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Michael Ubaldi, October 6, 2003.

Glenn Reynolds provides an excellent roundup of news that best describes the reconstruction of Iraq: unfinished (in fact, still in its first stages), a bit uncertain, but progressing and only adding to the population's strengthening optimism - optimism that began in mid-April when their oppressor's disgusting statues and effigies were torn to pieces.

The best part? Much of the coverage is also self-critical - yes, journalists are a little unhappy journalism lately. As the Instapundit puts it, "Big Media is catching on."

Michael Ubaldi, October 4, 2003.

Via Andrew Sullivan, a fine example of American generosity and know-how:

Kirkuk, a multiethnic city of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians that is 150 miles north of the capital, may be the U.S. military's greatest Iraq success story. Attacks on soldiers are unusual, violent crime is low, and Iraqis have worked with Americans to restore basic services to prewar levels.

The paratroopers in Kirkuk, like those in Mosul, the other major northern city, have thrown themselves into nation-building, and they have outpaced the rest of Iraq in turning over local government, security and reconstruction tasks to Iraqis.

That effort is aided by the peaceful environment, partly a result of the city's geography and ethnic balance, and the 173d Airborne's quick moves to establish control after the war. Another big factor is that there is less coalition bureaucracy; soldiers can act on the spot to solve problems.

The article offers many other instances of successful communication with locals and solid progress towards normalcy - democratic normalcy - while hinting that the secret to the 173rd's success is a lack of bureaucratic interference. That's something for timid politicians in Washington to consider as they seek a U.N.-mandated or loan-stuffed back door as if it were the best option, rather than the easiest one. Is this story an isolated case? Not at all, with nine-tenths of the country peaceful; what's more, paratrooper units have generally been leading the way in infrastructure restoration and Iraqi fellowship. Consider Kirkuk and Mosul models of civilized order that, once appreciably restored to allow for resources to shift elsewhere, can eventually be duplicated across the country. Our boys and the Iraqis will win this, yet.

Michael Ubaldi, October 3, 2003.

David Kay came to Washington. While many on the left cackled about the lack of clearly marked stockpiles of ready-to-use weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and continued to insinuate that Bush viewed the threat as specifically "imminent" - he did not, quite clearly rebuking the idea with "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent" - David Kay delivered a very encouraging public report. Where some see a vindication of Saddam Hussein, Andrew Sullivan has been blogging overtime to lay out the big picture. His strongest point quotes Kay directly:

If you don't have time, here are my highlights. First off:
We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld and through physical evidence of equipment and activities that ISG has discovered that should have been declared to the UN.

Translation: Saddam was lying to the U.N. as late as 2002. He was required by the U.N. to fully cooperate. He didn't. The war was justified on those grounds alone. Case closed. Some of the physical evidence still remains, despite what was clearly a deliberate, coordinated and thorough attempt to destroy evidence before[,] during and after the war.

And as we all know, "international law" for some is less a standard among nations to be enforced than an obstacle for the United States. Hold brutal dictators accountable for violated resolutions - and violated resolutions on the violation of previous resolutions? For shame!

Sullivan goes on to highlight more evidence of Saddam's discrete weapons programs. Don't forget this, either. Bottom line? Senator Jay Rockefeller was smugly chatting with the press yesterday about "no surprises," though what actually came to no surprise was Saddam's relentless drive towards [and illegal possession of!] catastrophic weapons.

AND ANOTHER THING: Here's a lesson in deductive reasoning. The remnants of dictatorships don't ferret out and assassinate scientists if no programs or stockpiles exist to which the scientists can lead Allied troops.

GO AHEAD, SURPRISE ME: Watching David Kay's interview on television this morning was encouraging and frustrating. Encouraging: David Kay repeated to Tony Snow an impressive amount of finds, including botulinum precursor ordered into a scientist's refrigerator; and the factual tidbit that Iraq houses dozens of weapons caches, some as large as [50] square miles, twenty-six of which are high-priority and have not been searched yet. Frustrating: Kay himself was annoyed at how newspapers and other media ignored almost all of it. Which makes this recap, published in the International Herald Tribune and reprinted in the New York Times, important to offest the politicized obfuscation we saw a couple of days ago. Good for them.

Michael Ubaldi, October 2, 2003.

The interest of some in Washington to stick Iraq with a reconstruction loan - cop-out national security at its worst - is offensive enough. Raising taxes is economically unwise, poorly reasoned (some hikes to be flung several years down the road) and a not-so-subtle trojan horse ("No New Taxes II") for Bush. But it's unconscienable for Congress to wax statesman with these proposals when available resources are obvious, and within their very oversight. From the Wall Street Journal today:

There's another way to offset [the $87 billion aid package]. Congress could clean up some of the waste, fraud and abuse in the federal budget. House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle has been pushing his fellow House chairmen to do just that. Today he will announce what they've turned up. And, wouldn't you know it, they found $85 billion to $100 billion that could be saved even without cutting any services.

The Congressional Budget Office has found that Medicaid effectively reimburses states twice for the same administrative services. Ending that practice would save $3.7 billion over ten years. The CHIPS program, which is supposed to insure children, is providing health care for childless adults in at least two states, according to the General Accounting Office. Ending that would save $330 million.

Competitive bidding on durable medical equipment could save Medicare $13.4 billion over 10 years. And another $25.4 billion could be saved by bringing home health payments in line with actual home health-care costs, says GAO. And don't forget Social Security: Legislation now in the House would save $1.4 billion over 10 years by looking for recipients who defraud the government by hiding income, and save an additional $655 million by withholding checks to fugitive felons and parole violators.

We can be assured that there's plenty more waste, redundancy and frivolous investment in wartime to be found in a $2 trillion budget. (Scratch what I said earlier about Republicans as a whole - there's always hope to be found in the House). Congressional opponents of the Iraqi aid are fond of talking about sacrifice: it's just as well they find a very personal meaning for the word.

Michael Ubaldi, October 1, 2003.

Rumors of the prime minister's premature retirement were, in fact, greatly exaggerated:

The government today comfortably won a vote on Iraq at its Bournemouth conference - after a two hour debate which saw pro-war delegates outnumber and out-clap critics by about two to one.

...For the government, Ann Clywd, the prime minister's human rights envoy in Iraq, broke down in tears as she described the sight of 10,000 skeletons in a mass grave in Iraq she witnessed earlier this summer.

She received a standing ovation from around one third of the closely split audience when she concluded: "I believe Tony was right to end the evil that was Saddam Hussein."

Not only has Tony Blair removed the threat of losing office, he's ably convinced a majority of political allies and rivals to help keep Britain on course. The speeches he made were among his finest. A skilled politician and national leader, on the right side of history, wins again.

Michael Ubaldi, September 30, 2003.

As per my finger-snap title, if only Action Jackson were over in Baghdad, embracing "all the colors of the rainbow" as Iraqis prepare to apply measured care to swift progress in drafting a constitution. French, one-month-and-out anarchical nonsense aside, we should expect a full range of disagreements, walkouts, journals, appeals to the populace and even some Federalist Paper letters in news publications. It won't be polite all the time - nor will it be intellectually dull. That will be something to look forward to. Until then, Iraqis themselves know the significance of the document they will begin to craft:

"It's impossible to do it in six months as Mr. Powell wants," said council member Dara Noureddine, the council's liaison with the committee. "It's unreasonable. It takes more time than this - much more."

Noureddine, the council member most involved in determining how to draft the constitution, said in an interview today that Iraqis first need to decide how to select the drafters. Then those people will have to be chosen. Once they finally gather to begin drafting the document, they will have to sort through a raft of contentious issues, including whether to adopt a presidential or parliamentary system, and whether Islam is recognized as the sole basis for laws. Resolving those matters almost certainly will involve lengthy debates among not just the delegates but politicians, religious figures and other prominent members of Iraqi society.

"The most difficult battle will be the battle of the constitution," said Noshirwan Mustafa, a senior official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the country's two large Kurdish political parties. Noureddine and other Iraqi leaders insisted that the entire process cannot be accomplished in less than a year. "This is our future," he said. "This is for the next generation, not just for the next few years. One should not be hasty in formulating the constitution."

Some Iraqis are eager to see the occupation end, constitution or not - that's probably nothing to worry about, a bit of nationalist bravado and domestic posturing to win popular support. But Iraq leaders should accept the fact that the United States will simply not leave the country without a pluralist, self-governed society in place. One of America's expectations is that Iraq's new leaders are sensible and considerate, not impatient.

Glenn Reynolds wonders about the constitution's specifics and offers some bloggers' thoughts, particularly on Federalism. Given the tentative nature of even the preliminary negotiations, it's unlikely anything concrete exists. Nor can assurances from any one constitutional delegation, when the convention begins, be appreciated as more than part of the political and legal debate. With that in mind, we can return to the standards set in place by the occupational authority:

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq, has said the constitution will be "written by Iraqis, for Iraqis." But he has also said the Bush administration expects the final document to embody principles adopted during a U.S.-sponsored conference of Iraqis in April near the ancient ruins of Ur. Those principles include federalism, democracy, nonviolence, a respect for diversity and a role for women.

Those are about as serious as the legal requirements established by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in Japan: opening of elections, privatization of property, a breakup of the zaibatsu plutarchy, among many other individual rights. Will the Iraqis be expected to follow the rules to properly found liberty - including Federalism? Judging by Bremer's consistent performance, and adherence to and enforcement of liberal fundamentals - not least the major economic victory in the Finance Ministry last week - we have no reason to doubt that federalism and the separation of powers will help define modern Iraq.

ALSO: A look at our own Constitutional Convention of 1787. The process wasn't linear, taking several months - even with an existing body of fair laws like the Articles of Confederation and without the baggage of modern, Stalinist tyranny.

Michael Ubaldi, September 28, 2003.

The autocrat, Wahhabist-promoting Saudis won't be sending any of their armed forces into Iraq. Seeing as how Saudi nationals, under the flag of terrorism, are already underway in the country, we can most likely agree that Iraq's reconstruction doesn't need any more meddling, er, aid from Riyadh.

Here's hoping the Bush administration made the proposition as unattractive to the kingdom as possible.

Michael Ubaldi, September 26, 2003.

Just back from the far side of the moon? You're in time to shop for Chief Wiggle's toy drive for Iraqi kids. I'll be heading to the necessary stores tomorrow.

Michael Ubaldi, September 24, 2003.

Bill Hobbs on weapons of mass destruction:

Something struck me upon re-reading the transcript of President Bush's Address to the United Nations General Assembly - his mentioning of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs without mentioning the lack, so far, of finding big caches of such weapons in liberated Iraq (at least that has been revealed publicly).

...Does [he] sound to you like a president who thinks there is the slightest chance we won't eventually prove beyond a shadow of Howard Dean's doubt the existence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? Not at all. It sounds to me as if President Bush is absolutely sure - most likely based on intel and still-classified evidence - that weapons not only existed before the war, but exist today, and that it is only a matter of time before the proof and the weapons are revealed.

Commenter Dave Sheridan adds that he anticipates a widely visible revelation next spring. I've believed for some time now that the White House is quietly watching the historical record fill up with its opponents' insistence on an absence of bio-chem-atomics and relevant programs in Ba'athist Iraq.

With Kay to reveal his findings soon, we may witness certain members of Congress and the political establishment looking very nervous and growing very quiet before they get clobbered by mounds of incontrovertible evidence publicly presented in a few months. If national security remains a major election issue in November of next year, quite a few political careers could be irreparably damaged - not least the nominee from the Democratic presidential candidates, all of whom have made some hay of the weapons issue.

Regardless of what the president has planned, politicans are unwise politically, logically, and morally to indirectly defend Saddam Hussein while attempting to damage Bush in lieu of conspicuous piles of weapons and facilities. Especially those who stated beliefs to the contrary under the same circumstances in 1998.

Michael Ubaldi, September 22, 2003.

You'll never guess who said this:

Free trade will be a critical element to [our country's] growth.

Low tax rates [will] help create strong incentives for future investment, employment, and limit the size of the public sector; simplicity in order to minimize the administrative costs of tax collection, transparency to minimize room for tax evasion and corruption, and fairness to ensure that all sectors pay reasonable shares of future taxes.

The speaker is one Kamel al-Gailani, Iraq's new Finance Minister, on announcing that the highest marginal income tax rate (for the Iraqi "super rich") will be 15%; imported clothing, medicine, food and books will not be subject to Iraq's CATO-pipe-dream tariff of 5%; and all sectors barring natural resources will be available for complete foreign ownership. The New York Times has a report that lacks the free-marketeering enthusiasm from Mr. al-Gailani, a quotation that can currently be found only in the Wall Street Journal.

One of the most overlooked powers of a democratic Iraq - understandable now, given today's security uncertainties - is its cultural allure as a market center and a symbol of the Muslim world's escape from tyranny. Growing into an economic powerhouse in the Near East is easy against the region's dismal record; with increasingly mobile and high-tech international trade, Iraq has an excellent chance of becoming a true diamond in the rough - gaining the benefits of the free-market West without suffering from its geographical position. Their own unemployment rates ranging from an estimated 12% to 25%, Iraq's totalitarian, Islamic neighbors will quickly find their people looking to the spontaneous prosperity of Baghdad, back to the worthless society offered by their governments, and then back to Baghdad. If Damascus, Riyadh, Cairo and other capitals aren't clobbered by revolts for individual rights and wealth opportunities, Iraq's borders could become the Rio Grande Valley of the Near East, as swarms of disgruntled Arabs and Persians stream into the country seeking what Mexicans (among many other extranationals) seek here in the United States every day: a better life. While they're at it, the exiting or rioting masses may wave off for good the old attraction of anti-Western, Islamist hysteria - recognizing it as the horrific excuse for perpetual oppression and hopelessness that it is. By losing many thousands of prospective recruits to decent, honest living, terrorism and dictatorship will be dealt a serious blow, much of it accomplished without the firing of a single American bullet.