:: Bite The Wax Tadpole ::

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:: Saturday, March 15, 2003 ::

No matter how you feel about the coming war, you should read Salam Pax's latest post.

There's nothing to say, really. He's absolutely right that it shouldn't have come to this.

I can just hope that Salam and the people of Iraq wake up one morning a week or two from now and say: "It's over? That was it?!" I'm not naive enough to believe that it'll really be that quick or painless, but I hope against hope that it will be much less bad than they fear.

I also hope that the US will do the right thing after the war and truly stand by Iraq -- no distractions and no quick fixes for the sake of "stability" or public opinion. I don't exactly have a lot of influence, but I'll certainly do what I can to hold the administration's feet to the fire.

Stay safe, Salam.
:: Erik | 3/15/2003 10:33:00 PM | | ::

:: Friday, March 14, 2003 ::
Silly me

And here I thought the "main problem" to be solved was Saddam's possession of WMD. Apparently I was mistaken. According to this article, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov says:

The British proposal on Iraq is not constructive and does not solve the main problem: the prevention of a plan to use force with regard to Baghdad.

It's kind of amazing to see both France and Russia come right out and admit that they're carrying water for Saddam. And they're not the only ones.
:: Erik | 3/14/2003 02:17:00 AM | | ::
I don't think it was part of a planned strategy, but Steven Den Beste just might have identified a opportunity for Bush.

If the administration just points the finger at France and moves on, or if they come across as arrogant or petulant, France wins.

But... if they mount a serious, broad-based and long term assault on the credibility of the UN then France has just handed them a whole lot of ammo. Hopefully they'll find the rest of the ammo they need in Iraq.

Chirac has been manuvering to embarass the US at the UN for quite some time now and his position is frankly pretty good. If things don't go absolutely perfectly in Iraq, or if there's an upsurge in terrorism, Chirac gets a big "I told you so." If they go well for the US, he doesn't lose any capital.

Unless Bush takes the fight to him. Steven might have put his finger on the fact that Chirac is vulnerable to a well-executed calculated assault on France and on the UN. Perhaps because he literally can't conceive of a leader attacking the UN in earnest. He probably expects that Bush will, at worst, pull out "temporarily" and that he'll be able to spin it as petulance.

I'm not so sure Chirac is right -- the UNSC seems to conceive its primary role to be opposing the United States. If I'm right about Bush, he'll see it as a threat to the security of the United States and look for ways to neutralize or eliminate it. I'll admit that it's a very tall order, and that it would require very deft and patient work on the part of a Bush team that hasn't been noted for either of those traits.

I don't know how this is all going to fall, but I'm more convinced than ever that big change is coming.

:: Erik | 3/14/2003 12:20:00 AM | | ::

:: Thursday, March 13, 2003 ::
Now that the combatants at the UN are just trying to avoid taking the blame for the upcoming train wreck, I'm once again starting to think that something like this would be clever idea. It would certainly force France into a corner and lead the "discussion" in new and interesting directions.

To recap, submit two resolutions for consideration:

  • The first resolution would affirm that Iraq is in full compliance with resolution 1441 -- that the December WMD declaration was complete and accurate and that Iraq has complied with and cooperated fully in implementing the requirements of that resolution. Given that Hans Blix has clearly said those things are not true, voting Yes would require France to go on the record contradicting him. Voting No would set them up for...

  • The second resolution. The original version of 1442, declaring that Iraq is not in compliance with 1441. Full stop.

  • This approach has a few interesting consequences, it:

  • Forces the burden of explanation onto France et al. If they vote no on both resolutions, they'll have to explain the difference between "not yes" and "no."

  • Underlines the fact that the proposed 1442 is not a resolution to "authorize war" but a judgement on Saddam's compliance with previous resolutions that already authorize war.
  • Would be so completely unexpected that it would prompt lots of media discussion about the real contents of the proposed resolutions and smash the notion that the proposed resolution 1442 "authorizes war."

  • The whole thing is farce, anyway, so I can't see how it would do any harm.
    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 08:17:00 PM | | ::
    It's About (Russian) Oiiiiill
    Now this is rich:

    There is only one plausible way. Both countries need to pass legislation stating something like this: "In order to demonstrate our good faith, and confirm that our overriding motivation lies in defending peace and security, the governments of the United States and Britain hereby prohibit, for a period of two years, all U.S. and British oil companies (and their subsidiaries) from entering into contracts in, or in relation to, Iraq."

    Oh, it's about oil, alright, but not for Bush and Blair.
    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 06:00:00 PM | | ::
    He must be so proud

    From the Times Online article cited below:

    Capping French glory was the news yesterday that babies in the Arab world were being named �Chirac�, in tribute to the �peace-warrior President�. In 1990, they were being called Saddam, and more recently Osama.

    Chirac sure spends a lot of time in the company of giants, doesn't he. I'm with Porphyrogenitus on this one -- I like the look of our team a whole lot better.
    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 04:19:00 PM | | ::
    Cold War II
    This Times Online article seems to confirm that Chirac is intentionally instigating a new cold war for the glory of France, as I've been speculating since January:

    France is convinced that, although the US will win the war, it has established itself as champion of an alternative world order to US domination. The resort to crude French-bashing in the US and Britain adds to France�s conviction that it has won the argument.

    Cold War II is now a fact -- France wants to be a foe, and Washington has to start treating it as one. The world is on the cusp of change, and this cold war will be very different than the first, though. Once the shooting in Iraq stops, the US and its true allies have to start taking steps to take the wind out of French sails, and to build a new world order with sensible new international institutions.
    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 04:11:00 PM | | ::
    I've seen some speculation that North Korea's next provocation might be a test-firing of a medium range missile into international waters near Japan. It's probably a long shot, but are any of the star wars technologies ready for a live test? It'd be one hell of a smackdown if they actually managed to bring the thing down, and there's total deniability if they miss. Just a thought.
    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 02:45:00 PM | | ::
    Chirac's Woldview?

    Over at ChicagoBoyz, Lexington Green responds to my backhanded semi-defense of France. I think we're actually pretty close now, and I'm sure we agree on the posture the US should take towards France in the short- to medium-term (as is Jonathan Gewirtz on the same site). One point does deserve a bit more discussion, though. Lexington writes:

    Well. First, I think it is easier to think that Chirac and Villepin are smart and can at least anticipate the consequences of their actions than to impute a "vast underestimation" to them. They are bright guys. They can see how the world works, and they can foresee the more obvious likely consequences of their actions. And they know perfectly well how much America does to create "world stability." Ending the "world stability" which has been imposed by the United States and which exists on American terms is what they want to happen.

    Chirac is a smart guy, but so is Noam Chomsky. So, for that matter, is Paul Wolfowitz. We are all prisoners of our worldview and we all have blind spots. One huge blind spot in the European world view is over the contribution of the America (and especially the military) to postwar stability.

    The European political classes are busily constructing the mythology of a "wise" Europe, a narrative in which European nations have moved on to the next stage of (trans)national evolution and has set aside the animosities of the past to create a harmonious brave new world. In this view, the cold war wasn't really Europe's affair -- Europe was the plucky mammal evolving in the shadows while prehistoric titans clashed overhead, oblivious.

    To acknowledge America's (military) contribution to stability, even to themselves, would force them to confront the uncomfortable possibility that the European experiment is a hothouse flower which can only survive when sheltered from the harsh climate of the real world.

    This accounts for the ferocious reaction from at least some of the European protestors, as the only role for America in this world view is lumbering prehistoric beast, no longer preoccupied and looking for a snack. Which is why they react (emotionally, at least) as if America might attack Holland next.

    This view is also behind the disconnect on the topic of gratitude for WW II (see here).
    For some other good takes on the "European" world view, see Vinod or bitter sanity.

    Update: I also should point out that none of this is intended to excuse Chirac's behaviour and I'm not suggesting that we "agree to disagree." If anything, it's a call to action -- this world view is inherently hostile and dangerous to the United States (and, in my opinion, to the safety of the entire world) and must be checked. Understanding one of the root causes (sorry) of the struggle at the UN makes it possible to respond appropriately and effectively.

    :: Erik | 3/13/2003 10:18:00 AM | | ::
    :: Wednesday, March 12, 2003 ::
    Freedom Fries

    Glenn Reynolds and Cato the Youngest are sort of defending Freedom Fries, on the grounds that its very silliness makes it a harmless way to signal displeasure.

    I actually think the symbolic renaming is less of a problem than the new names they chose. "Freedom" Fries and "Liberty" Toast sound so... earnest. That leaves the impression that the people doing the renaming are very earnest about something that is undeniably silly, which leads to the conclusion that they're foolish and petty. Would we be having this discussion if they'd chosen "Weasel Toast" and "Frog Fries"?

    How's that for sitting on the fence?
    :: Erik | 3/12/2003 11:30:00 PM | | ::

    Everything's fine when it comes to Franco-American relations. There's no strain whatsoever in the EU, NATO or the UN. Oh, yes and "so far as their strategy for disarming Iraq goes, the Americans have already reached their objective. They've won."

    Jacques Chirac gives a television interview, apparently from some alternate universe.
    :: Erik | 3/12/2003 11:12:00 AM | | ::

    Take a deep breath, everybody...
    Bomb-throwing leftist subversive Mrs. T thinks some prominent bloggers are losing it, and tells them so with a firehose blast of cold water directed at the conspiracy theorists (and a lovely rant it is, indeed).

    In this case at least, she's right, and PapaScott agrees. The profiteering described in the Die Zeit article that has everyone atwitter is unfortunate, but the players seem to be unconnected small fish and the German government is prosecuting them -- hardly evidence in support of collusion. This might (or might not) signal a lack of ethics and/or oversight, but there's absolutely no connection to Schr�der's Iraq policy and no smoking gun for the "something to hide" theory.

    Everybody's a bit tense right now, and it's making people silly, so let's all try to take a deep breath and calm down a bit before posting. And I'll start by updating my post immediately below.

    :: Erik | 3/12/2003 10:52:00 AM | | ::

    :: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 ::
    Lexington Green is fed up and lets France have it with both barrels, over at ChicagoBoyz.

    Now I've been sounding the "The French Are Coming" alarm for months (see here, here, here, here or here or just poke around the archives - there are one or two on every page) and even I'm not willing to go quite this far:

    Why would the French be willing to take steps which logically and practically could very well lead to the destruction of American cities with nuclear weapons? Why are they willing to push things in that direction? Why are they willing to take that risk? Because they see the world as a zero sum game in which what is bad for America is good for France.

    Now the French foreign policy mandarins are deeply cynical and they are willing to let Americans die in large numbers for the glory of France, but not to the extent that Lexington fears. In particular, I don't think they consider a nuclear attack on the United States a serious possibility. If they did, they'd be more cooperative -- they'd still demand their pound of flesh and they'd still make extracting it as painful as possible, but in the end they'd come along.

    I also don't think they see it as a purely zero-sum game in which America's loss is France's gain. They vastly underestimate the contribution that America makes to world stability and overestimate the stabilizing effect of their beloved multilateral institutions, which leads them to be reckless in their attempts to launch a new cold war.

    France became pretty adept at gaming the system during the first cold war, but they've been losing influence since the iron curtain fell. Their foreign policy establishment just doesn't understand how to function in a world with just one "Hyperpower" so they yearn for the good old days and do everything they can to bring them back. And if they suceed in goading Russia and/or China into forming an opposing bloc, France will immediately (attempt to) resume its accustomed position as a semi-neutral, able to mediate between (and profit from) either of the great powers and their assorted pawns.

    So... I'll grant you shortsighted, arrogant, aggressive, self-centered and venal (and maybe malicious) but I'd stop somewhere short of calling them calculating mass murderers.

    Update: In response to some... unhappy... email, let me clarify a bit. I do think that French policy makers place greater weight on the good (or glory) of France as they see it than on the lives of American soldiers. That leads to decisions that place Americans at risk, but I'm aghast at the suggestion that they're actively trying to get Americans killed.

    :: Erik | 3/11/2003 11:11:00 PM | | ::
    Okay, the "Freedom Fries" thing is stupid, but the "pro-ICC" activists in this article demonstrate that stupid and pointless "symbolic" acts aren't exclusive to Congress:

    Pro-court activists raised the flags of the member states on a beach outside The Hague, each flag surrounded by a 3-foot-high sandbag bunker to symbolize a determination to ward off a U.S. landing.

    The stuff about a US landing is a reference to the "Invasion of the Hague" act and has nothing to do with Iraq. It's too bad they didn't publicize the symbolic bunkers ahead of time -- they'd have passed fluids if a landing craft full of Marines actually turned up.
    :: Erik | 3/11/2003 10:39:00 PM | | ::
    A new world order? (for real this time)

    Jaed at Bitter Sanity writes up his thoughts about the differences between European and American perceptions of the UN and its proper role. Jaed thinks there's a fundamental disconnect and that all parties to the discussion are pretty much talking past each other. Jaed's theory does do a pretty good job of accounting for the rapidly deteriorating tone of the discussion.

    Over at the Guardian, Peter Mandelson writes that the struggle in the UN is about the shape of an emergent new world order (where have we heard that before?). He sees a struggle between advocates of multipolarity and multilateralism, with American unilateralism waiting in the wings.

    Meanwhile, Lee Harris writes that we're on the cusp of an even more fundamental change in world view. If Lee is correct, the very concepts underlying the Jaed's theory and the struggle between multipolarity and multilateralism are about to be swept away.

    I don't have a grand unifying theory for all of this (yet), but these articles all point to something I've been feeling for a while now -- that we're poised on the brink of a momentous change and that nobody really has any idea what comes next. We can speculate and debate and imagine, but in the end it's all theory until it happens and I think we all sense that we really aren't equipped to understand what's about to happen and won't be until it's over. And then the outcome will seem obvious and foreordained.

    In the meantime, we wait and we worry and we hope for the best.

    Update: David Warren also writes about changes in the world order and the cold war that's brewing.

    Update: David Adesnik disagrees (if the permalink goes to the wrong article, just go to OxBlog and look for the post that starts "Wishful Thinking").

    :: Erik | 3/11/2003 12:06:00 PM | | ::
    Today's Op-Ed page in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a measured takedown of the "Human Shields" now fleeing Iraq that's worth a read. Excerpts:

    Our service people have done a vastly superior job to these voluntary shields of thinking through their behavior toward civilians within a violent environment.


    It is likely there will be no place more dangerous for the shields than among a newly liberated Iraqi populace, who will view them as pro-Saddam.

    He manages to disassemble the human shields calmly and without apparent animosity or ridicule, which makes the article all the more effective.
    :: Erik | 3/11/2003 10:51:00 AM | | ::
    :: Monday, March 10, 2003 ::
    A Seattle Weekly article quotes a collection of local notables on the looming war in Iraq. Andrew Sullivan cites a quote in which Tom Robbins wishes for an US defeat in Iraq. If you read to the end of the article, though, you'll find another quote that's a bit less hostile to the US:

    Yahya Algarib is a family advocate at the Iraqi Community Center:

    All the Iraqis�we�re so confused. We need Saddam Hussein removed, and, at the same time, we�re worried about our people. We saw a lot of people dying in the Gulf War�all civilians dying for no reason. Saddam Hussein is still in power. Now if they really want to have a second war with Iraq, where is it going to be? Just in the south of Iraq? Because last time, they could have moved to the capital, but then they stopped for political reasons. Now is it going to be same, or is it going to be real, and they will move into Baghdad?

    Now who do you think has a better understanding of Iraq and Saddam Hussein?
    :: Erik | 3/10/2003 10:36:00 PM | | ::

    This report (in German) of an anti-war demonstration in Leipzig explicitly mentions opposition to Saddam as well as Bush:

    The demonstrators didn't protest against only the American war-plans, though. Signs also criticized Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

    In itself, not a big deal, but this is the first report I've seen of any antiwar demonstration anywhere that actually criticize Saddam as well. Is this an outlier or an leading indication of a (admittedly small) change in sentiment?

    On another front, I also found Ari Fleischer's choice of words in his press conference today kind of interesting (at least in the part I caught). He didn't waste any kind words on the UN and indicated that if the UN doesn't act, then "other international institutions" will do so. Is he laying the groundwork for a post-UN world? He was certainly laying the groundwork for a giant, post-war I-told-you-so (which is the kind of thing I've been arguing the administration has to do).
    :: Erik | 3/10/2003 11:00:00 AM | | ::

    :: Sunday, March 09, 2003 ::
    Matthew Yglesias is worried about Bush's postwar plans for Iraq and the (possibly post-UN) international system. For the war itself, he says that he "favors the war that Bush says he's going to fight" but "fears that that won't be the war that's actually waged." On international issues, he fears that some within the administration want to impose a pax Americana and that the administration as a whole has shown no signs of knowing how to "fix" the international system.

    I share his concerns, though to a much lesser degree, and I've actually been getting more optimistic on the issue of postwar Iraq lately. The international situation is a genuine mess right now, but I don't lay all (or even most) of the blame for that on Bush. I also see some signs of hope, despite lingering concerns that I've discussed before.

    If you're absolutely convinced that Bush is driven by petty or venal motives or because he's a bloodthirsty warmonger with imperial designs, you might as well stop reading right now. As I see it, his behaviour as President is entirely consistent with a genuine dedication to protecting America and furthering American interests as he sees them coupled with an evolving notion of precisely what that means. Contrary to the common wisdom, I think he also understands the importance of a stable and workable international system. That said, he's not an idealist about it and he's not willing to sacrifice (his notion of) American security or economic interest on the altar of internationalism.

    His real project is not the liberation of Iraq but the renovation of the Middle East as a whole, for the security of the United States. President Bush is truly committed to making postwar Iraq a success on the scale of postwar Europe, because anything less would place the larger project in jeopardy. Whether he'll actually pull it off or not is anyone's guess, but the commitment is genuine.

    His speeches, statements and his actions have even been consistent with that notion. The reported deals with Turkey had me very seriously concerned for awhile, but a closer look gave me the impression of a three-way standoff -- neither the Turks nor the Kurds are willing to completely trust the United States to look out for their interests, and the US doesn't trust either side not to start a war. The end result would be a very delicate balance of just enough concessions to make Turkey feel secure without triggering a Kurdish rebellion, with coalition troops in the area to keep them apart. The situation will be tense as hell, which is always a risk, but I don't think the administration is planning to just hand effective control of the Kurdish areas to Turkey and I don't think either side actually wants a war.

    It's fashionable in the Blogosphere right now to charge the Bush team with incomptence on the international front, but they were actually doing quite well on the until they were derailed by circumstances that nobody could predict. Bush surprised everyone when he went to the UN and stunned them when he got a suprisingly tough resolution approved unanimously by the UNSC (including Syria). It looked like things were on track for a UNSC approved war in Iraq this spring until the wheels came off when Schr�der decided to run against Bush rather than Stoiber. That gave France an opportunity to drive a wedge between the US and Germany and thereby enhance its stature in Europe and the World at the expense of the United States and (unwittingly) the UN.

    France, Russia and Germany have made it clear that they view the UN as an instrument they can use to restrain the United States. The sad result of that is to convince Bush that the UN in its current form is essentially an anti-American institution. That makes it a threat, which means that he won't rest until it is restructured or replaced. Scroll down or click here on the impending threat to the UN.

    The design of whatever rises from the ashes of the UN will be directed by people who take a pragmatic rather than an idealistic view of the whole enterprise. They will recognize the value of the institution but will be skeptical of investing it with too much power, which places them in stark contrast to the earnest idealists who constructed the bizarre world of the UN or the suffocating mound of eurocracy in Brussels. The result should be an institution with clearly defined responsibilities which is controlled by innate checks and balances. In short, we just might get a system that will work this time.

    Update: Lexington Green is also feeling more optimistic about the Bush administration's commitment to truly getting Iraq back on its feet.

    Update: But nobody says it'll be easy. Salam Pax describes the reaction in Iraq to news that Barbara Bodine would administer Baghdad ("you know it is their intention to destroy the pride of the muslim man"). Salam's points (many of them, read the whole thing) are well taken -- commitment is necessary but not sufficient. However happy the Iraqi people might be to be out from under Saddam, trust is another matter and the administration will need a very deft touch.

    :: Erik | 3/09/2003 12:32:00 AM | | ::

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