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Michael Ubaldi, January 28, 2004.

I've believed for a long time now that the left's continuing criticism of Iraq's liberation - nearly a year after Baghdad fell - will strike more and more people as offensive and ultimately sociopathic. Who better to condemn Howard Dean's ludicrous statement about Iraqis' cost of living than an Iraqi, Ali?

Michael Ubaldi, January 27, 2004.

I once had a brief disagreement with someone who believed leaving the French out of Iraq's reconstruction was vindictive and wrong. I argued that the French led Saddam's defense counsel and could not be trusted with post-Saddam Iraq. He didn't see it my way. It'd be nice if he did now. (Via IP).

Michael Ubaldi, January 27, 2004.

Three items concerning Iraq's brave steps forward; two are from Jay Nordlinger's continuing reports from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

  • Jay's first anecdote brings us a stirring pledge from Jordan's King Abdullah:

    King Abdullah — King Hussein's kid, who runs Jordan — makes a favorable impression. Most of his education took place in Britain, but he sounds like an American. (Georgetown U is in his background — he and Clinton share that!) He is articulate, modulated, and assured. Speaking in the Congress Center, before a large and alert crowd, he appeals to the world to help Iraq's transition. That transition will go more easily, he says, if everyone pitches in. It will also go faster. But no matter how long it takes — one year, five, ten, whatever — it must be done. A lot is riding on it.

    Jordan is by no means a governmental model for the Arab world - it has never been pluralistic and over the past decade the King has ruled solely by decree - but its standing as a traditional Western ally means one less enemy, and a nation that can liberalize peacefully.

  • Next comes a man whose spirit and character tell us much of the free Iraq we will soon know well:

    Also here is Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister. He is the one who so thrillingly told off the U.N. Remember what he said? "The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years. Today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure." In my view, Kofi Annan has yet to recover from Zebari's audacity. It was an unforgettable instance of truth spoken to power. And I believe — along with others — that it was Zebari's words, his tongue-lashing, that got Annan & Co. moving on the help-Iraq front.

    Zebari is a Kurd, and he was once a militant in the Kurdish movement. He now represents an Iraq that is open to all, not just to the privileged Sunni minority. The prospect of a democratic Iraq is more exciting, for Iraqis ordinary and elite, than most Americans appreciate, I believe. Imagine being given a chance to have a decent, modern country, after a long night of barbarism. To walk and talk with democratic Iraqis here in Davos, who actually have political power and responsibility, is inspiring.

  • Do Americans understand how easily hearts can be turned away from extremist mass movements? With controversy swirling around Saddam's weapons, they ought to know that any dictator would simply acquire more, and the only lasting victory will be the end of tyranny in Iraq. If President Bush stumps on one foreign policy issue, liberation should be his choice. Doing the right thing still appeals to the United States.

  • Finally, good news from Iraq itself, and proof that continuing attacks against Allied troops and innocent Iraqis cannot and will never stop its advance towards the modern world. On January 18th, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard Jones spoke to Kuwaitis on the value and benefit of investing in Iraq. Read the whole speech. In one sense, it undercuts some voiced suspicions that CPA intended to retract its economic reforms. As a glimpse into the unique prosperity that Iraqis will attain, it comes close to bringing tears:

    Stable and integrated institutions will be created, including a new Baghdad Stock Exchange as well as a domestic bond market. The restructuring of state-owned banks, the introduction of foreign banks and micro-lending programs will contribute further to our efforts to mobilize savings for the benefit of the real economy. Public trust in the banks will ultimately benefit everyone as banks re-invest their profits and put wealth at the service of development. Government price controls will end in sector after sector, each in accordance with its own realities and be replaced by market-clearing prices that will provide fair value for consumers and serve as reliable signals of economic opportunities for investors.

    You have every reason to want to be part of this new marketplace.

    Iraq is open for business. I have now seen both the Kuwaiti and the Iraqi business climates and I can tell you that Iraq is ready for you. Before long it will enjoy an efficient, fully capitalized active capital market and effective financial regulation provided by an independent Central Bank and a modern Ministry of Finance with professional staffs. Certainly there are real risks, but there will also be great rewards. Businessmen are already visiting and those who wait too long will be sorry. In April the Baghdad Expo will be held, and all potential investors are encouraged to attend. Come to free Iraq to see the changes and your opinion of the possibilities will alter dramatically.

    Jones has certainly read writing from off the wall: With low taxes, nearly unlimited foreign investment and an eager work force, Iraq is destined for success. A middle class will explode in size. Iraqi entrepreneurs will achieve market feats enjoyed by other free and market-friendly nations, and the whole of the Near East will gradually become transfixed with Iraq's ways and its people's livelihood. That's winning the war on terror, one newly productive life at a time.

    Michael Ubaldi, January 26, 2004.

    Quote of the day:

    I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is former head of the Allies' weapons hunter in Iraq, David Kay, interviewed by National Public Radio reporter Liane Hansen. Justin Katz's observations on Kay's statements (via IP) are thoughtful, serving in part as indictments of the mass media's generally shallow reporting (including Fox). He reminds us of the primary reasons for war - before the negotiation, beyond the narrow scope that the Security Council accepted. He has a point. Several months after the prewar diplomacy has been muddled by politics, a refreshment is in order.

    The direct threat Ba'athist Iraq posed to America was its very nature: a police state brutally run by Saddam Hussein, who had for two decades demonstrated his insatiable desire for strife and conquest. For twelve years after his Gulf War defeat he refused to relinquish his reported and clandestine weapons institutions - a concession we now know, with Moammar Ghadafi's capitulation, is neither impossible nor a geopolitical suicide pact, in fact quite the opposite - and so in this regard alone, drew up his own warrant. (If not, what would any international agreement ever be worth?)

    Saddam Hussein (and many other dictators) might have been left undisturbed had September 11th not brought the potential of the Near East's culture of hatred and violence to the world's attention. Named as part of the Axis of Evil, the Ba'athist regime would need to be destroyed for two reasons, each reinforcing the other.

    Iraq's relative power and hostile orientation towards most of the West made it an advocate and guardian of the region's oppressive status quo - and a perpetual 800-pound gorilla to frustrate attempts at democratization. If newly liberated countries, protected by Western armies, were to have any hope of removing the appeal of Islamism through modernization, Saddam Hussein's deposition was a critical first step.

    Second, until Saddam and his regime fell, Iraq's known and alleged weapons were far too great a risk to be left unaccounted for. Saddam, who used chemical weapons and hired terrorists without hesitation against his enemies - and earnestly adopted Islamist rhetoric, insignia and associations after being driven from Kuwait in 1991 - had little reason not to regard terrorist groups as the perfect asymmetrical weapon. Iraq would provide resources, the terrorists would attack their shared enemies. Each party brought its own collateral. If Saddam mistreated the terrorists, they might undermine his rule; if terrorists set upon Iraq without provocation, they could lose the wealth of a state while gaining an enemy. Unconvincing? It shouldn't be. Consider Saudi Arabia's Faustian bargain with al Qaeda, the racketeering of an entire state. Was such an alliance between Saddam and terrorists well-established? Loose and tentative? Or perhaps nonexistent? State sponsorship of terrorism is practically a tradition in Iran and Syria. Ultimately, the possibility existed in Iraq and was far too dangerous to ignore.

    The United States led a coalition into Iraq as much for weapons of mass destruction as the tyrannical regime that would own them. Success could only come from elimination of both weapons and owners. If Ba'athist Iraq had, like Libya, opened itself up to scrutiny, Saddam may have won both sympathy and amnesty from an amoral United Nations; the matter of freeing the Near East - and stamping out terrorism - could have been postponed indefinitely. After September 11th, this was unacceptable. It's wrongheaded to believe that a strongman wouldn't empower himself in every way possible; but Libya is not a top strategic priority today, and if Ghadafi can be taken nicely as he is taken slowly, so be it. As events played out, Saddam's WMD pursuit went hand-in-hand with his horrific example of authoritarianism. The latter has been demolished and with it went any possibility, however in doubt, for the former. And the former, as David Kay made clear, carried far more potential for catastrophe than we ever imagined.

    Michael Ubaldi, January 25, 2004.

    As I e-mailed to Glenn Reynolds, who links to some rather vital explanations for David Kay's pronouncement that no weapon stockpiles were inside Iraq, when I read the Kay report it was a brief in Reuters and the first thought I had was, "Okay, what did Kay say that they didn't report?"

    Here's what Kay said:

    David Kay, the former head of the coalition's hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, yesterday claimed that part of Saddam Hussein's secret weapons programme was hidden in Syria.

    In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Dr Kay, who last week resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that he had uncovered evidence that unspecified materials had been moved to Syria shortly before last year's war to overthrow Saddam.

    "We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons," he said. "But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD programme. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved."

    Dr Kay's comments will intensify pressure on President Bashar Assad to clarify the extent of his co-operation with Saddam's regime and details of Syria's WMD programme. Mr Assad has said that Syria was entitled to defend itself by acquiring its own biological and chemical weapons arsenal.

    What a difference context makes, no?

    Michael Ubaldi, January 23, 2004.

    Response to this frustrated report ought to be interesting:

    David Kay, who stepped down as leader of the U.S. hunt for weapons of mass destruction, said on Friday he does not believe there were any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.

    "I don't think they existed," Kay told Reuters in a telephone interview. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s," he said.

    Conspiracy theorists and partisan Democrats, your boat has come in. Now we know the truth: when United Nations inspectors had been shooed out of country, Saddam took it upon himself to destroy stockpiles, many of which never existed, then refused to show any evidence of it so as to keep sanctions, no-fly zones and international suspicion in place - particularly to prevent a return to Iraq's early-1980s prosperity! His greatest triumph was losing power to President Bush's renewed pursuit of Security Council resolutions. What guile! But only after Clinton lied, of course.

    Sorry, but the vice president - as usual - makes the most sense. And lest we fall for the notion that this was "cooked up in Crawford, Texas," consider this. [For the record, if I have to choose between the disgusting tyrants of the Sudan and Bill Clinton for the answer to the alleged bombing of an aspirin factory, it's Clinton every time.]

    'MY BAD': In the event you're being seduced by the trend of shrugging your shoulders and blaming intelligence, Scrappleface can set you straight.

    HITCH: More perspective from the uber-objectivist:

    There was no comparable inquisition, as I recall, when the intelligence "community" failed to predict, and very nearly failed to report, the invasion of Kuwait. And the antiwar forces cling to their taunt on WMD because every other part of their propaganda and prediction has been utterly exploded.

    ...[I] was not an elected officeholder in a democratic government in a post-9/11 atmosphere. If I had been, I would certainly have decided to make the worst assumption about any report on Saddam's capacity for lethality, and I would have been operating at all times on the presumption of guilt. As a civilian, I would have wanted to criticize any Western government that did not err deliberately on this side.

    Or failed to realize that, by demolishing Saddam's regime on that account, the free world appeared very serious about game-playing to one Moammar Ghadafi. Do the opponents of Iraq's liberation believe authoritarians, by their very nature liars, should be given the benefit of the doubt?

    Michael Ubaldi, January 21, 2004.

    Glenn Reynolds notes an article in Australian paper The Age by one Caroline Overington. Her topic is America and Bush, "They Like Him, and They Are Not Stupid." It's nicely balanced, going so far as to hold up the American argument as a belief to be reckoned with - rather than to wrinkle one's nose at. Are you sitting down? Americans aren't illiterate cattlemen, toting revolvers everywhere they go! This piece is a compliment from and to our equals in other nations who, contrary to what we might be led to believe by the left, do not despise us unanimously. It's good for The Age, as its editorials in prewar months were often smugly anti-American.

    Unfortunately, Overington is a little loose with facts; their impact is secondary to her observations, but distracting nonetheless. Three errors or oversights stand out.

    She notes that two hundred sixty mass graves have been found in Iraq, "containing as many as 20,000 bodies." Is she addressing one of the largest disinterments to date (I found one reference to three mass graves totalling 20,000), or the whole lot of them (standing now at a staggering 300,000)? [I am actually incorrect. 300,000 is an estimate and while it's likely accurate, it is an estimate.] It's hard to say; if her facts aren't wrong, her statement suffers from awkward phrasing.

    The Iraqi population, says Overington indirectly, is 12 million. It's in fact twice that, at 25 million. Hate to nitpick, but discounting one out of every two people does matter.

    Finally, Overington recalls a tender anecdote with the parents of a soldier recently killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She puts the date of the incident no later than April, yet claims "At the time, it was already clear that Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction." Clear to whom? The answer of where the weapons are is still not clear, and the question of weapons' existence is much less mystifying if one reviews Saddam's record or refreshes their memory of David Kay's report that suggested a country-wide network of institutions, laboratories and storage sites, and that:

    [a]ny actual WMD weapons or material is likely to be small in relation to the total conventional armaments footprint and difficult to near impossible to identify with normal search procedures. It is important to keep in mind that even the bulkiest materials we are searching for, in the quantities we would expect to find, can be concealed in spaces not much larger than a two car garage.

    Not exactly something to respond to with, "Yeah, yeah, but where are the weapons?" Keep in mind, too, that fully loaded Luftwaffe aircraft remained hidden underneath Schoenefeld Airport in Berlin for over fifty years. No billboards or road signs will lead the world to discovering the fate of Saddam's WMDs.

    It's not my intention to rain on Overington's parade or dispute her fair and insightful reading of American values. Rather, I find that work such as hers is devalued by one or more of the urban myths that swarm around the war on terror like flies over a picnic. As Steven Den Beste observed several days ago, this period of decreasing danger and growing strength of liberty and enterprise in Iraq is no time to be complacent about misread numbers or, worse, the innocent repeating of persistent little lies. Honest reporting like Overington's deserves better.

    Michael Ubaldi, January 16, 2004.

    I was expecting a panicked tone like the despairing Washington Post headline Ilyka Damen found, but Amir Taheri is suprisingly nonchalant about this Ayatollah Sistani:

    Sistani's call for elections is seen by some officials in Washington and Baghdad as a definitive rejection of the current plan. But this is a dangerous misreading not only of Sistani's intentions, but also of the role that the Shiite clergy should play in a future democratic Iraq. To begin with, Sistani's statement is a fatwa, which means an opinion, and not a decree or an edict, as some U.S. officials, including L. Paul Bremer, the Coalition's chief civilian administrator, seem to believe.

    ...In Shiism, as in Islam in general, no religious expert (mujtahid) has the authority to issue either a decree or an edict. There are no popes and cardinals in Islam, and the opinion of one religious expert could be challenged or even contradicted by another's.

    [E]ven if, at the end of the day, Sistani remains unconvinced, that should not bring the whole process to a halt. It is unlikely that Iraqi Shiites would be foolish enough to repeat their mistake of 1920 and choose to stay out of the nation's political life. Holding elections is not a religious duty, but a matter of political expediency. The Koran calls for consultation (shawr), and not elections in the Western democratic sense, as a key for legitimizing any government.

    You ought to read it all. I've come into contact with enough observant journalists who might take issue with Taheri's near-complete faith in Shiite beliefs and Sistani's magnanimity to be a little puzzled. Yes, I knew that good Shiites believe in secular government - but one can be forgiven, I'd hope, for being taken aback by five-figure crowds chanting angrily in support of a religious leader's political statements. Even more curious is the assertion that Bremer, CPA and most of the Western press have got Sistani all wrong. But Taheri's no fool - if he's not worried, I don't know how much I can be any longer, either. I'm very anxious to see how his predictions match the months ahead.

    Michael Ubaldi, January 8, 2004.

    Zeyad has a letter from a Iraqi woman, from the Saddam-loyal town of Samarra, describes the cold-blooded murder of her son by American troops five days ago. According to the letter, the son and a cousin's son were stopped outside of Samarra, searched by an American patrol - then suddenly and inexplicably tied up before being thrown into the Tigris near the Tharthar dam. The cousin's son "got stuck in a tree branch" and survived. The son died. Like Glenn Reynolds, I've come to respect and trust Zeyad. Yet the letter itself is angry - very angry - and the story is questionable, even considering Zeyad hastily translated it. I hope to goodness no one is taking advantage of his generous character.

    [I linked to a story describing a GI stationed at a "Tharthar Dam," but now suspect that some confusion exists between us outlanders, as there are either more than one "Tharthar dams" or several dams are colloquially referred to as such.]

    Would the unit guarding the dam at night - probably stronger than a daytime garrison - be of the same as the patrol? If they weren't, would GIs at the dam at the time allow a patrol to toss two kids into the Tigris? If they all were in the same unit, would the lot be so unfit for duty that attempted murder could be considered an inside joke?

    What about the search that occurred? The entire American encampment stood by? How far downstream must the family have needed to go to find the jacket, particularly when the current purportedly tore the son from the grip of the woman's cousin? How in the hell did a miles-long, days-long, family-wide search for a murdered civilian floating down the Tigris not launch its way into the news?

    This doesn't add up. I'm skeptical.

    GLENN'S REPORTING AS PEOPLE RESPOND: There are some interesting deductive critiques from readers at Glenn's link (provided above). [Ha, better than mine.]

    GOOD THING ZEYAD ASKED US TO READ IT TWICE: More feedback is piling up at IP, including someone else who is wondering the same thing I am about which dam is being referred to in the letter. Just move northwest from Baghdad on this map and you'll find the "Tharthar Dam." Does that prove duplicity? Or what I'm wondering, which is that the Samarra Dam, close to a canal from the Tharthar Lake, assumed the name of "Tharthar" by locals.

    SETTING IT STRAIGHT: Another IP reader says "I suspect the letter author meant that the kids were taken to the gates that divert water from the Tigris to the Tharthar Basin." Another writes about it here.

    CORRECTED, AND OFFERING APOLOGIES: Zeyad was right. A crime occurred, and those who committed it will be held responsible.

    Michael Ubaldi, January 6, 2004.

    A Christian Science Monitor story is making the rounds today. It describes the powerful and often persuasive nature of trips to Baghdad for members of Congress, changing the minds of such opponents to the October 2002 Iraq Resolution as left-leaning Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee. But as we've seen over the past several months, a significant number of Democrats have also returned from Iraq with confidence in the Allied effort. Even if terrorist violence weren't decreasing, works projects are reportedly begun at the rate of 100 a day - that's convincing reconstruction. The Pentagon and House Republican leaders are among those encouraging representatives to travel and see democratization with their own eyes.

    How is the left wing of the Democratic Party treating the opportunity? Ask Nancy:

    House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who voted against force in Iraq, is not encouraging Democrats to visit Iraq, but "neither is she discouraging it," says a Democratic leadership aide. "Members have been encouraged to visit the wounded at the Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]."

    Walter Reed is a location of choice, of course, because a visit doesn't require leaving the Beltway or its circular-talk pessimism. Nor does anyone visiting Walter Reed instead of Baghdad have a chance to witness what the wounded have been bravely working and fighting for.