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Michael Ubaldi, May 14, 2003.
Salam Pax - that sharp-penned, artfully cynical Baghdad-based Iraqi blogger who has been something of a minor celebrity in the weblogging community - did not take long to wear on my nerves. John Stryker found himself rubbed the wrong way from the start; I had my doubts about Salam but was at least put to some faith about the fellow's sincerity in both sentiment and persona.
I generally took Salam's story of being a middle-class Iraqi living life wedged between an evil dictatorship and an uncertain future with a genuine interest and an enormous amount of patience. Miraculously, he somehow e-mailed a stash of commentaries to a New York-based blogger after Baghdad's entrance into the war zone apparently cut him off March 24th; he's since been making piquant observations about life under occupation by very good-natured and very human military personnel.
But observation leads to conclusions. I've come to dislike him for his inexplicable aversion to understanding the events changing his life even as he embraces them with sarcastic commentary. His admittedly agile English writing moves from arrogant ingratitude to downright rejection of the very forces sparing him from almost certain capture and torture for the crime of operating a weblog at least humorously critical of the Ba'athist regime, a fate he almost certainly would have eventually met from the microscopic scrutiny of Saddam's secret police.
Or was he ever in danger after all?
David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen doesn't believe so. Though I may have been dubious of Salam's identity - on Sgt. Stryker's, I wondered if his family may have been loyal to the Ba'athists - I never contemplated Salam as another guileful tentacle of the Ba'athists:
One of his constantly repeated warnings is that the U.S. occupiers are fools if they do not take all those talented former-Baathist officials in from the cold, and put them back in business; that "al-Chalabi's de-Baathification plans don't solve any problems."
Michael Ubaldi, May 14, 2003.
It's disappointing to see that Andrew Sullivan has fallen in with those insisting that less than a month after the end of major combat operations is time enough to find overwhelming evidence of atomic, chemical and biological weapons research by a regime that has had literally a decade to develop and perfect schemes of binary and trinary refinement for modular, covert, frangible and elusive means to gross-scale weaponry in a country the size of - all together now - California. This is irrespective of last year when even the egomaniacal Saddam Hussein could understand that he had it coming to him: nine months following President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address where the president declared Ba'athist Iraq part of the Axis of Evil, and six months to expose the United Nations Security Council as a corrupt deliberative body unwilling to prosecute its own declared law - instead, shielding or actually colluding with Saddam Hussein - before Allied armed forces finally swept in and shattered all significant Ba'athist elements inside Iraq.
So the Ba'athists, led by Saddam, had on their hands an entire decade of demonstrated weakness from Americans and Western and Eastern allies alike. President H. W. Bush spared Saddam in 1991, even allowing him murderous gesticulation of dismay with would-be Shiite revolts. A series of punitive measures were leveled on Saddam, defied by Saddam, and, in the United Nations' refusal to enforce those measures, defeated by Saddam. In 1998, President Clinton went so far as to strip off the last thread of gossamer seriousness, escalating international rhetoric to military posturing that might have led to Iraqi liberation five years earlier; but Clinton eventually - and clearly premeditatedly - relented, withdrawing all threats of deposition, then settling with clumsily ineffective airstrikes and the United Nations' hearty discussion about reengaging its own special pastiche of monitored disarmament, before dropping the topic altogether to focus on his perjury impeachment.
The war presented the sort of rift betwen media and population that many, conservatives especially, had been looking for. The everyman was patient, faithful, and quite content to appraise the success of military actions in Iraq at the end of a given week, if not at the completion of the operation. The average media intellectual was effusive, distrustful, antsy and spoke carelessly from an uninformed perspective. Never mind how many Americans died island-hopping against the Japanese: one support unit had been ambushed by the Republican Guard! Any slight tactical frustrations were magnified into fatal cracks as if to split the hulk of the American war machine. When Basrah, Najaf and several other moderate to major population centers were left behind by the main column racing to Baghdad, every pundit and anchor with far too much impulse and far too little basic modern military knowledge opined on the matter as if delivering a spiteful mortuary tribute for the entire operation. George S. Patton wasn't known best for offensive timidity when he said "There is another thing I want you to remember. Forget this goddamned business of worrying about our flanks. We must guard our flanks, but not to the extent that we don't do anything else. Some goddamned fool once said that flanks must be secured, and since then sons-of-bitches all over the world have been going crazy guarding their flanks. Flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not us."
But who returned to that quotation? Or would that have added a dimension to the circumstances precluding pith and poison wit?
For journalists, few and far between were level-headed opinion columns displaying a modicum of faith and a firmly held tongue. Worse still, the media hasn't learned. The inevitable, historically documented problems of displaced persons; food, water and electricity shortages; or lawlessness - in post-war Germany, shops would carry signs that read "Closed Due to Looting" - are irrelevant to the intellectual. It's a crisis! Successes aren't occurring every hour on the hour in time for full reports at the bottom of the clock? The American people have been deceived!
And the weapons, with all the time allowed Saddam for twelve years, all the allies willing to spirit away the programs in countless, inconspicuous shards? Never mind that the same naifs who thought a limp-wristed United Nations team of uninterested bureaucrats could pull weapons programs out of the hands of a demonic regime were actually waiting for warehouses full of incrimination, complete with a shrill-laughter-saturated videotape of Saddam narrating the whole of his diabolical scheme. Instead, blame is launched squarely onto the White House.
Some blowhard somewhere started the call for "an explanation" requisite of President Bush, else the furies of Western elucidation carve him up with hail and lightning, as Classically Greek a spectacle as it would be Nixonian.
Andrew Sullivan wants a piece of the explanation, too. I agree that Bush should give him one - a good, sit-down talk about history and reality. For the rest of you impetuous lot: stagger your op-eds on the final judgment of a decade-long process to intervals greater than seventy-two hours.
Michael Ubaldi, May 11, 2003.
Diplomats prize "stability" and abhor "change," so it should come as a universal blessing that she's been tossed out of the ring, not least because of the obviously timid American hand in Baghdad:
One top U.S. occupation official left her post Sunday, another was preparing to leave, and a new administrator arrived in the region, ready to take over, less than three weeks after their newborn reconstruction agency opened for business in the post-war chaos of Baghdad. The shakeup at the top comes as the agency makes inroads to restore law and order and government functions, but as many ordinary Iraqis complain about persistent insecurity and the slow pace of resuming basic services like power and water.
An ORHA spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. John Cornelio, confirmed that Bodine was leaving Baghdad on Sunday. But the agency didn't explain the reason for her swift departure, just two weeks after she chaired a get-acquainted meeting with top bureaucrats of the former Baghdad city administration.
Michael Ubaldi, May 5, 2003.
The day the West saw images of Saddamite statues tumbling down - with Iraqis gleefully on top of them - my gut was ready to overlook media tales of Iraqi tumult and anger and Iranian-instigated protests with Iranian-funded banners, loudly protesting against "Western occupation."
You know, the unrealistic timbre of "Our sewer backed up! Death to the infidel dogs!"
IT'S ENDLESSLY FASCINATING to watch the interactions between U.S. patrols and the residents of Baghdad. It's not just the love bombing the troops continue to receive from all classes of Baghdadi--though the intensity of the population's pro-American enthusiasm is astonishing, even to an early believer in the liberation of Iraq, and continues unabated despite delays in restoring power and water to the city. It's things like the reaction of the locals to black troops. They seem to be amazed by their presence in the American army. One group of kids in a poor neighborhood shouted "Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson" at Staff Sergeant Darren Swain; the daughter of a diplomat on the other hand informed him, "One of my maids has the same skin as you."
(Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.)
Michael Ubaldi, April 28, 2003.
No, we don't need to worry about Iraqi Shiites more than we should. From Amir Taheri, in Iraq:
For the first time in 32 years Iraqi Shiites were able to perform a pilgrimage that had been banned by the Baathist regime. It was also the first free mass gathering in Iraq in almost half a century not to be crushed by the regime's tanks and helicopters.
Michael Ubaldi, April 24, 2003.
Enough hyperventilating about casual or unsubstantiated remarks regarding Iraq's future: on to my appraisal of the unfortunate skimming of the Baghdad museum's inventory.
Glenn Reynolds has been hammering the subject like a good blogging Vulcan. He's offering links that share the insights of others into this attempt by the anti-liberation front to energize sketchy details of theft into a full-blown ubertragedy, with the intention of laying it squarely on the back of allied troops and America proper.
It won't happen. Like the equally precious mystery about well-hidden weapons of mass destruction, the cultural looting is bound to find itself a rather down-to-earth explanation. The smug critics, all-too-inappropriately enjoying the fondling of a new position of "We told you so" moral superiority, will find themselves intellectually pink-slipped. Again.
I don't understand the broadside harangue. Marines, without the luxury of bathing for days, were working around the clock to protect civilians from being murdered by their former masters; attacking Fedeyeen Saddam and all varieties of Republican Guard, Special, Super-Special and French Vanilla. Glenn notes, dutifully, that if allied forces could have broken up the crime, they should have. But most of us would agree that sticking to the primary objective - eliminating Saddam and his gang - was by far the most important. Valuable objects lack body, soul and sentiment. They're worth far less than Iraqi lives, however badly Saddam's thirty-year-rule may have distorted human dignity to Iraqis.
Which begs the question: what would the people beating their breasts about gemstones from the papyrus days think if allied forces had in fact sent the troops to the museum, only to find out that scores of people had been slaughtered in allied absence?
Not a single story would have been written about the museum.
And then we have the various tidbits poking here and there (hat tip to Glenn) that suggest a vacation of all artifacts by Ba'athists, occurring before the offensive had begun or else during the chaos of Baghdad's liberation.
For whatever blame one could possibly assign to the allies, guilt hangs on Saddam one thousandfold. During the London Blitz, precious objects like the Wright Flyer were spared Hitler's incendiary by being stuffed underground. Saddam easily wins the prize for Near East Dictator with Most Gratuitously Excavated Hardened Bunkers. Saddam cared deeply for his Arabist Iraq and its stalwart people, right? So what was he doing keeping Baghdad's "public" treasures in harm's way when they could have been safeguarded? All together, now: "Saddam kept them above ground because, like civilians, they'd be lost one way or another and useful idiots would blame the Americans!"
Michael Ubaldi, April 23, 2003.
UPDATE: Immediately after I completed the entry, I ran off a letter to Steven Den Beste among others. He responded, addressing me properly and in much more erudite words, gave me what I needed to hear: I was panicking needlessly. I've written before about the Bush administration and littleball: they don't swing for the fences but instead tuck little Texas League Singles into shallow outfield, run the bases and score just as easily as they might if they used a slugger who could possibly homer more often than he struck out. A successful political objective, unfortunately, must be agilely carried - which means that the entire statement of "We intend to leave the entire Near East democratized," however noble, is simply impossible to swallow at this point in time when coming from the American vanguard. I'll need to let this settle. But I'll keep the poster up - it's too important a cause not to express my concern.
Could what I had celebrated yesterday been only one statement by a continually diffuse White House?
[White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer] said Bush doesn't have a problem with Iraq being an Islamic state as long as it is a democratic and tolerant one. Officials point to the model of Turkey, a democratic nation run by an elected Islamic party that allows religious freedom. The United States opposes an Islamic dictatorship in Iraq, similar to that seen in Tehran, Fleischer said.
Citing Turkey as an example of an "Islamic state" is so ahistorical as to be downright stupid - or duplicitous - or both. The secularization of Turkey was an involved and lengthy process. The caliphate, the seyhülislam, the Muslim hierarchy, the connection between church and state: all were abolished as part of Atatürkism, the great reform movement initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s. His vision and leadership are precisely what separates Turkey from its corrupt, fascist, extremist, Islamist Muslim neighbors. In fact, the victory of the Islamic party in Turkey's most recent election is being closely watched lest the religious party destroy the freedom of worship from a pulpit in Ankara.
Afghanistan's future depends upon an eventual liberalization that overthrows the Islamic yoke being thrown on it today - nothing more will save it from falling back into its dark-age, homicidal muddle.
There is no such thing as a democratic, tolerant theocracy. If the Bush administration cannot bring itself to adhere to unpopular albeit basal principles of consensual government, it will have failed miserably in its aspirations to liberate the Iraqi people - or anyone else.
This had better be a mistake. I truly hope it is. If it is a mistake, the White House had better call a huddle and refine its language, because it's currently playing with fire.
Michael Ubaldi, April 23, 2003.
They are, in no particular order: Syria, Iran, the greater Islamist Near East, and the United States Department of State.
Diplomats - especially the established, self-important ones - can be worrisome to the best wishes of free nations when acting as interlocuters between other democracies; downright dangerous when dealing with dictatorships. Theirs is an existence derived from dischord. On-the-fly negotiations and hammered-out, triplicate-signed treaties are among the greatest achievements a tough diplomat can claim; so when faced with the permanent solution to problems, they shrink away lest their usefulness cease to be. Their purpose becomes not the agency and ideology of their superiors, but a slavish devotion to their own superior objectives in conflict arbitrament. Victories or losses cease to matter, wholly supplanted by a desire to play the game while playing up one's significance in world politics. Hans Blix is the patron saint of negotiations for negotiations' sake - he'd have let stymied "inspections" continue indefinitely, never minding the intuitive failure from the beginning and lack of progress thereafter, or the damage inflicted in that diplomatic perpetuity to the due process of law.
But American diplomats are just as susceptible to hubris. Ramesh Ponnuru explains it further:
State isn’t keen on democratizing the Middle East, period. The same day President Bush announced his support for a democratic Iraq, at the American Enterprise Institute, the department issued a classified report throwing cold water on the idea that Iraq could lead a democratic wave in the region. The old saw about the State Department — that its employees tend to regard themselves as the world’s ambassadors to the United States, rather than vice-versa — is true in spades of its Middle East hands. If you see your job as ensuring good relations with, say, Bashar Assad, it will always be easier to reach that goal by changing our behavior than by changing his.
So far, the concepts that guide Bush — the doctrine of pre-emption, its application to Iraq, the new national-security strategy — have been coming from the Department of Defense and the vice president’s office. State has offered resistance and foot-dragging, but no alternative concepts. The intellectual agenda is being set by the hated Wolfowitz. Colin Powell, meanwhile, seems content to serve as the State Department’s ambassador to the Bush administration.
Michael Ubaldi, April 22, 2003.
Freedom of worship, expression, property; separation of powers and the right to a fair trial. In rebuilding Iraq, we cannot rely on the simplicity of such notions - indeed, we understandably take them for granted - to embed them successfully in the new government. Iran has already begun infultrating the country, inserting agents into the fervent Iraqi Shiite population, with arms full of neatly painted banners and biting Islamist slogans. If the greatest threat to any nascent democracy in Cold War Europe was from the Communists, in the democratizing Near East we will find it to be the Islamofascist culture of death.
Inspiration and clarity on the part of the Bush administration will do quite suitably. And, finally, after some weeks of tiptoeing about with platitudes about leaving reinstitutionalization to the Iraqis - as if it could be done with neither political nor military protection - the White House has obliged:
The United States expects an eventual government of Iraq to be a democracy where the rights of minorities are guaranteed, not a theocracy run by clerics such as in neighboring Iran, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says. "There should be a country that is organized and arranged in a way that the various ethnic groups and religious groups are able to have a voice in their government in some form," Rumsfeld said Monday at a Pentagon news conference. "And we hope (for) a system that will be democratic and have free speech and free press and freedom of religion."
Michael Ubaldi, April 22, 2003.
They're not all drawn from vituperative anti-Americanism or moral equivocation, according to the British Daily Telegraph:
George Galloway, the Labour backbencher, received money from Saddam Hussein's regime, taking a slice of oil earnings worth at least £375,000 a year, according to Iraqi intelligence documents found by The Daily Telegraph in Baghdad.
A tip of the hat to Andrew Sullivan for the links as well as his poignant observation. If true, this will be quite "a bombshell." The intransigent left is just that; they'll just as soon canonize the man if denial can't parry overwhelming evidence. But this is important for the many people in the West who are busy raising families and holding down honest jobs with no time for politics if they were inclined so to begin with. These vital people, certainly the majority of Americans, have nevertheless supported this war through a combination of common sense and trust in the president, fortified by his stunning case and subsequent military victory. A moment such as this one, wrenching aside the flower-bedecked curtain to expose anti-liberation for what it is, is tonic for the trust between president and constituency. The everyman can be confident in his support, fully aware if he wasn't before of what kind of conscience opposes him - it certainly isn't a pious one.