Brian Fung of FP Passport uncovers some fascinating tidbits from U.S. interrogations of Saddam Hussein. I found the following extremely interesting.
Hussein continued the dialogue on the issues relating to the significant threat to Iraq from Iran. Even though Hussein claimed iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions o the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iarq. [sic, and emphasis mine]
What’s most shocking is how completely U.S. policymakers seem to have missed this angle. So obsessed were they in Hussein’s “terrorist” threat — or, more accurately, in selling the fear of this threat to their political constituencies back home — that they entirely misunderstood motives that, with any serious study of the reason, would have been eminently clear.
Combined with something else I read recently (I think it was this) about the corresponding futility of trying to understand the Iranian nuclear program without reference, first and foremost, to the Iraq-Iran war, this information proves to me the preeminence of regional dynamics over the big “anti-American” confrontation that American politicians always seem to assume is the driving force of everything. This is hubris, certainly, but it is also just supremely short-sighted. And it’s the kind of thing that torture definitely won’t help you uncover.
(image from flickr user iDip under a Creative Commons license)
Robert McFarlane, a National Security Advisor under Reagan, explains the war in Iraq:
In 2003, it was arguably democracy promotion, rather than the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which triggered the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Nice. Since, in the year 2003, the invasion or Iraq was in fact predicated on the threat of weapons of mass destruction — there are no ifs, ands, or buts around this justification, I’m afraid — McFarlane just adds the word “arguably” to fit the long-reigning ex post facto casus belli of “democracy promotion” into a context into which it simply does not belong. Justifying the war on pro-democracy grounds was a rationale that gained in strength with each discovery of a hiding place in which WMD were not hidden. This is not something that’s controversial; it was prevailing conventional wisdom. Trying to change it through canny means is just an attempt to reclaim historical memory.
Beyond such stomach-churning lines like this (and we all know Michael Gerson’s 5th grade-level aptitude for similes) — “Democracy is not inevitable like communism was said to be; it is inevitable like hope.” — Gerson’s op-ed today is unsurprisingly political hackery. His broad brush paints an admittedly jagged swath across the Middle East, but this trajectory still inevitably leads — this is Bush’s former speechwriter, remember — where else but to freedom.
But while the development of democracy in the Middle East is not linear, it is also not random. It moves in steps, but upward. Taken together — a constitutional Iraqi democracy, a powerful reform movement in Iran, democratic achievements from the Gulf sheikdoms to Lebanon — this is the greatest period of democratic progress in the history of the region. Given consistent outbreaks, it seems clear that the broader Middle East is not immune to the democratic infection.
This reminds me of nothing so much as Condoleezza Rice’s cringe-worthy utterance that death and violence simply represented the natural “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” The reflexive habit of neoconservatives to any spate of elections as a triumph of this abstract notion of “freedom” — even, remarkably, when they acknowledge, as Gerson does, the tendency to “overinterpret events to confirm preexisting views” — is simply an indication of how politically fraught this term has become. Gerson does not need to analyze the specific politics and social dynamics of each Middle Eastern society; he sees what he wants to see (in Iran, that means a “powerful reform movement” and “martyrs” of democracy, who will no doubt eventually succeed), and uses these out-of-context planks to reconstruct his political project: vindicating his old boss’s “freedom agenda.”
Such a baldly partisan op-ed contributes less than nothing to informed discourse; its only effect is in reminding readers that Republican talking points, whatever the facts on the ground, will prevail. The ark of the political universe is long, one might surmise, but it bends inevitably toward freedom democracy the GOP.(image from flickr user carcollectorz under a Creative Commons license)
As just one example of the high-minded scorn with which the media has treated Stephen Colbert’s publicity stunt in visit to Iraq, take the analysis of this Baltimore Sun television critic:
With the golf club and all the jokes about being a coward in his opening monologue, Colbert’s offering a post-post-post modern take on Bob Hope. But most of the jokes do not have a real point of view, because this gung-ho makebelieve character Colbert plays lacks a moral or emotional center. Are we ironic-izing (through a post-modern humor that is 99 percent irnony) ourselves into a kind of emotional death in which we can no longer feel the horror of war?
The most relevant description of Colbert’s character is not that he “lacks a moral or emotional center;” it is that he is a caricature of a trueblood conservative. Viewed through this lens, his trip to Iraq is not about the lack of media attention that Iraq has received; that is just an easy peg on which to hang his satire. The basic plot line of the piece — that the war is only still going on because no one has yet declared victory, and that Colbert will therefore be the one with sufficient cojones to make that declaration — brilliantly evokes all of the foolishness of the dozens hundreds of Bush-era speeches repeating nothing more coherent than the word “victory.” That reality was a farce, and in mocking it, Colbert has produced something more revealing than Bush policy (and the conservative stance on the war writ large) ever was.
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In the midst of humping the perpetual favorite theme of conservatives — the enduring, albeit thoroughly debunked, “axis of evil” — the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens slips in the fact that Saddam Hussein apparently didn’t get build his still-elusive nuclear weapons from uranium from Niger, but from the French surrender monkeys!
Britain gave France the secret of the hydrogen bomb, hoping French President Charles de Gaulle would return the favor by admitting the U.K. into the European Economic Community. (He Gallicly refused.) France shared key nuclear technology with Israel and then with Iraq. [emphasis mine]
That’s it, no further discussion. Perhaps there was some cooperation on something vaguely related to nuclear stuff and/or technology between France and Iraq, but the implication of this throwaway sentence — one of a series of throwaways meant to connect “the nuclear daisy chain” (presumably with something even flimsier than daisies) — is that Iraq still has nuclear weapons. Good to know not only is the Right hewing to the same “axis of evil” canard, but they have not even moved beyond peddling WMD deception in Iraq of all places.
This bit of yesterday’s Washington Post article about female circumcision in Kurdistan captures the sexist domestic attitudes that make ridding this horrific practice so difficult.
Zangana has been lobbying for a law in Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region with its own government, that would impose jail terms of up to 10 years on those who carry out or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has been stalled in parliament for nearly a year, because of what women’s advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to draw international public attention to the little-noticed tradition.
The Kurdish region’s minister of human rights, Yousif Mohammad Aziz, said he didn’t think the issue required action by parliament. “Not every small problem in the community has to have a law dealing with it,” he said.
Describing the damage done to girls by this practice as a “small problem” is bad enough, but the truly heinous aspect of the minister’s comments is his firm situation of the issue within “the community.” By shoving the problem out of the political, and into the communal — read: the familial, a.k.a. the patriarchical — Aziz is both damning the prospects of achieving such legislation and striking a powerful and timeworn blow against feminism. Issues like female circumcision very much belong in parliament, and shunting them out, will naturally only prolong the abuses toward Kurdish women and girls.
It is astounding the extent to which partisan hacks Wall Street Journal columnists will bend over backwards to inflate their man’s President Bush’s legacy in these waning days. The latest? He was never a “unilateralist,” after all. That whole “with us or against us” bluster? Just talk. “Go it alone?” More like “go it with everyone!”
Well, at least on certain issues, and with a distinctly Bushian slant. Kimberly Strassel talks with Paula Dobriansky, the State Department’s undersecretary for democracy and global affairs — responsible for important issues ranging from climate change to pandemic disease to “oceans” [that last one is particularly, um, expansive] — and concludes that, where it really counted the most, the Bush administration was the paragon of cooperation, but that dirty liberals just preferred to see otherwise.
One reason why [Ms. Dobriansky’s department’s] efforts haven’t been as noticed is that most aren’t the subject of “hard” foreign policy debates. When critics level their unilateralism charge against the Bush administration, they tend to focus on its tougher actions — the invasion of Iraq, or the refusal to directly engage with rogue leaders.
It’s not that the issues on which Ms. Dobriansky worked were not important; on the contrary, they are vitally important, and suffered all the more from a closed-minded, my-way-or-the-highway Bush approach. On climate change, the refusal to submit Kyoto for ratification was not indicative, as Strassel outrageously suggests, of a “dramatically different view” that prioritized “medium and long term” efforts over the silly “short term” approach of signing a piece of paper…that committed countries to specific actions over the medium and long term.
Even Bush’s legitimately laudable AIDS work in Africa came with the crippling caveat that it be undertaken on his the religious right’s terms. By supporting the global gag rule, by forcing abstinence down the throats of AIDS-inflicted societies, and by refusing to make condoms a central component of his policy, President Bush undermined his treatment efforts to the point that more people are getting infected with HIV/AIDS than his efforts are able to treat.
And with “oceans” — how can an administration that refused to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty, an accord that practically everyone in the world has agreed to; that enjoys widespread support on the left and the right, from oil companies and environmentalists, activists and politicians; and that would actually further U.S. interests, claim that it acted multilaterally?
The most serious critique of Strassel’s argument, though, deals with her mind-bogglingly bold air-brushing of this administration’s greatest accomplishments failure: the war in Iraq. For a war that even conservatives acknowledge — and often praise — as the defining aspect of Bush’s years in the White House to be gruffly shunted to the side in favor of things like oceans management policy is plainly ludicrous. And even if Bush’s presidency were a complete international love-fest multilateral (er, besides that little war in Iraq), that statement becomes practically meaningless as long as you exclude that little war in Iraq.
(image from flickr user Image Editor under a Creative Commons license)