Thursday, April 17, 2003

Congress didn't kill Poindexter's Total Information Access project. (That's total access to information on you -- credit card records, travel records, everything). They just kept him from putting it into service -- which he wasn't ready for anyway. He can research all he likes, under certain conditions. One of which is the appointment of a privacy officer.

Where to find such a person. How about the former privacy officer of notorious internet snoops Doubleclick?

As long as I'm posting, Teresa Nielsen Hayden points out that the disappearance of Iraqi government records in the looting makes it impossible to refute all those stunningly specific claims that Dubya's flacks were making about Iraqi WMD programs before the war. How convenient.

Now consider that coalition forces actually encouraged looting of government offices. Except the oil ministry -- they wanted those records preserved.

Teresa has also posted a refutation of various pinheads who are trying to argue the false choice between protecting artifacts and records, or protecting, say, Iraqi civilians (not that they were doing a whole lot of that either; due to Rumsfeld's deliberate shortchanging of the force, it was barely adequate to protect itself).

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Light posting (if any) for the rest of the week. In the meantime, if you missed my first link to it in an update to an earlier piece, you should really read The Return of the King from Billmon's Whiskey Bar, which lets you know where all sorts of people go when they drop off the public stage. And then keep reading everything else on his blog.
Restoring democracy watch (see further update on more demos below):

The American occupation force is holding a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups in Nasiriya, with the aim of quickly setting up a government with Iraqi participation. So why are 4000 Iraqis already protesting the meeting? Could it be that they don't think that the exiles who dominate the meeting, who have spent lots of time chatting up Western governments, and comparatively little dealing with people still living in the country, don't actually represent them? That they take more seriously the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a more local group which is boycotting the meeting, and has announced opposition to any American setup? How could that possibly be?

(NB: RealAudio link to NPR coverage; it's Mike Shuster's report from this morning if you're trying to find it in the archive).

More: It's not just the Shiites that don't want us around. AFP says it wasn't 4,000 people demonstrating in Nasiriya -- more like 20,000. But that's an afterthought; they lead with a separate incident in Mosul, considered Kurdish and Turkomen territory, in which US troops fired on the angry crowd attending a speech by the US-appointed governor, after he had been driven off stage; at least ten civilians died. And then there's this report of US troops trying to prevent reporters from covering yet a third anti-American demonstration in Baghdad. (Once again, via comments at the increasingly indispensible Daily Kos).

Once again, the ultimate problem isn't so much the undermanned, overstressed American troops themselves as the leadership that sent them in without a clear plan, assistance on tap from relief agencies with experience in reestablishing social services, or the amount of force ultimately required to really try to do the job right...

Yet More: Digby on the privatized assistance we're bringing over to help Iraq get back on its feet: rent-a-cops from Dyncorp, which last made the news for trying to cover up trading in sex slaves by its employees in Bosnia. Jeanne D'arc has also been all over this, but her permalinks aren't working, so scroll down...

More on the evil French:

Top secret documents obtained by The Telegraph in Baghdad show that France provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders.

Paris also provided Saddam with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West and details of arms deals to neighbouring countries. The two countries also signed agreements to share intelligence, help each other to "obtain" visas for agents to go to other countries and to exchange information on the activities of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader.

Ooooops... slight misquote there. The article I was quoting referred to "Russia" and "Moscow", not "France" and "Paris". Apoligies for the typo.

It's a natural mistake, after all. Russia may, indeed, have promised to veto a Security Council war resolution, just like France, but they were so much more conciliatory about it. Chirac had so many nasty words for American policy, and that hurts, which is why Dubya's crew is so much angrier at the French than at the Russians, who they accuse only of selling arms to Iraq in the run-up to the war, a relatively minor matter.

And while Russia denies the reports that they were sharing intercepts with Saddam, and telling him where to find good hit men, they have also stopped criticizing the American war effort, and postwar plans, while the French just keep yapping. Their policies may still be substantively the same, but that's not what's important, is it?

Russia was always a strange member of a peace party anyway, what with their bloody mess in Chechnya -- a point on which some French commentators were absolutely vicious.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Julian Sanchez provides us with a useful reminder of old-line left notions of "false consciousness":

These are most familiar if you've debated with one of the few genuine Marxists not yet being protected in some endangered species habitat somewhere, and generally purport to explain how it is that person X really only believes/argues Y because of some hidden cause -- social conditioning, or economic self-interest.

Tom Friedman provides a helpful example:

There are still two other walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East -- much harder walls -- that will also have to fall.

The first is the wall in the Arab mind. I hit my head against that wall two weeks ago in Cairo, while discussing the war with Egyptian opposition journalists in Feshawi's teahouse, the writing hangout of Naguib Mahfouz. These journalists could see nothing good coming from the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq, which they insisted was being done only to put Arabs down, strengthen Israel and extract oil.

Such encounters made clear to me that America was not just at war with Saddam, but with Saddamism: an entrenched Arab mind-set, born of years of colonialism and humiliation, that insists that upholding Arab dignity and nationalism by defying the West is more important than freedom, democracy and modernization.

It couldn't possibly be that the Arabs have taken a clear-eyed look at American policies, honestly observed a consistent tilt towards Israel, and support for corrupt and undemocratic regimes such as those now in power in Egypt and Saudi Arabia; that they have then taken a good, clear-eyed look at our current escapade as well, and see no reason yet to believe it is anything different. They must be expecting "freedom, democracy, and modernization" to come to Iraq, just like Friedman does -- and if they think the invasion is a bad idea, well then, they just don't want democracy to flower. Either that, or something just struck them blind. Hence "Saddamism" -- a locution that grants Saddam a kind of eminence he could only wish for when he was in power. Because if otherwise rational people seem to see the world differently than Tom Friedman does, there must be a boogeyman.

If you're curious, Friedman goes from that "first" wall, straight to the discussion of the "third wall -- the wall of cement, fear and barbed wire being erected between Israelis and Palestinians." The second wall, which he mentioned first, is the sand berm around Um Qasr, which joins the lofty company of the other "walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East" because Friedman is once again trying to use irrelevant bits of local color to add artistic verisimilitude to his bald and unconvincing narratives. And while I'm on the subject, "walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East" is an ineptly turned phrase at the best of times, doubly so after explosions of other kinds in the streets and byways of Iraq. But the gravitas of Friedman's reputation transcends such comparative trivia as logic and good English. Does anyone even pretend to edit this guy's stuff?

Theocracy watch:

So, is it coincidence that in the middle of a war, when public attention is concerned elsewhere, we have both an endorsement of religious schools ("I would prefer to have a child in a school ... where a child is taught to have a strong faith") by the education secretary who's supposed to be improving secular, public schools, and a circuit court nomination for a wingnut who openly advocates carrying politics through the courts?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden mourns the looting of the national museum of Iraq, which may be mentioned in centuries to come in the same breath as the burning of the library of Alexandria.

Of course, our troops had hospitals to protect. And they weren't doing that either; they told anyone who asked that, particularly with too few troops to really try and control things, their orders didn't let them get involved. They have now, belatedly, been ordered to protect the hospitals, but as of yesterday, those orders were going to troops who don't know where those hospitals are.

(And it comes in the wake of news that at least in Basra, coalition forces had encouraged mobs to loot government buildings -- were they too blinkered to think it would go further, or did they just not care?)

But there were buildings that got protection from the start. As the Knight Ridder story explains:

At the Ministry of Oil, Marines had set up a machine gun and barbed wire to prevent further pillaging. A tank sat behind a steel fence. A handwritten sign next to a machine gun nest said "Looters Lane."

"Why do the Americans go to the Oil Ministry and not the hospital, not the college?" asked Khader Alias, 45, a musician. "They must do something. Believe me, all Iraqi people are not like this."

They just had more important things to do. Like this:

At the Rashid Hotel, where many foreign journalists visiting Mr. Hussein's Iraq were required to stay, American troops were sent to break up a tile mosaic of the first President Bush on the floor of the lobby. Until the mosaic was destroyed today, the likeness of Mr. Bush was stepped on dozens of times a day.

This isn't about the troops who were following the orders. It's about the REMFs who issued them, and who sent in a force too small to do the job in the first place.

(via Billmon's Whiskey Bar and comments at the Daily Kos).

The deconstruction of the toppling-statue moment proceeds apace; it seems that at least one of the small crowd of Iraqis who pulled down that statue right in front of the press hotel -- in a square guarded by four American tanks -- was apparently also in the crowd of the Pentagon's pet Iraqi exiles which they flew into the north a few days earlier. Odd, that.

But the moment means more than just goodwill. It means money:

"We are going to pressure all of our friends and allies to contribute as much as they can," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Armed Services Committee. Offers of military and financial help are already coming, Wolfowitz said, predicting a "larger coalition of the willing" for reconstruction than for the war.

Pressed on specifics by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), however, Wolfowitz cited none. "So far, we're still in the early stages of that," he said. "I think some people were, frankly, a bit taken by surprise by the images they saw on television [on Wednesday]."