John Holbo kindly takes requests, and offers some thoughts on the Dave Sim interview. Man, if only I could have John Holbo posts about Cerebus every day. And a pony.
Home stretch of grading and other stuff, so just a few random rare bits here, with a focus on the nuts:
Nut 1: Iyad Allawi. Apparently, the rotund one has been nominated by the Governing Council to be Prime Minister after June 30. Chalabi would be the worst, but Allawi is not much better. An exile politician with no local support or base, really no base at all outside the CIA. Not a widely respected technocrat or a unifying, nonpolitical figure. Suggests the IGC desperately looking for a way to maintain its role against the possibility of democratic elections which would turn most of them out on their kiesters. If true, would be a pretty bad pick. UPDATE: Juan Cole, on the other hand, thinks that Brahimi wants precisely a politician with no local support so that the PM won't be able to use the power of incumbency to seize power. Perhaps I was too hasty.
Nut 2: Stephen Hayes. The Wall Street Journal asks why we aren't spending more time searching Iraqi archives for proof that Saddam was behind 9/11. The possibility that we have, and haven't found anything, is not considered a possibility, even though one might suspect that the slightest hint of such evidence would within half a second be on its way to the Wall Street Journal and to Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard. Speaking of uber-hack Stephen Hayes, quite possibly the worst working "journalist" today (not that Judith Miller doesn't seem to be working), did you know that he has published a book called "The Connection"? Apparently, it is supposed to be chock full of the "evidence" like the stuff in the Feith memo which Hayes published in the Weekly Standard - could someone remind me again why leaking highly classified documents full of unfiltered counter-terrorism intelligence is legal? Anyway, speaking of nuts, I would put Hayes in touch with Laurie and Edward, but don't all these guys already know each other? Surely they met at the big "Saddam Conspiracies" conference in Bethesda last year? Anyway, the Wall Street Journal describes Hayes's book like this: "There's no single "smoking gun," but there sure is a lot of smoke." Since the Journal desperately, painfully, tragically wants the "connection" to exist, this evaluation can only be translated as "this book is full of cow poopie, darn it."
Nut 3: Claudia Rossett. She's been writing about the Oil for Food "scandal" for so long and so obsessively that the lack of blood is starting to get to her. Shorter Claudia Rossett: Five different investigations of the Oil for Food Program are not enough. This is not the time for a coverup! Roswell! Roswell!
Nut 4: Dave Sim. The Cerebus creator answers questions - at rather dismaying length - on the Yahoo! Cerebus newsgroup. If you skip past the "let me explain again why the feminist conspiracy keeps you from understanding me" parts at the beginning, he actually has some fascinating interpretations of his own work. Especially recommended are the discussions of the "round glowing white thing"/Regency Elf and Rick's binding spell. Sim's explanations might sound a bit bizarre - I would love to hear Dave Fiore or Marc Singer or John Holbo take a crack at them - but they do suggest quite effectively both the depth of thought Sim brought to the table throughout the book... and how nuts it seems to have driven him.
Way back in the misty days of yore, when attacking Clinton's failure to overthrow Saddam had become a key pillar of Republican doctrine, and Ahmad Chalabi had emerged as the key figure in this conservative faith, three very sharp foreign policy analysts - Gideon Rose, Daniel Byman, and Kenneth Pollack - published The Rollback Fantasy in Foreign Affairs. Their article eviscerated the conservative fantasy that Ahmed Chalabi's INC could somehow overthrow Saddam Hussein with minor American assistance. Byman, Pollack and Rose were no doves (Pollack, you might recall, made the case for invading Iraq in a Foreign Affairs article and then in The Threatening Storm; Byman at the time was a key Middle East analyst at the RAND corporation; Rose is the managing editor of Foreign Affairs). They were experienced and smart realists who knew a really bad idea when they heard one. If I recall correctly, they even managed to popularize Andrew Parasaliti's immortal line about the INC: "they have more influence on the banks of the Potomac than on the banks of the Euphrates." They were right.
They remind us of the state of the debate circa 1999: "Appearing when Americans were increasingly uncomfortable with the existing policy of containment, Chalabi's views about "rollback" found favor with a number of influential critics of the Clinton administration. The notion that Saddam could be toppled without a full-scale U.S. invasion was appealing, because in the pre-9/11 world such an invasion was politically unthinkable. Chalabi and his supporters held out the hope of an easy way out, a path beyond the various unpalatable alternatives considered feasible by mainstream analysts. The only problem, as we noted in our Foreign Affairs article The Rollback Fantasy, was that the Iraqi opposition's military plans were ludicrous, and trying to put them into practice would likely lead to a replay of the fiasco with Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. This was not welcome news in Washington in 1999, and for pointing out that the INC emperor had no clothes we were roundly attacked as scoundrels or defeatists. As one neoconservative critic put it, "This reflects how unimaginative, cynical, embarrassed and apologetic our foreign policy establishment is now.""
Returning to "The Rollback Fantasy" helpfully reminds us that neither Chalabi's untrustworthiness nor the brazen tactics of his supporters are recent developments. Where serious people could reasonably disagree about how to assess the extent of the Iraqi WMD threat, no serious person believed in Chalabi. Indeed, one's position on Chalabi became something of a touchstone for locating people within the Iraq debates: supporting Chalabi signaled that one's primary concern was conservative domestic politics, that the realities on the ground in the Middle East didn't really matter.
As the authors correctly note, "Historians will ask not only why [Chalabi] ultimately fell from grace, but rather how he could possibly have maintained his position as the administration's favorite Iraqi for so long in the face of a nearly unblemished record of error and deceit over the years."
I think the answer is largely rooted in the role that Chalabi came to play in a conservative fantasy world which developed in opposition in the mid to late 1990s. Lee Harris wrote a mostly silly article about al Qaeda a while back which described its ideology as a "fantasy." Whether or not this says anything useful about al Qaeda (I'd incline to the not, but that's not the point here), it applies very well to the neoconservative ideas about Iraq and the support for Ahmad Chalabi. As Harris puts it (applied to a different group, of course): "in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability... It is, to be frank, something like “Dungeons and Dragons” carried out not with the trappings of medieval romances — old castles and maidens in distress — but entirely in terms of ideological symbols and emblems."
Chalabi enabled a conservative fantasy world, one which allowed them to block out the real world and dismiss all critics - with the results that we now see collapsing around our heads. Supporting Chalabi by the late 1990s meant that you were fundamentally not serious about the Middle East as it really existed, but that you were fully committed to the conservative worldview. That worked fine as long as Chalabi's backers were in the opposition, and could indulge in their fantasy politics. The problem that they - and the world - now face is that when Chalabi's backers came to power, they brought this fantasy world with them, and whether through genuine conviction or because they could not back down from their public commitments, they began acting out their fantasies in the real world. And the hermetically sealed conservative world - especially inside the Bush administration - acted to block out this real world for far too long. Again, to quote Harris: " Fortunately, the fantasizing individual is normally surrounded by other individuals who are not fantasizing or, at the very least, who are not fantasizing in the same way, and this fact puts some limit on how far most of us allow our fantasy world to intrude on the precinct of reality. But what happens when it is not an individual who is caught up in his fantasy world, but an entire group — a sect, or a people, or even a nation?" In Iraq today, we see an answer to that question.
Byman, Pollack and Rose do us a real service by reminding us of the roots of our current dilemma: the Bush administration's insistence on enacting a fantasy world script in the real world, with predictable - and predicted - results.
This isn't the kind of blog that pays attention to things like the Washingtonienne follies - we're far too high minded to get distracted with some silly sex scandal. Or something. But when the story makes the Arab media, what choice do we have? We're forced - compelled, I say - to climb down into the gutter and report.
And indeed, Miss Jessica Cutler made it into the Arab press today - probably not for the first time, but the first I've noticed, in the online tabloid Elaph. The headline is perhaps a wee bit misleading: "Sex Scandal Rocks American Congress." Well, that might be a bit much. But the whole thing sure does rock, so there you go! The story dutifully reports that Miss Cutler kept an online sex diary, that she worked in a Republican Senator's office, and so on. The story helpfully notes that Cutler is a "young pretty brunette," and quotes some of the juicier bits. Frankly, it reads like a translated wire service report, which it probably is.
And hey Ana Marie - they even quoted you! They transcribed the name of the site as "Younkette," but hey - close enough.
And with that, back to our usual diet of termites and ants.
UPDATE: yesterday Elaph, today the front page of Al Hayat! Like Elaph, al Hayat may be getting a bit carried away, though. The headline - "The lovely Jessica Cutler.. a new 'Monica' threatens the Republicans in the American Senate" - strikes me as a bit wishful thinking, but whatever. Who would have thought that the Arab media would be interested in a Washington sex scandal? People forget that Arabs like their entertainment, not just politics... just like Americans. After all, just about the only program in the whole Arab television sector that can match Faisal Al Qassem's "The Opposite Direction" in the ratings is "Superstar", an Arab version of American Idol. Oh, and judging by most of the Beirut bars that I've been in, "Model Flat" (a British show, I guess... like "The Real World" only with supermodels!)
Mark Bowden, who earlier wrote a rather disturbing article celebrating the virtues of coercive interrogation, has a short piece in the new Atlantic . The punchline: "I have written in this magazine about the moral imperative for using these methods on uncooperative individuals withholding critical, life-saving information. No doubt there are some imprisoned in Iraq who fall into that category. But such instances are rare."
Now, this is a generous self-interpretation of his earlier article, but set that aside. Bowden also frames his piece by noting the hypocrisy of Arab condemnation. Showing immense originality, he figures out all by himself that it might be effective to compare the response to Abu Ghraib to the (alleged) non-response to the beheading of Nick Berg. Wow, never thought about that before - good one, Bowden! Except he puts it this way: "Maybe it's just me, but did I miss a similar storm of moral outrage from the Arab world over the pious Islamists who got out their video cameras to record the gruesome beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nicholas Berg?" To which we can only respond, yep. Must be just you. Because there were lots of Arabs and Muslims - prominent ones, ordinary ones, the whole spectrum - who expressed disgust and outrage over Nick Berg. Maybe he missed them because he wasn't looking for them? Or perhaps because it might have interfered with his breathtakingly original insight? Or, just maybe, possibly, because he doesn't speak Arabic and therefore doesn't have the slightest clue what Arabs did or didn't say?
This applies equally to his second line of "hypocrisy" - "So let's look at official government policy. Any reader of the yearly reports on torture published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would pay his weight in antique dinars to stay in an American military prison if the alternative was jail anywhere in the Arab world." And we haven't heard word one about that, right? Um, no. For just one, small example, we might turn to this episode of The Opposite Direction hosted by Faisal Al Qassem, which is only the most popular and influential political program in the entire Arab world. Maybe Mr Bowden didn't know about this, seeing as how he doesn't speak Arabic and therefore has no idea what Arabs are or aren't condemning. Good thing that readers of the aardvark know about it, and might be able to help Bowden (or anyone who might share his oh so original insights about Arab hypocrisy) out next time he's wondering about what Arabs have said about Arab prisons.
Hey, remember when people who called the American presence in Iraq an "occupation" were denounced as anti-American? Remember how one of the justifications for creating al Hurra was that al Jazeera used inflammatory, anti-American language - such as calling the American presence in Iraq an "occupation"?
Imagine my shock when I saw President Bush spew this anti-American filth: "On June 30, the coalition provisional authority will cease to exist and will not be replaced. The occupation will end."
Here, let me refresh your memory as to what is so horribly wrong with this: FrontPage, August 23, 2003: "As for the 'occupation' of Iraq, (an epithet used by many to de-legitimize America's involvement in Iraq and to appeal to the anti-American Left around the globe) it will last as long as necessary.. [we must] minimize the 'occupation' stigma which has inflicted upon America's men in uniform by the Left." Ouch!
Dr Walid Phares: "People want freedom and democracy, even at the hands of aliens (what the Left calls "occupation" and the Iraqis call "liberation")." Has the Left infiltrated the Oval Office?
Andrew Sullivan, in his bill of particulars against the New York Times: "It also refers to the American and British presence in Iraq as an "occupation."" Egads! Has Howell Raines taken over the White House?!?
Conservative hacks of the world unite and denounce Bush's anti-American rhetoric!
Shorter Meyrav Wurmser: After years of selectively translating the Arab media to portray Arabs in the worst possible light, I have reluctantly come to realize that Arabs say such horrid things that we should no longer waste our noble and selfless efforts on trying to bring civilization to such nasty, brutish beasts. We try so hard to help them, but they just don't seem to appreciate us. So "it is no longer up to us to treat them as equals."
Shorter Meyrav Wurmser (disco version): It is indeed time for neocons to apologize: we were wrong to love Arabs so much and to try to help them as we did. God, we tried to love the Arabs, but they just weren't worthy. So let's get with the killing.
Shorter Meyrav Wurmser (aardvark remix): What do you mean "we", Mrs. MEMRI?
You've all no doubt heard a hundred variations of this theme over the last couple of weeks: Arabs are hypocrites to complain about Abu Ghraib because their own prisons are far worse and they don't say a word about them. Ergo, they are hypocrites motivated more by anti Americanism than by principle.
Okay. Next time you hear this, you might want to casually work this in to your response: On May 18, Faisal al Qassem's "The Opposite Direction" - the single most watched and most influential political program in the Arab media, sort of like Tim Russert only a lot more so - aired a program called "Arab Prisons." Al Qassem paired off Fouad Allam, an Egyptian former assistant Interior Minister (and hence well acquainted with torture in Arab prisons) and Khalid Shoukat, director of Holland's Center to Support Democracy in the Arab World. Among the (editorially inserted) subheadings: "Torture and the violations of human rights in the Arab world"; "The use of prisons to liquidate political movements"; "Torture in some Arab states"; "The culture of torture in the history of the Arab regimes."
This is common fare for Faisal al Qassem's show, and for al Jazeera in general, which - as I've often pointed out - has tended to be as fiercely critical of the Arab regimes as it has of the United States and Israel (which is why so many Arab states are happily signing on to America's campaign against independent Arab media). But this particular example so directly and starkly contradicts a key conservative talking point that I thought it worth drawing special attention to it.
A while ago, in a bit of a fever dream I fantasized about a Laurie Mylroie/Michael Ledeen battle royale, locked in a closet fighting over whether Iranian or Iraqi intelligence as responsible for all the evil in the world. The mind now reels at the rematch over this delicious revelation: Ahmad Chalabi's intelligence chief was an Iranian spy.
Ledeen: "I was right! See, even Ahmed Chalabi, who wasn't evil until a few days ago, turns out to be a front for the ultimate evil!"
Mylroie: "How dare you call Ahmed evil! I have rock solid evidence that the Iranian agent who spilled on Aras Karim was actually one of Saddam's agents inside the Iranian regime! And no, I can't show you the evidence - but it will be in my next book."
Ledeen: "It is true that you should never trust an Iranian... but, if Chalabi is cooperating with the Iranians then he must die. The clock is ticking - faster please!"
Mylroie: "Wait a minute, did you just say that we should kill Ahmed Chalabi faster? That is so not okay - members of the American Congress, sure, but not Ahmed!"
And so it goes.... any WB executives listening? Do we have a pilot here?
UPDATE: turns out that Ledeen, showing his usual abysmal judgement, has decided to align with Chalabi and ridicule the charges of collaborating with the Iranians. Did Mylroie get to him? Or has the battle not yet been joined? Or, more seriously, was the possibility of a Chalabi-Iranian connection just to much to contemplate, so to avoid having his head explode Ledeen instead chose to just cover his ears and eyes and sing loudly "I'm not listening, doo dah doo dah"?