:: Bite The Wax Tadpole ::

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:: Friday, April 18, 2003 ::

It's All About The...Art?
Jaed at Bitter Sanity predicts the anti-American/anti-Bush left will soon be accusing the US of being behind the looting of the Baghdad Museum. She paints a plausible progression of seven steps that will take them from an innocuous comment by a British officer to the full-blown accusation against the US.

The "Aardvark" went directly to Go without passing the first six steps. Apparently, we're supposed to believe that a shadowy and sinister cabal of art collectors controls Pentagon war planning. Does "Big Oil" know it's been pushed aside?

Update: Here's an interesting counter-meme in the making. Given the embarassment this incident is causing the US, Chirac's obvious desire to embarass the US and the fact that the first of the looted antiquities have turned up in Paris, this hypothesis that France was behind the looting of the Baghdad museum certainly seems to fit the facts better than art collectors calling the shots at the Pentagon.

In fact, it would take far less paranoia than the Aardvark displays to wonder if, perhaps, French agents were instigating looting throughout Baghdad. The looting benefited France as it was embarassing to the United States and provided them perfect cover to spirit out not just antiquities but also any troublesome secret files they didn't want coalition forces to discover. According to the standard rules of tin-foil hat logic, whoever benefits from an action must secretly have instigated it, so this one is pretty much a slam dunk.

An alert reader points out that it looks like the looters had inside help and that setting up the sort of targeted looting that is being alleged would have required a pretty good pre-war network within Baghdad. Which France had and America did not. Draw your own conclusions.

:: Erik | 4/18/2003 05:52:00 AM | | ::
:: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 ::
The Blogosphere is alight with quotable quotes today.

If you hear of Spontaneous Human Combustion amongst the anti-war left, check to see if they've been reading Stephen Pollard:

That is the thing about Donald Rumsfeld: he is right, you are wrong and you are just going to have come to terms with it.

The Radical cites this lovely quote from a Thomas Friedman article:

French-style constructive engagement, which is just
a cover for dancing with dictators, is a fraud...
Mr. de Villepin has become my moral compass:
whatever he is for, I am against. And whatever he is against, I am for.

Big Arm Woman has found a protest group I long to join (permalinks busted, look for "True Colors"):

A local group called People Against Ridiculous Protests carried out the day's most tasteful protest. Founder Deke Wiggins appeared at his designated protest site in the morning, planted a sign, then departed. The sign read: "Look at all these ridiculous people."

:: Erik | 4/16/2003 11:42:00 AM | | ::
What Are They Thinking?

Everybody has their panties in a bunch about Bush administration saber-rattling in the direction of Syria. It just confirms Europe's worst fears about the bloodthirsty cowboy in the White House and the press is wondering just what's going on. I can tell you two things that are definitely not going on: It's not preparation for an invasion of Syria and it's not a spillover of some internal strife in the administration. So of course those are the two lead theories in the press.

As for what is actually going on, it's likely some combination of the following:

  • A warning shot. The Bush administration is about to engage in some serious arm-twisting of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and they really don't want Syria and Iran encouraging recidivism amongst the Palestinians. This certainly lets Syria know that its support for Iraq has not gone unnoticed and that similar behavior will not be tolerated in the future.

  • A setup. In response to US criticism, the Syrian ambassador is on record insisting that it is the coalition's responsibility to police the border. Don't be surprised if the coalition takes Syria up on its kind offer to put lots of troops on the Syrian border. And don't be too surprised if they end up occasionally crossing the border in hot pursuit of terrorists.

  • An attempt to spook the bad guys into moving. Terrorists or wanted Iraqi officials will be much easier to catch if they're on the move than if they're hunkered down in Syria. This tactic seems to have been used against Al Qaeda with reasonable success.

  • A genuine attempt to get something from Syria. The real goal would be seriously confidential, but it could be a person or a policy change.

  • A political diversion. A strong defense of Syria will clearly require weeks or months of UN discussion. Any time and effort the weasel-bloc nations spend defending Syria is time and effort they can't spend attempting to undermine the reconstruction of Iraq. This would probably be pretty effective, since the Bush administration has demonstrated the ability to maintain a laser-sharp focus, where its opponents seem to be easily knocked off balance.

  • Political theater. Old Europe is preoccupied with the question of whose side Tony Blair is on, and it would benefit both the US and the UK if he could demonstrate his European credentials by standing up to the US on a side-issue like Syria.

  • A test. Part of the "domino" theory is that if the US is threatening enough to the bad guys it won't actually have to fight them to bring about change. The psychological impact of the victory in Iraq will only decrease over time, and getting belligerent even before the fighting in Iraq has ended has just the whiff of aggressive madness that makes for such effective intimidation. If a relatively soft target like Syria can't be scared (sort of) straight under those conditions, we probably have at least one more multiyear "rush to war" in our future. If this is what's going on, let's hope Syria blinks.

  • A media diversion. All this talk scares people, but it could also knock images of chaos and looting off the front page for the few crucial days needed to restore order. Sure, all of this talk about Syria scares people but it doesn't have the emotional impact of the images coming out of Iraq and will blow over much more quickly. That last seems unlikely to me, but I threw it in for the tinfoil-hat brigades.

    In any case, the Bush team is neither stupid nor undisciplined enough to allow this sort of thing to happen accidentally. Whatever is really behind it will emerge in due course, probably sometime over the next few days or weeks. That isn't to say that Syria is off the radar, just that no invasion is imminent.

    Update: Reader Rob Robertson points to an interesting and optimistic alternate theory, that tough talk from Washington will give Assad the leverage he needs to clean out the Baathist old guard. To be honest, I don't know what to make of this theory. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

    :: Erik | 4/16/2003 12:36:00 AM | | ::
  • :: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 ::
    Regardless of your sympathies towards [Ll]ibertarianism (and I'm moderately sympathetic), this is pretty funny:

    Some libertarians think that a free market and small government (or no government) are the sole criteria of a free society (and so many of them blithely force their children to go to school, do chores, and generally obey their every whim). Such people are best described as libertarian statists, partly because it annoys them, but mainly because they are convinced that it is the malevolent State, rather than bad authoritarian ideas and lack of knowledge, that is the basic obstacle to human progress.

    The whole article is well worth a read.
    :: Erik | 4/15/2003 03:57:00 PM | | ::
    :: Monday, April 14, 2003 ::
    Der Spiegel seems seems to accept as fact Steven Den Beste's "treachery" theory. They make the obligatory effort at preemptive spin control, but it's half-hearted at best.

    This article is apparently two weeks old already but I don't recall reading about it anywhere else (I've stopped reading der Spiegel myself).

    Update: This article in the same issue is worth a read, too. The combined arrogance and cluelessness of the dynamic duo is truly breathtaking:

  • For the first time, Schr�der and Fischer ... have taken the bold step of formulating policy that extends into the future. (ed: a stunning innovation, that)

  • Chirac: "They thought they would be greeted as liberators and that the regime would collapse like a house of cards. But they underestimated Iraqi patriotism. They would have been better off listening to us." ... Nonetheless, the French president explained to his advisors in the Elys�e Palace that France cannot descend into an I-told-you-so attitude.

  • The US military appears to be stuck in its tracks in the desert, and civilian casualties are multiplying. It has never been so painful to have been in the right, murmurs the foreign minister [Fischer], with a worried look on his face.

  • According to French diplomats, Blair, unlike Bush, is a true moralist, one who places great faith in the law, justice and international consensus. (emphasis mine - life imitates Scrappleface)

  • The Chancellor guides the fate of the country, negotiates with the French and Russians, and tells the stubborn George W. Bush exactly what he thinks...

  • At a recent internal meeting, a Fischer confidante spoke of a "Tour de France approach": "Always make sure you lag just a little behind."

  • That last is my favorite. It amounts to a blunt admission that Schr�der is Chirac's poodle, albeit with a forlorn attempt to paint a happy face on it.
    :: Erik | 4/14/2003 11:52:00 PM | | ::

    Comments are broken for the moment. Field circus has been summoned but there's no ETA just yet. Feel free to send email instead.
    :: Erik | 4/14/2003 07:57:00 PM | | ::
    I'm not the only one who worries that Old Europe will retain or even expand control over the levers of power in the EU. Over at Samizdata, David Carr cites a Telegraph article by Conservative MEP David Hannan that makes esssentially the same argument. Excerpts:

    A false and dangerous idea is taking hold in Britain, especially among Euro-sceptics. It goes something like this. The Iraq war has wrecked plans for closer European integration. It has set Old Europeans against New ones, driven Britain back on the Anglo-Saxon world, reminded everyone of how much they rely on the Americans, and made the idea of a European Army seem laughable...

    The trouble is that Euro-fanatics are prone to the same impulse. For them, the war is the strongest demonstration to date of why Brussels needs a unified foreign policy. Never again, they say, should the EU be enfeebled by internal divisions. Never again should Europeans be forced to watch in frustration as the Americans give some tinpot dictator a good kicking. Never again should London be allowed to behave in so non-communautaire a fashion....

    My point is not that either interpretation is right or wrong. Rather, it is that the Euro-zealots, unlike the sceptics, are in a position to act on their concerns...

    This battle can still be won, but it isn't over yet. Be very careful about declaring victory prematurely.

    Update: More fuel for the fire ("Fischer eyes EU foreign minister post").

    :: Erik | 4/14/2003 07:34:00 PM | | ::
    True Colors
    German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's true colors were inadvertently displayed by a Danish documentary which followed Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the four months he held the rotating EU presidency.

    "I am a good friend of Joschka, and he tells me, that Turkey will never join", says the Danish foreign minister Per Stig M�ller in a corridor passage which was taped and used in the film.

    Can we get moving on TAFTA already?
    :: Erik | 4/14/2003 07:27:00 PM | | ::
    :: Sunday, April 13, 2003 ::

    Get ready for the next Bush rope-a-dope, folks. I'm listening to the Al-Jazeera shill on CNN now. She's figured out that they won't be able to milk the looting much longer, so she's ramping up for the next crisis and ranting about Chalabi being installed as a US puppet. I predict that about the time the Arab and European press get themselves worked into a lather about the evil treachery they're absolutely certain is coming, the Bush team will cut their legs out from under them with a surprising announcement of some kind.

    I don't have a clear idea at the moment what that announcement might be, but I seriously doubt that the US would just install Chalabi (or anyone) in a position of actual authority (he might have some sort of advisory role).

    Update: Actually, Chalabi might be the second upcoming rope-a-dope. All the noise about Syria seems to be building up a head of steam much faster, so that might well be where we'll see the first surprise.

    :: Erik | 4/13/2003 09:57:00 PM | | ::
    Huge News

    This is huge news:

    Israel will hand over some Jewish settlements in the West Bank for peace, but the Palestinians must give up on their key demand for refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes in Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published Sunday.


    The US-led war on Iraq "generated a shock through the Middle East and it brings with it a prospect of great changes," Sharon told Haaretz.

    "The Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think," Sharon said.

    However, whether peace is reached depends on the Palestinians, he said, adding they must first change their leadership and battle terrorism.

    Viewed by Israel as a moderate, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister-designate, could be the key to a possible peace deal, he said.

    I also view this as evidence that the, um, conversation I predicted has already taken place. I'll wager that Bush gave Sharon an ultimatum to make this offer, and Abbas an ultimatum to make and enforce a similar as-yet-unknown concession. This is a test for both of them and Bush will be tough on both of them to play ball.

    Update: The Guardian's "diplomatic editor" disagrees with me.

    :: Erik | 4/13/2003 12:43:00 AM | | ::
    Here's an interesting little tidbit tucked in a doom-and-gloom MSNBC article about unrest in Baghdad:

    Last week the pro-Saddam thugs turned their weapons against crowds of local residents in a final assault against civic order. They were instructed to kill and bomb civilians in Saddam City to create chaos, says the hospital�s director general, Moafaq Gorea. Now the hospital is the only refuge from the anarchy outside.

    I haven't seen this particular incident reported elsewhere. Can anyone cite details?

    Also: Can we get a clear statement from the Iraqi Body Count folks as to whether they place this incident of cold-blooded murder by Saddam's thugs on the coalition side of the ledger or not?
    :: Erik | 4/13/2003 12:15:00 AM | | ::

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