In the eyes of the Iranians, Hakim was guilty of treason, since they had fed him and supported him for twenty years, then sent him into Iraq, only to have him turn out to be altogether reasonable and even pro-American.  He said at a meeting about 12 days ago that Iraq would never have peace so long as Iran kept sendng terrorists into the country.
 
He was on an Iranian hit list that includes the grandson of Khomeini and other moderate Shi'ite clerics.
 
Many are saying that no Shi'ite would commit such an act at the Shrine of Ali.  But Iran feels that the Shrine of Ali is theirs.  It is, after all, where Khomeini lived in exile.  And Iran claims control over the Najaf clerics.
 
Of course the Iranians would not send their own people directly to the site to do the deed, and of course the Iranians would have Baathist or Sunni "suspects" all ready for the police.
 
Meanwhile they are organizing the extraction of Saddam from Iraq to Iran.  I suppose fairly soon there will be a banquet of chiefs of state in Tehran, with Osama, Mullah Omar, Hekmatiar, Saddam and Khamene'i....
I know this is extremely serious, but doesn't that sort of banquet remind you of the opening scene in The Naked Gun, where Leslie Nielsen bursts in on a meeting of Qaddafi, Khomeini, Arafat and then rubs the birthmark off of Gorbachev's head?
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# Posted 1:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ BOMBING: Ninety-five men and women, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, lost their lives in Najaf today. They were the victims of a car bomb placed outside the Imam Ali Mosque by unknown terrorists.

The death of Ayatollah Hakim is a major setback for American efforts to cultivate and cooperate with a moderate Shi'ite leadership. Perhaps the best one can hope for is that Hakim's martyrdom will enshrine his non-violent and pro-democratic approach to reconstruction as the reigning standard for Iraqi Shi'ites.

The prime suspects in the Najaf bombing are renegade Ba'thist forces. After the bombing, Najaf police officers arrested four men in connection with the bombing, all of them former members of Saddam's intelligence services. According to scholar-blogger Juan Cole,
this bombing was the work of Saddam loyalists. Baqir al-Hakim had waged a long terrorist and guerrilla war against the Baath. He cooperated with the Americans. When Saddam called on Shiite clergy to declare jihad on the US a couple of weeks ago, Baqir and others rejected the call forcefully and attacked Saddam as a tyrant. No believing Shiite would blow up a huge bomb right in front of Imam Ali's shrine. The truck bomb has become a signature of the remnants of the Baath, as with the attack on the United Nations HQ. The Saddam loyalists may hope that Shiite factions will blame one another and fall to fighting an internal civil war, adding to the country's ungovernability for the Americans.
I myself am wondering whether the Ba'athist were hoping to provoke a Shi'ite-Sunni conflict rather than a Shi'ite civil war. After all, it is hard to imagine that Iraq's Shi'ite wouldn't unite in the face of an external attack. And this afternoon, a Shi'ite protest march made its way into a prominent Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad after a Shi'ite imam called for vengeance. Fortunately, there was no violence.

It is hard to know how the bombing will affect the relationship between Coalition forces and the people of Iraq. Matt Yglesias writes that
One thing the hawks are right about, is that Iraq is not another Vietnam and it's not going to be one in the future, either. On the one hand, the US has gotten much better at avoiding things like the slaughter of innocent villagers. On the other hand, our military opponents do things like blow up mosques that will almost certainly not endear them to the broad mass of Iraqis. But as I said before, each unhappy intervention is unhappy in its own way. The risk in Iraq is not that things like blowing up mosques is going to drive us out of the country. Rather, the risk is that mosques (and oil pipelines, and police stations, and UN buildings, etc.) are just going to keep getting blown up because the occupation authority is understaffed, underfunded, and led by a group of men in Washington DC who've evinced an utter inability to manage public policy. Infrastructure may continue to degrade and central authority may become utterly ineffective. Just like in the last country we invaded.
Kevin Drum shares Matt's concerns about security, writing that
I wish we had a better idea of just how strong these remnants of the Baathist movement are these days. For all the talk about how we're making progress, they sure seem like they're still able to cause an awful lot of damage.
I suspect that this will not be the last attack on a Shi'i holy site. As the NYT noted about the shrine in Najaf,
There were no American forces in the vicinity, as senior Najaf clergymen had made it clear they did not want troops patrolling anywhere near the holy site. A compromise proposal to train a 300-member local police force has been awaiting financing, a Marine officer said.
As was the case with the UN bombing, it seems that Ba'athist insurgents have become adept at locating high-profile targets that are not protected by American forces. Perhaps that is an indication that the Ba'athists no longer believe they can achieve significant success against Americans, with success defined as inflicting more than a handful of casualties at once.

Of course, the security of American forces will provide little comfort to vulnerable Shi'ites. In the aftermath of the bombing, it became apparent that some Shi'ites held the United States responsible for the lack of security. Thus, the challenge ahead is for the occupation government to forge an agreement with Shi'ite leaders that can ensure the security of their gathering places without relying on either an intrusive American presence or an independent Shi'ite military force.

Will that happen? According to an NYT news analysis, today's bombing exposed a disappointing lack of leadership ability on the part of both the occupation government and the Iraqi interim council. The article makes a strong case that a stalemate has resulted from both the Americans insisting that the Iraqis become more assertive while the Iraqis counter that the Americans haven't given them enough power.

Regardless, I think this bombing demonstrates the need for greater Presidential leadership on Iraq. It is time for President Bush to deliver a simple and powerful message to the people of Iraq: "We share your desire for an end to the occupation and the return of self-government. The faster that you demonstrate your commitment to democratic ideals and institutions, the sooner our day of departure will come. The harder you work to fulfill Ayatollah Hakim's vision of an Islamic democracy, the sooner you will be able to honor his memory through the establishment of a free Iraq. God bless and good night."
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Friday, August 29, 2003

# Posted 9:58 PM by Daniel  

COME AND RIDE MY ONE TRICK PONY. Ian Buruma provides an excellent overview of America's relationship with Israel and explains why conventional wisdom about "Jewish interests" driving American foreign policy toward Israel simply doesn't match up with the historical facts. He did not talk about AIPAC (the primary American lobby group on behalf of Israel) and its transformation in the late 1970s/early 1980s, or the cultural ties (value affinity) that bind America and Israel. I think those are two very important factors to consider.

One line with which I disagree: "It may well be that Israel's interests coincide with those of the United States for the moment, but this should not be a given, never to be examined or reassessed." America continually examines and reassesses its relationship with Israel, but in the broadest sense, there are certain parameters beyond which no President will go. AIPAC's reorganization and increased national power in the past 25 years as well as the cultural bond/value affinity argument helps explain these limits.
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# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AIR FORCE SHAME: Winds of Change rounds-up the history of the Air Force academy's epidemic of sexual harrassment and rape.
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# Posted 3:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

WORTH READING: So after a pleasant and somewhat long cigar- and bourbon-accompanied premarital guys' night out between best man and groom, Vi and I have returned to the maid of honor's house to do what's only appropriate....blog on US foreign policy.

To wit: Thomas Donnelly has a very good piece on long-term strategies for Iraqi democratization being laid down in the UK MoD. Donnelly's praise for the MoD is effusive and, it seems, justified: while the Office of the Secretary's comparable report omits "not only broader strategic questions but operational and tactical issues that might raise awkward questions about the Bush administration's planned defense program," the UK effort "represents one of those rare occasions when a government grades itself with some rigor." The special relationship, it would seem, is alive and well.

Also worth reading is a piece by Michael Novak in which he points out the lengths the press has undertaken to exaggerate U.S. casualties in Iraq: "In the 118 days between May 1 and August 26, there were 63 American battlefield deaths in Iraq. About two weeks ago, the left-wing press recognized that this did not sound as dramatic as they wished. So they started totaling all military deaths in Iraq, including those from accidents, which happen in military life every day, everywhere. This brought the total up by another 78. They're more comfortable with that total number, 141. But the true battlefield number is 63. ... In the first stage of the war, from March 19 until April 30, 112 Americans died in combat, and 29 in various accidents. In those first 42 days, that meant almost 3 combat deaths per day. In the 118 days since then, there has been about one combat death every other day--63 in 118 days. (The accidental deaths have been fairly consistent: 29 in 42 days early on, and after May 1, 78 in 118 days.)" The challenge for responsible, national-security minded Democratic contenders is to offer helpful suggestions, and yes, criticisms about the U.S.'s commitment of time and money to making Iraq a pivotal functioning democracy for the region and validating America's status as a principled foreign policy actor - this, of course, instead of seizing on (even exaggerating) each suggested mis-step of U.S. policy simply to attack a President with every criticism with which the left would take pleasure in seeing him attacked. Responsibility, idealistic patriotism, and a commitment to seeing politics stop at the water's edge were a trademark of both parties for the vast majority of the Cold War...and they should be once again.
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Thursday, August 28, 2003

# Posted 4:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOWARD DEAN, VICTIM OF THE LIBERAL MEDIA: That's right. I'm about to stick up for Howard Dean. Not because I particularly like the guy, but because the NYT should hold its correspondents accountable for their slanted reporting.

The correspondent in this instance is Jodi Wilgoren, the very same one who did her best some months back to whitewash the terrorist murders committed by David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin. So, one might ask, why would the same correspondent who defends the Weather Underground give Howard Dean a hard time?

As far as I can tell, Wilgoren is following one of the unwritten rules of the trade: romanticize Vietnam-era leftism as much as you want, but don't make nice with the aggressive leftists of today. After all, they might provoke a conservative reaction that threatens low-key mainstream leftists like the ones who work on 44th Street.

Up front, Wilgoren is pretty good to Dean, giving him a favorable headline that reads "In a Long Presidential Race, Dean Sprints". Positive as it is, the headline is accurate because Dean really is campaigning a lot harder than his opponents.

The first hint of of what's going comes in the second graf, where Wilgoren describes Dean's supporters as "rabid". As if being excited about Dean were some sort of violent pathology. While I think the Doctor's supporters are often misguided, such comments belong on the editorial page, or at least in a news analysis column.

Later on, Wilgoren informs us that "the feisty crowds were filled with Birkenstock liberals whose loudest ovations always followed Dr. Dean's anti-war riff -- there were few union members, African-Americans or immigrants." There is a lot of substance in that sentence, but it's hard not to notice a ridiculous phrase like "Birkenstock liberals" that belongs on the pages of the National Review.

While most of us are aware of the vague correlation between footwear and political preferences, invoking this sort of stereotype in the news is both counterproductive and misleading. As best as I can tell, "Birkenstock liberals" refers to those liberals who are not black, not union, and not immigrants. Does it refer, then, to middle-class white liberals? Young liberals?

Perhaps all this guesswork isn't worth the time, since the term "Birkenstock" might just have been thrown in to provide some color. Yet at the same time, it carries the sample sort of implication as the term "rabid" -- that Dean's supporters are outside the mainstream, so caught up in their idiosyncratic lifestyle that their views aren't worth taking seriously.

First of all, is that really the case? I doubt it. My sense is that Dean's campaign -- and especially his fund-raising -- isn't getting its momentum from granola-crunching Berkeley undergrads. As far as I can tell, there is a sizable portion of the American public that was firmly anti-war and is forcefully anti-Bush. They have to be taken seriously.

In another telling passage from the article, we hear that
"He's not running a campaign, he's running a movement," [according to] Natasha C., one of four people the Dean campaign invited to chronicle the trip on their Web logs. "These are protest-size crowds, these are not politics-size crowds, and that's the critical difference."

But it is unclear what the movement is for.
Holy unwarranted editorializing Batman! I may not like what Dean is for, but you've got to pretty thick not to recognize that his supporters have a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and Jimmy Carter-emulating agenda. But why the cheapshot if most NYT correspondents like that kind of agenda?

Because the elitist liberal intelligentsia distrusts the common man, even when he is on their side. Toward the beginning of the article, Wilgoren writes that
The staggering, seemingly spontaneous crowds turning up to meet [Dean] — about 10,000 in Seattle on Sunday and a similar number in Bryant Park in Manhattan last night — are unheard of in the days of the race when most candidates concentrate on the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and would seem formidable even in October 2004.
Not just unheard of, but unwelcome. Taking their cues from Julius Caesar, correspondents fear that the latest incarnation of Marc Antony will turn the mob to his own ends. Howard Dean one day, Rush Limbaugh the next.

Strangely, this is one issue on which the academicians are far ahead of the correspondents. Beginning in the late 1980s, a veritable flood of books and articles began to demonstrate that the American public is actually a moderating force, drawing politicians back from the ends of the ideological spectrum. Even on foreign policy, which scholars long considered the issue area in which the public makes the worst choices, it became clear that American voters recognized that they wanted something to the right of Jimmy Carter and the left of Ronald Reagan. (Click here to read more about the Rational Public.)

In short, it's time for the Times to get with the times. It may be true that
the people buying the "Doctor is in" buttons [at Dean's rallies] were mostly aging flower children and the tongue-studded next generation.
But that sort of provocative details shouldn't pass for serious political reporting. In all fairness, there is a lot of interesting information in Jodi Wilgoren's article, much of it not reprinted here. But at just those moments when Wilgoren needs to provide more depth to her initial observations, she wanders off course and provides us instead with substandard cliches.

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# Posted 2:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRATIC DOMINOS: MA further elaborates my earlier point about the role of Austria and West Germany in opening up the Eastern Bloc. He writes that:
Although the details of the story have been rather forgotten here in Britain or the US, it was very precisely a series of planned, deliberate acts by the West Germans and Austrians that brought about the end of communism in Europe.

First some background: In the constitution of West German state the right of East German citizens to become West Germans was automatic and guaranteed.

Every single DDR citizen who succeeded in getting out - and, as you state, it became harder and harder - was automatically a West German - as soon as they crossed the border they got a passport, some money, help finding a job, accomodation etc. All W German governments, left and right, were equally punctilious in fulfilling this.

Furthermore, during the 1970s and 1980s East Germans living near the border and near Berlin (you will remember that West Berlin was an enclave in the middle of East Germany) could receive West German TV automatically. (Of course, the West Germans boosted their signal as much as they could in those areas).

By the mid 1980s, it had become so difficult for the DDR government to persuade people to live in areas that couldn't get the signal that they were actually forced to retransmit it, rather than attempt to jam it, to cover the whole country.

Thus practically everyone in East Germany had access to West German and they could not only get uncensored news, but could see for themselves just through the medium of ordinary everyday programming that life in the West was materially richer, freer, safer and just more exciting than their own.

In 1988 the W German government, deciding to test Gorbachev to the limit, came to an agreement (money changed hands) with both the Hungarians and the Austrians, that the Hungarians would announce that, on a given date, they were going to allow people to leave Hungary and go to Austria without exit visas. This meant that anyone in Hungary after that date, Hungarians or any other of the Warsaw Pact nations could leave the country. Now, this didn't affect the Hungarians and others too much, because they would still need visas, work permits etc to stay in Austria or anywhere else, but obviously everyone in the DDR knew that they COULD stay in West Germany. In effect, because the whole border between East and West was an extension of the Berlin Wall, by making the announcement the Hungarians announced that they were opening a gate through which anyone could pass.

So, in March 1989 (I'm not at the home, so can't check the exact dates) [the] Hungarian Govt did announce that they were going to open their border to Austria on a given date in August. Of course, this got huge play on W German TV, the implications were spelled out in black and white, and so that August literally millions of East Germans booked their annual holidays in Hungary and succeeded in crossing the border. By the time the DDR government realised what was happening it was too late, because although they had built the wall between East and West, there was only basic border security between the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Even when they tried to stop people going directly to Hungary, all anyone had to do (as many did) was go to Czechoslovakia, and then cross into Hungary.

The fact that the DDR had, almost at a stroke, lost the core of its "middle class" led to the panicked decision to open the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of the state, and to a ripple effect which spread to Czechoslovakia, Romania and eventually to the USSR itself.

So, as I say, although the mere existence of West Germany did not lead to the collapse of communism, the fact that the it was there, and the (too often unacknowledged) courage and determination of Helmut Kohl and other West German leaders did indeed lead to the collapse of communism.
Very well said. Finally, in response to my observation that
"As for Cuba, it's an island. Its residents would all be in Miami now except for the fact that it's a helluva lot harder to survive a rafting trip across the Gulf of Mexico than a subway ride to West Berlin."
BB wisely responds that
The fact that when we catch them attempting it, we drag them back to Castro's warm embrace, doesn't [that] have anything to do with it? At least if somebody made it across the Berlin wall we didn't toss them back over...
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# Posted 2:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BODY COUNT: Phil Carter has some insightful comments on the fate of American soldiers in Iraq. He also has quite a good post on Ashcroft up.
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# Posted 12:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

ADMINISTRATION TAKES OXBLOG'S ADVICE, YET AGAIN: CNN is reporting this morning that the administration "is considering having a multinational force in Iraq to be sponsored by the United Nations but under U.S. command." The network quotes Deputy Secretary of State Armitage as saying that among several ideas being explored, "one is a multinational force under U.N. leadership, but the American would be the U.N. commander." They must have been reading this this (and this). Glad to hear OxBlog's record in setting U.S. foreign policy remains strong.

With that said, I'm off now for a few days of Labor Day blogcation in Rochester, where I have the happy pleasure of serving as best man as my close friend Vi Nguyen (the handsome guy to my left there) weds his lovely fiancee Amanda Houppert. OxBlog threw him a stately weekend-long bachelor's party last week, which included a black-tie dinner Friday night at the Harvard Club hosted by David and myself, and an ensuing weekend up in the Catskill Mountains alternating between athletic TR-esque hiking and subsequent restful snacking on Eggs Belton and grilled chicken. (We in OxBlog were seeking to patronize the Borscht Belt, even if we didn't patronize the Borscht). See you guys Monday!
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# Posted 12:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAS IT OVER WHEN THE GERMANS BOMBED PEARL HARBOR? In honor of the 25th anniversary of Animal House, the NYT has an essay charting the film's influence on the countless frat-house flicks that have followed in its wake.

It's a good essay, but I'd like to expand on one point. Film critic Elvis Mitchell says that the lovable misfits of Delta house won us over because they were rebelling against an American establishment with authoritarian habits. Mitchell even quotes director John Landis saying that the creators did their best to make the bad guy frat come off as Nazis.

Now, back when I was in college, I had a hard time convincing my friends that there was any political content in Animal House. Sort of the same way that my friends now aren't willing to believe that there is any political content in professional wrestling.

To be fair, I'm not going to pretend that AH was a political film, rather than one about college. But it's message is very clear, and it isn't just about rebels vs. fascists. It's about the World War II generation vs. the Cold War generation that sunk the United States into the quicksand of Vietnam.

It's no accident that campus enforcer Doug Niedermeyer is in charge of the ROTC unit, or that the Dean threatens to notify the draft board that the men of Delta house have been expelled are no longer entitlted to deferments. In spite of AH's happy-go-lucky charm, the characters' lives are on the line. That is an important reason why AH is so much more compelling than recent knock-offs like Old School, in which the main characters are running away from adult life rather than resisting death.

So what about the WWII vs 'Nam symbolism? Again, it's no accident that Delta has a motorcycle riding member named D-Day who wears a vintage Army helmet, or that John Belushi tries to inspire his troops by referring to Pearl Harbor. Perhaps the most telling Vietnam symbolism in the film comes at its end, when the camera freeze-frames on each of the main characters and reveals their future. Niedermeyer goes to Vietnam and gets killed by his own troops. His buddy Greg becomes a Nixon White House aide and is later raped in prison.

A murder and a rape. In context, they seem downright hilarious. They are punishments that these men deserve. But here, in a essay focused on politics, it becomes clear just how brutal these punishments are. Hidden in humor, they are indication of just how deadly serious Animal House was.

Today, the WWII generation has become the "Greatest Generation", known for its unmatched sacrifice and courage, not to mention its hard work and family values. But before Tom Brokaw took advantage of the vets' fading memories to recast their image, the men of WWII were once a symbol of how a melting-pot nation came together to face down an authoritarian menace.

The men of WWII were not Boy Scouts. They were a little bit wild, a little bit like the men of Delta House. They were the embodiment of democratic freedom. They were individuals. They broke the rules and they had a good time. But when push came to shove, they were willing to put it all on the line and lay down their lives for the freedoms they cherished.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

# Posted 3:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GILLIGAN AND THE SKIPPER: Kevin Drum says Instapundit and others have been misintepreting a recent story about Andrew Gilligan losing his position at the BBC and being exposed as a liar.

I think Kevin has a point about how Glenn, myself and the British media have been confused about what Gilligan's alibi actually was. But from Kevin's post, you get the sense that he actually believes Gilligan's alibi and wants to ignore the multitude of evidence which points to Gilligan's malicious incompetence as a correspondent. With any luck, Josh will clear this all up next time he logs on.
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# Posted 3:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WEDDED TO MY PRECONCEPTIONS: Tacitus thinks I'm refusing to accept reality. To back up his point, he provides a list of about a half-dozen (recent) fatal attacks on Coalition forces outside the Sunni triangle and in Shi'a majority locales, which I described as free of anti-American resistance.

Tacitus most definitely has a good eye for detail, but are ten or so fatalities supposed to persuade me that there is real resistance outside the Sunni Triangle? Also note that Tacitus assumes Shi'ites were responsible for the attacks outside the Triangle. I didn't see any evidence of that in the news articles he links to (Daily Telegraph excepted since I couldn't open the links.)

Tacitus also points to intra-Shi'ite conflicts, some violent, to demonstrate that things are not going well. Hmmm. A strange point to make given that upstart Shi'ite clerics such as Moqtada Sadr are attacking their more established elders for being too pro-American.

Finally, Tacitus isn't happy that I accused him of still living in Vietnam. Actually, I'm willing to take that one back. I don't read Tacitus on a regular basis, so perhaps I should've been less harsh in my judgment.

Now, while I won't give the NYT or WaPo a free pass for their Vietnam mindset, I am willing to let history go when it comes to fellow bloggers. And frankly, Tacitus is providing a much more interesting challenge to my views on Iraq than left-wing pessimists such as Kos.

Also, Tacitus' comments section on this post has a very sophisticated debate on the course of events in Iraq, with both sides well-represented. In short, I'm perfectly happy to agree to disagree. Tacitus is now on my regular reading list.
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# Posted 2:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE DICTATOR NEXT DOOR: Matt Yglesias isn't happy with NRO's Jed Babbin for arguing that democracy in Iraq will bring down the dictatorships next door. Matt writes that
you hear this (or something like it) all the time, but is it true? What's the evidence supposed to be? Certainly the establishment of democracy in West Germany and Austria didn't exactly topple the dictators in East Germany. A democratic USA's been just a hop a way from a dictatorial Cuba for a bit over 100 years. Or does Babbin just mean that the Saudi (or Syrian or whatever) regimes can't persist indefinitely? Clearly, it's better for a regime to be situated near other like-minded regimes, but dictatorships and democracies sit side-by-side all the time for decades.
Note to Matt: The East Germans had to crush a nation-wide rebellion in 1953 and build a wall around West Berlin in 1961 to keep their entire population from walking away. Lucky for them, the Soviets were there to bail them out on both occasions. My question: Will anyone be there to bail out the Syrians, Saudis or Iranians?

As for Cuba, it's an island. Its residents would all be in Miami now except for the fact that it's a helluva lot harder to survive a rafting trip across the Gulf of Mexico than a subway ride to West Berlin.

Finally, what about the fact that "dicatorships and democracies sit side-by-side all the time for decades"? As Samuel Huntingon has aruged, democratization comes in waves. In contrast to Huntington's dumber arguments (See "Clash of Civilizations") this one has some real substance to it. (And problems, too, but that's another story.)

So far, no democratic wave has hit the Middle East. But if Iraq goes that way and Iran follows, would you want to be in Mubarak or Assad's shoes?

UPDATE: To be fair, Matt's been putting up a lot of good posts on Iraq, for example here, here, and here. There is no question that Matt takes the importance of reconstruction seriously. He just happens to be more critical of the situation on the ground than I am.

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# Posted 2:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER POST NOT ABOUT IRAQ: Back in the September 10th era, the Weekly Standard ran a cover story [no permalink] lamenting the absence of patriotic themes in post-Cold War professional wrestling. (Hey, it's not Bill Kristol's fault. It wasn't easy to come up with good cover stories before Chafetz started writing them.)

Anyway, I'd imagine that Kristol and Kagan would swell with pride if they knew that Vince McMahon had given the Tag Team Championship to Rene Dupree and Sylvain Grenier, aka "La Resistance."

Representing the Good Ol' USA are D-Von and Bubba Ray, the Dudley Boys. The Dudley are crude, ignorant, violent and much-loved by wrestling fans across the world. Apparently, when it comes to certain aspects of world politics, unilateralism pays off.
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# Posted 1:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A POST NOT ABOUT IRAQ: Instead, a post about drinking beer, watching football and having bikini-clad models jump up and down on trampolines. A day in the life of Patrick Belton? No! It's The Man Show on Comedy Central. New hosts, new season. Lowest common denominator. God, does it get any better than this?
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# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ -- READERS RESPOND: Prof. DN thinks I have been making a mountain out of molehill. He writes that
This doesn't seem all that complicated to me. Whether Islamicists or Baathists were responsible for the UN bombing, the US is fighting a guerrilla war in Iraq. The aim of the enemy is to disrupt reconstruction and lesson the effectiveness of the occupation at
delivering goods and services to the Iraqis. There's no evidence either way that the US is "winning" or "losing," just that the occupation is difficult and probably requires a lot more resources than the Bush administration initially earmarked.
A reasonable point. If the occupation were a football game, we'd still be in the first quarter. But even after a few minutes of play, you begin to get a sense of what the opposing sides' respective strengths and weaknesses are. If DN is right and the occupation demands far more resources than initially planned, than it is fair to say that the United States is "losing".

On the other hand, if anti-American forces have given up on the struggle for hearts and minds (as DN strongly implies) than the US may have a decisive advantage. It's as if the Ba'athists and fundamentalists have given up on short-yardage plays in the first quarter and are already throwing Hail Mary passes.

On a related note, BG writes that
I'm afraid I just don't buy the example you use as an empirical example of how we are winning the "hearts and minds." You said

Early on in the quagmire debate, OxBlog also pointed to one clear empirical indicator of whether or not the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people were on the American or the Ba'athist side. That standard was to judge whether or not the people were protecting the 55 men on the Pentagon's most wanted list. My answer then was no and my answer now is still no. 38 of the 55 are dead or in prison because the Iraqi people are helping us find them.
Isn't it entirely possible for an Iraqi to despise both Saddam and America? Just because someone hates the Ba'athists doesn't mean they accept the occupation. Take a guy like Moqtada Sadr, the radical Shia cleric. He hates/hated Saddam. He's clearly not on the Ba'athist side. Does that mean he's on our side? Would he protect Ba'athists in his midst? Of course not. He'd probably kill any senior Ba'athists without thinking twice. But how can you claim that his hatred
of Saddam equals an acceptance of American rule? How can this be seen as anything close to empirical?
BG is right that I didn't elaborate on my point sufficiently. If you take a look at my original post on the subject, however, you may get a better sense of what I'm driving at. In it, I wrote that
If you read the WaPo's latest report on the capture of the Ace of Diamonds, you begin to get a sense of how desperate the top leadership of the deposed government has become.

Abid Hamid Mahmoud spent his last hours as a fugitive in the house of a couple who didn't even want him there. Mahmoud had no significant weapons, cash resources, nor means of transportation...

Mahmoud's desperate condition suggests that the Ba'ath has not been effective in organizing resistance and that it's support among the population is rather shallow. With any luck, such conditions will result in the ultimate capture of Saddam Hussein, who has been pronounced alive (if not well) according to US experts.
While this sort of evidence does not imply an "acceptance of American rule", it shows that most Sunni in Iraq (not to mention Shi'ites and Kurds) have decided that an American occupation is far better than Ba'athist rule. That is a critical part of the struggle for hearts and minds. In fact, it is a form of conditional acceptance.

I grant BG's point that certain Shi'ite clerics may resent the US almost as much as they did Saddam. But take BG's own example of Moqtada Sadr. Even he seems willing to accommodate a temporary American presence. While Sadr advocates the establishment of an Islamic republic, he has not said that it should be an authoritarian rather than a democratic one.

In the end, what matters is not whether the people of Iraq accept American rule, but whether they accept democracy.

On a more theoretical note, "C" writes that
I have been following your debate with Josh Marshall. FWIW, I am predisposed to your side of the debate, so you can take the following with a grain of salt.

The problem with establishing a benchmark in social science, as opposed to the physical sciences, is that success is also measured against alternative "universes" defined by paths not taken.

For instance, are Bush's economic policies successful? Looking at economic performance in terms of the real data is insufficient; one must determine whether Bush's policies are better than alternatives. Looking merely at the fact that unemployment rates have risen does not mean Bush's policies are unsuccessful; they might actually be better than alternatives under which unemployment would have risen further.

So, too, trying to establish a benchmark for success with Mideast policy must make an estimate of where the U.S.'s position would be if alternative strategies had been followed. In other words, it's not enough to establish benchmarks to measure a policy; you must also argue that the path the administration has taken is better than what might have occurred had
the administration taken alternative paths.

This is a long-winded way of saying what Dan Drezner has been saying all along: it's not that pre-emption is a good policy, it's that it is better than the alternatives.
Most definitely a valid point (although I'm not sure that Bush's economic policy is the best illustration of it!)

The last comment of the night comes from Michael Ledeen, who continues to make time for OxBlog despite his professional commitments. Michael writes that
on the "hearts and minds" question, I think that the mullahs and the Assads believe that if they drive us out of Iraq -- which is their intention, as they have said all along -- they will thereby win fealty from the masses.  As Lyndon Johnson once famously said, when you've got them by the balls, the hearts and minds usually follow...[Let's hope the mullahs and the Assads are as successful as LBJ was in 'Nam! --ed.]
 
It is certainly desperation in the sense that the Terror Masters are fighting for survival;  if we win, they're doomed.  But don't try to read the minds of Iranians with a logical Western decryption device.  They are very cunning and very devious.
 
Finally, on the "Iraqi secret service" theory.  Maybe, maybe.  But as soon as I heard the story I said "the guards were obviously paid off."  You don't need the secret service; it's enough to have people who want/need money, or are blackmailed to accept it. 

When I was a correspondent in Italy years ago, and people asked me how it could be that Italian terrorists broke out of jail so often, so easily, I said, "Well, what if you were a guard and somebody came to you and said, 'Look here, if you will just arrange not to be in Cellblock 4 at midnight, we'll pay you three years' salary, and will promise NOT to murder your daughter...'"
 
It works, believe me.  Just about every time.
Fair enough.

To conclude, I guess I should mention that there were actually lots of positive responses to my post as well, including this one from Steve Sturm, who takes the critics to task for applying inconsistent standards when judging the progress of the occupation. He is right. But that's their job!
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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

# Posted 1:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQ -- LOOKING BACK AT THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER: In yesterday's posts on the occupation, I set out for the record those positions which both OxBlog and its critics had taken vis-a-vis the occupation of Iraq during the months of April, May and June. This post will pick up where the last one left off. (If you want to know why I am investing so much time and effort in this project, click here.)

In the last days of June, I elaborated at length on my argument that the American media had become fixated on the superficial resemblance of the occupation of Iraq to the war in Vietnam. Surprisingly, certain liberals agreed with my conclusions as much as did conservatives.

In July, the big news in Iraq was the death of Uday and Qusay Hussein. To my surprise, even those invested in demonstrating the existence of a quagmire recognized an American victory when the saw one.

In August, it was all quiet on the Middle Eastern front until the double bombing of Jerusalem and Baghdad. Then I put up this post which led to an avalanche of criticism followed by this four-part series on the state of the occupation as it is right now.

So there you go. Thankfully, this post has turned out to be shorter than expected. So now I can stop navel-gazing and get back to current events. TTFN.



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# Posted 12:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG -- INTROSPECTION AND HISTORY: What began as a response to my critics became an unexpected exploration of my intellectual development over the past five months.

While compiling material for yesterday's posts on the occupation of Iraq, I became more aware than ever of how blogging enhances one's self-awareness and forces one to take responsibility for one's thoughts and actions.

For dedicated historians of the self, it has always been possible to gather together journal entries, personal correspondence and other documents in order to assemble an intellectual self-portrait. However, thanks to blogging, the investment of time and effort necessary to become aware of one's own political development has fallen to the point where it has actually become an inviting prospect.

In our heads, we tend to keep an informal score of our own rights and wrongs on the issues of the day. Unsurprisingly, such informal scores tend to ignore losses and emphasize wins, thus suggesting to ourselves that we have far more insight and credibility than we actually do.

At the same time, such informal scores tend to reduce the value of actual wins, since all one can to say to one's opponents long afterward is "I'm usually right and you're usually wrong." And they can say the same thing right back. Or just make fun of you for your groundless self-confidence.

However, in the blogosphere, one must hand over to the reading public the right to measure the worth of your latest post against the value of your older ones. If a blogger is not consistent in his or her views, the reading public (especially other bloggers) will impose consistency from without.

Even professional journalists rarely have to endure this sort of scrutiny. While a record of their work is available in every public library, who actually spends their spare time burrowing through stacks of old newspapers? (Nexis-Lexis is beginning to change all that, but subscriptions are not yet priced for the general public.)

In the process of compiling material for yesterday's posts on Iraq, I found it disturbing to read hundreds of paragraphs that I myself had written but whose contents I would not have recognized in the absence of a byline. Thus, to take either the credit or the blame for the contents of those paragraphs seems rather strange.

At the same time, there were discernible patterns of thought that gave a distinct personality to what I had written. On the other hand, I would not have recognized such patterns if not for the convenience of the OxBlog archive.

In my next post, I will finish off the project that I began yesterday. Yes, it is a response to my critics. But much more importantly, it is a process of learning about myself. And it enables me to recognize that which is so distinctive about belonging to a community of individuals -- a.k.a. the blogosphere -- that has made a similar commitment, more or less formal, to learning about themselves.

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# Posted 12:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AFTER CHAFETZ EXPOSE, HEADS ROLL AT BBC: Andrew Gilligan will no longer be reporting for the network. Instapundit has more.
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Monday, August 25, 2003

# Posted 8:04 PM by Patrick Belton  

THREE NOT-SO-EASY PIECES, CONT'D: This month's issue of the RAND Review includes pieces by senior RAND analysts James Dobbins and James Quinlivan.

Dobbins's piece extracts lessons from the U.S. experience in building democratic nations after wars, from Germany on. The most pertinent:

"Unity of command is as essential in peace operations as it is in war. This unity of command can be achieved even in operations with broad multilateral participation when the major participants share a common vision and tailor the response of international institutions accordingly."

"There is no quick fix for nation-building. None of our cases was successfully completed in less than seven years."

"Multilateral nation-building is more complex and time-consuming than a unilateral approach. But the multilateral approach is considerably less expensive for individual participants.

"Multilateral nation-building can produce more thorough transformations and greater regional reconciliation than can unilateral efforts."

"There appears to be an inverse correlation between the size of the military stabilization force and the level of casualties. The higher the proportion of troops relative to the resident population, the lower the number of casualties suffered and inflicted. Indeed, most of the post-conflict operations that were generously manned suffered no casualties at all."

And as though the point weren't driven home yet: "Many factors—such as prior democratic experience, level of economic development, and social homogeneity—can influence the ease or difficulty of nation-building, but the single most important controllable determinant seems to be the level of effort, as measured in troops, money, and time" (emphasis added).

Quinlivan focuses more on the ratio of policing officers to residents in historical experience:

"Peaceful populations require force ratios of somewhere between one and four police officers per thousand residents. The United States as a whole has about 2.3 sworn police officers per thousand residents. Larger cities tend to have higher ratios of police to population."

"Although numbers alone do not constitute a security strategy, successful strategies for population security and control have required force ratios either as large as or larger than 20 security personnel (troops and police combined) per thousand inhabitants. This figure is roughly 10 times the ratio required for simple policing of a tranquil population."

" The British are acknowledged as the most experienced practitioners of the stabilization art. To maintain stability in Northern Ireland, the British deployed a security force (consisting of British army troops plus police from the Royal Ulster Constabulary) at a ratio of about 20 per thousand inhabitants. This is about the same force ratio that the British deployed during the Malayan counterinsurgency in the middle of the 20th century.

More recently, successful multinational operations have used initial force ratios as large as the British examples or larger. In its initial entry into Bosnia in 1995, the NATO Implementation Force brought in multinational forces corresponding to more than 20 soldiers per thousand inhabitants. After five years, the successor Stabilization Force finally fell below 10 per thousand. Operations in Kosovo during 2000 showed the same pattern; the initial forces were sized at somewhat above 20 per thousand."

"The population of Iraq today is nearly 25 million. That population would require 500,000 foreign troops on the ground to meet a standard of 20 troops per thousand residents. This number is more than three times the number of foreign troops now deployed to Iraq.... For a sustainable stabilization force on a 24-month rotation cycle, the international community would need to draw on a troop base of 2.5 million troops. Such numbers are clearly not feasible and emphasize the need for the rapid creation of indigenous security forces even while foreign troops continue to be deployed."

Quinlivan's implication is that the U.S. should draw as much as practicable on an indigenous policing force, which would require a smaller footprint (instead of, i.e., the five nondeployed uniformed soldiers required for each soldier in theatre). Both authors' arguments conduice too towards bringing foreign troops onto the ground in Iraq - but under unified, U.S.-led command and control, and a clear commitment by the U.S.'s partners to establishing a democracy in Iraq and staying for as much time as that takes.
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# Posted 12:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

A SAD DAY IN INDIA: Two powerful car bombs exploded today in Bombay, killing 46 and injuring over 115, with initial suspicion resting on the Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Students' Islamic Movement of India. This is the fifth bombing in Bombay since December 2002. See CNN, Times of India, BBC. Hawken Blog has thoughts and is paying an eye to developments.

According to the Times of India, the bombs exploded in the boots of two taxis, one near Mumbadevi temple in Bombay's jewellery district, and the other in a parking lot near the Gateway of India. The bombs occasioned immediate calls from the BJP and Shiv Sena for the resignation of the Congress-led state government.
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# Posted 12:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

SCOTS GAELIC FOR VIETNAMESE SPEAKERS: and you think I'm joking....
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# Posted 11:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

L'HOMME NIKITA: Writing in the pages of the LRB, Neal Ascherson gives us a remarkably well-rounded portrait of a remarkably complex man, Nikita Krushchev:
His personality was horribly deformed; his crimes were unforgivable. And yet his lust for the new was disarming. I will never forget a story Taubman tells about his London visit in 1956. What, he asked his Foreign Office escort, was that odd 'oo, oo!' noise coming from the back of the crowd? The diplomat explained that people were booing, an expression of disapproval. Khrushchev grew thoughtful. In the back of the car, he said experimentally to himself: 'Boo!' And then again: 'Boo!' He liked it. For the rest of the day, he went around exclaiming 'Boo!' to all kinds of puzzled people. He had learned something.
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# Posted 11:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

THREE NOT-SO-EASY PIECES: This Weekly Standard piece by Bob Kagan and William Kristol is worth noting. The authors begin by repeating - correctly - that "American ideals and American interests converge ... a more democratic Middle East will both improve the lives of long-suffering peoples and enhance America's national security." They then applaud statements to that effect by Condoleezza Rice and President Bush calling for a "generational commitment" to Iraq and the Middle East comparable to the U.S.'s commitment to Western Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. And in this, the security advisor and the president are also indeed applauseworthy: the intertwined task of promoting democracy and pursuing counterterror in the Middle East is as obviously central to U.S. security today as creating a secure, commercially prosperous free Europe was then.

Rather than basking solely in admiration for the president's bold, long-term vision, however, the authors are quick to measure current performance in Iraq up to its metric. They point to the successful performance of the U.S.'s mission at hand requiring two more divisions in Iraq - divisions which, thanks to the prior administration's short-sightedness, the nation simply does not have. But most interestingly, they then offer these two criticisms:
[Show me the money:] There has also been a stunning shortage of democracy assistance, at a time when, according to surveys taken by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Iraqis undergoing an explosion of political activity.... The price tag [for everything], which may be close to $60 billion, will provide fodder for opportunistic Democratic presidential hopefuls who are already complaining that money spent inIraqwould be better spent in theUnited States. But, again, the time to bite the bullet is now, not six months from now when Iraq turns to crisis and the American campaign season is fully underway

[And show me the diplomats:] Until recently, only a handful of State Department employees have been at work in Iraq. The State Department, we gather, has had a difficult time attracting volunteers to work in Iraq. This is understandable. But it is unacceptable. If the administration is serious about drawing an analogy with the early Cold War years, it should remember that the entire U.S.government oriented itself then to the new challenge. We need to do the same now. The administration must insist that the State Department pull its weight.


This paragraph, though, seems both their most stirring and their most correct:
Make no mistake: The president's vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq. Indeed, there is more at stake in Iraq than even this vision of a better, safer Middle East. The future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish, and must accomplish, in the decades ahead.


I could not agree more completely, and endorse everything that I have quoted, as far as the authors go. However - and although they are two writers I respect deeply on the subject - I think they might be too quick to reject out of hand the prospect of looking overseas for soldiers. The authors seem to think of the matter as a choice between two options: simply asking our dedicated soldiers to do more of what they have been doing so well, or giving the entire enterprise over to the internationals - in which case either Kofi and Jacques Chirac will be the ones to determine the pace of Iraq's democratization, or still worse, we may suffer "the possibly unfortunate effects of turning over the security of Iraqis to a patchwork of ill-prepared forces from elsewhere in the world."

Hmmm. Though I agree with Kagan and Kristol on their other points, this particular bit seems a bit of a false dichotomy. Without doubt, the army's current deployed force is woefully insufficient for the task (this in numbers alone, not training or personal devotion). But first of all, we can't simply send more U.S. troops over, because we don't have them. A friend in the Office of the Secretary of Defense told me over lunch last week that bringing additional divisions online - as are indisputedly needed at the moment - would take five to ten years, with emphasis more on the ten than the five. (An important lesson from U.S. history: don't throw your armies away. you might need that.) As far as extending the current pace of deployment - anyone considering this as a viable notion should flip back a few issues in one of my favorite magazines to a piece by another talented Kagan who writes on national security matters (this time Fred). Kagan begins by noting that of the 495,000 troops in the U.S. Army, 370,000 are deployed at the moment. And this already represents a substantial overdeployment relative to the normal requirement to have two units at home in "yellow" and "red" stages - training, tending to base duties, recovering psychologically from overseas service in a combat zone, and rescuing families from divorce - for every one unit serving overseas. At the army's current size, following this rule would allow us to sustain an indefinite deployment of three and two-thirds divisions between different theatres. At present, we have the equivalent of over five out, in Iraq alone, and they aren't enough. Equally seriously, massive overdeployment of the reserve component has ceased to make service in the Reserves any longer an attractive path for amateur patriotic professionals with families and civilian careers. Speaking personally, I know at least several OxBloggers were giving serious consideration to service in the Reserves after 9/11 - but at the current deployment pattern, the price would simply have been too high to balance with beginning families and civilian national security careers. The damage this may have inflicted on the reserve component may in fact be incalculable.

On the other hand, bringing in Allied forces does not mean surrendering U.S. command and control, or democracy promotion aims. Indeed, both would be strengthened by having more feet on the ground to further consolidate security in Iraq. This is not to underestimate interoperability problems with even NATO allies, or the caution that we should take in the drafting of a UN resolution to permit the entry into theatre of peacekeepers from other democracies, like India. And a careful balance will have to be struck, between giving countries sufficient operational control over their own forces to secure their deployment of those forces, while retaining a preeminent role for U.S. leadership in the theatre to make sure that democracy promotion and order is what in the end results. But such complexities must be dealt with, as it is the path which must be taken.

That bit excepted, I heartily endorse everything Kagan and Kristol have said. More, please.
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# Posted 2:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RESPONSE TO MARSHALL, PART TWO: (Part one is here.) In early May, I confessed that contradictory coverage of the situation in Iraq made it hard to know whether the occupation was head for success or failure. Since then, my confusion in the face of conflicting press reports has been a running theme of my commentary on Iraq.

While confident that the pessimists consistently get the story wrong, I haven't been willing to say that things in Iraq are necessarily going right. The point? That even in the midst of this extended I-told-you-so, I'm not willing to say that Iraq will become known as an American success story anytime soon. But I am very sure that the pessimists Cassandran pronouncements reflect fundamental misperceptions rather than a balanced assessment of the evidence at hand.

Of course, OxBlog gets things wrong as well. I really didbelieve that American negligence led to the sack of Baghdad's National Museum. Then again, the pessimists didn't exactly get that one right...

It may also be worth noting that I have criticized the US occupation policy at times, even if I haven't pronounced it a failure. Examples of such criticism include my response to rumors of the US implementing a shoot-on-sight policy to deal with looters, my criticism of a US ceasefire with the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, and my blasting of ignorant comments made by Donald Rumsfeld. I admit that I'm an optimist, but I'm sure as hell no Republican cheerleader.

Moving on, OxBlog continued in late May to argue that American GIs were up to the task of befriending the Iraqi people and serving as the embodiment of the United States' democratic values. While there seem to be serious morale problems inside the American camp, I think it is fair to say that the soldiers have still done an admirable job of interacting with those around them. I can't think of any reports of serious misconduct, and even the NYT is getting all teary-eyed about the GIs reaching out to appreciative locals.

In mid-June, OxBlog was gratified to see both the NYT and the WaPo running stories on the restoration of order and basic services in Baghdad. While things are still not great on this front, it might be worth noting that criticism on this front tends to ignore just how far things have come since the end of the war.

Mid-June also marked the beginning of the quagmire debate that has raged on ever since Ba'athist insurgents began to pick-off American soldiers in Baghdad. OxBlog's comments at the time remain surprisingly valid two and a half months later:
I see no evidence of a self-sufficient resistance movement which can survive independent of Ba'athist ties. Nor does Tacitus provide any. Besides, the fact that almost all of the attacks on US soldiers have been in the former Ba'athist strongholds of Tikrit and Falluja demonstrates just how closely tied the attacks are to the fallen dictatorship.

Now here's some food thought: Remember the good old days when our big concern about postwar Iraq was the potential for Shi'ite resistance to the occupation?
Well, even back then OxBlog was pointing out that anti-American violence was coming from the Sunni community, not the Shi'ites. So? The bottom line is that only that small minority who benefited from Saddam's rule seems interested in resisting the occupation.
If resistance had spread outside the Baghdad triangle, I would gladly accept that this prediction was wrong. But it hasn't so I won't.

Early on in the quagmire debate, OxBlog also pointed to one clear empirical indicator of whether or not the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people were on the American or the Ba'athist side. That standard was to judge whether or not the people were protecting the 55 men on the Pentagon's most wanted list. My answer then was no and my answer now is still no. 38 of the 55 are dead or in prison because the Iraqi people are helping us find them.

To Be Continued...
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