Friday, July 25, 2003

Playing loose with the facts again, Andrew Sullivan starts off a recent review of Ann Coulter's book: "Few would dispute that she's a babe." Somehow babe-ness has become part of the Ann Coulter persona, something not touched upon in the recent cover story on Slate.

But really, while you couldn't exactly call her hideous, if I met this person at a party, I'd probably stay on the on the other side of the room. She looks positively scary.
The Times of London has an exclusive interview with one of Uday's personal bodyguards, who has finally come out (though he didn't want his name published) after a three-month silence. Apparently the first "decapitation strike" missed Saddam by a country mile (or several).

The bodyguard said the Americans’ next “decapitation” strike came a lot closer, and that Saddam survived only because several safe houses had come under attack and he suspected there was an informant within his camp.

Saddam asked the suspect, a captain, to prepare a safe house behind a restaurant in the Mansour district for a meeting. They arrived, and left again, almost immediately, by the back door. “Ten minutes after they went out of the door, it was bombed,” the bodyguard said.

Saddam had the captain summarily executed while the Pentagon was claiming that the strike had probably finished off Saddam and Uday.
NOTE: This post was modified because UPI retracted the article refered to below!

Lots of critics said during the first stages of the war that Rumsfeld was trying to do the war "on the cheap." Supporters dismissed this as the uneducated griping of armchair generals.

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a piece with a headline ("Wolfowitz Concedes Iraq Errors") that makes the article itself look deceptively shallow (found in Slate's Today's Papers). Actually, the story goes into great depth about the misplaced expectations that led many to think that taking over Iraq would be a cakewalk, and where, within the administration, those expectations came from. (Take one guess.) Some snippets:

Officials critical of the occupation planning said some problems could have been predicted -- or were, to no avail, by experts inside and outside the Pentagon.

Before the invasion, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies were persistent and unified in warning the Defense Department that Iraqis would resort to "armed opposition" after the war was over. The Army's chief of staff warned that a larger stability force would be needed.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his team disagreed, confident that Iraqi military and police units would help secure a welcoming nation.


"There was a serious disconnect between the forces necessary to win a war and occupy a country," said a U.S. official who worked in the initial postwar effort and is still in Baghdad. "We fooled ourselves into thinking we would have a liberation over an occupation. Why did we do that?"
Jeez, didn't anybody tell this guy that asking these kinds of questions is simply aiding the enemy? Or, to paraphrase George Orwell, objectively pro-Saddam?

Really, there's nothing new here, but it appears that this version of events is gradually becoming the accepted history of the war. With good reason.

Talking Points Memo comments on this article.

Also found on TPM is an interesting UPI story saying, again, what's been known for some time by anybody that cared to give it a thought: There's no connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and there never was. What's new, though, is that the long-delayed joint Congressional inquiry into 9/11 states quite explicitly that the U.S. government never had much evidence of an Iraq-Qaeda link.

CORRECTION: I've been had! The actual report actually says nothing about Al Qaeda whatsoever. UPI pulled that article and issued a new one, focusing exclusively on the quotes from former Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who sat on the committee that made the report:

"The administration sold the connection (between Iraq and al-Qaida) to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war," said Cleland. "What you've seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."


"The reason this report was delayed for so long -- deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created -- is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over ... before (it) came out," he said.

"Had this report come out in January like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration."
This guy Cleland has a good reason to be pissed off at the president. Bush successfully campaigned during the mid-term elections to have him thrown out of office. The Republican attack ads spliced in pictures of Saddam and Osama to make Cleland appear soft on security.

Still, he's right. (OK, in light of the fact that the report says nothing about Al Qaeda I'd say he's probably right. After all, Bush had every reason to believe the report might complicate his war campaign.)

For whatever it's worth (not much), I'd vote for whoever came out with a campaign ad that said, simply: "Iraq? Do it right, or don't do it at all."
Morning reading: Alex Zucker's Brooklyn-based Stickfinger blog offers good coverage of U.S. immigration issues, summarizing two articles from the NY Times and the Economist on America's increasingly unwelcoming stance toward refugees. This is bad news for the U.S. (in my humble opinion) and awkward for the Republicans, because they're still having trouble deciding if they're the pro- or anti-immigration party.

UPDATE: Actually, in terms of actual policy, this may or may not have anything to do with the U.S. approach to immigration. Click on comments...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

A few different takes on Tony Blair's relationship to the U.S. in light of his recent speech to Congress. First, the American liberal Michael Kinsley writes an excellent essay in Slate, praising Blair's speech:

Blair's speech also had qualities that go beyond eloquence. They might be summed up as rhetorical courage. These are qualities like complexity, humility, reality, irony, and freshness. Rhetorical courage comes down to a willingness to be interesting. Interesting can be dangerous, so American pols tend to avoid it.

If weapons of mass destruction are never found, "history will forgive" America and Britain because at least we destroyed an evil government. American Iraq hawks make the same basic argument, but never framed as a matter of the greatest nation on earth needing forgiveness from anybody, let alone from history.
At the same time, British leftists like Will Hutton, former editor of The Observer, lament that with a few recent decisions, Blair has essentially put the British armed forces under U.S. control. He's correct in noting that the ostensibly sovereignity-obsessed British press has oddly overlooked this. In The Guardian, David Leigh and Richard Norton-Taylor asked last week, "It fair to accuse the US of destroying our national sovereignty? The issue is so little discussed that even to make the claim has parallels with the ravings of the europhobes that Brussels plans to make Britons eat square sausages." But the answer, they say emphatically, is yes: Britain is now a U.S. client state. They offer seven rather convincing pieces of evidence, "none of which depends directly on the way the US dragged Britain into Iraq, nor on the current MI6-CIA intelligence blame game about the war."

The American columnist William Pfaff agrees, and says such a large degree of subordination is bad news for both Americans and Brits:

Far better for [the United States] to have an independent friend, who speaks its language, has independent weight in world affairs, possesses a major voice in the European Union, is capable on occasion of telling Washington home truths and, by using its independent influence, to force Washington to pay attention.

A British tragedy is in the making. For many of us who grew up under the decisive influence of Britain's history and literature, it implies an American tragedy as well.
Which comes back to a question Blair himself asked in front of Congress, a ballsy statement if there ever was one:

As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible, but, in fact, it is transient.

The question is: What do you leave behind?
There's such a crazy amount of drama in the kitchen at Tulip. So-and-so refuses to work with so-and-so, this person tells the other person to fuck off when asked to slice some bread, and over the weekend I found out there was a putsch. One of my partners and I recently joked that we should make a reality show out of it.

I just found out it's already been done.
This is actually pretty cool -- on Czech Airport Authority's site you can view current and upcoming arrival and departure times. This must be handy for somebody, somehow.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Today is my 29th birthday. Both my parents, independently, sent me roughly the same birthday message, containing the following line, which is traditionally sung by my grandfather as a coda to "Happy birthday to you...":

And she lives down in our alley
without a shirt,
a dirty purple shirt....
I have no idea as to the meaning or origin of these lines, and I'm afraid to ask. "She Lives Down in Our Alley" appears to be an old barbershop quartet song, but I've Googled "dirty purple shirt" and come up empty. The connection to "Happy Birthday" remains a mystery.
Yesterday I received a note from an acquaintance at the Prague Post mentioning "a certain anti-Prague Post vibe" to my blog. Specifically, my acquaintance pointed to my implicit criticism of the Post's ripping off a Mlada fronta story without citing the source. My acquaintance mentioned that picking up stories from the Czech press without attribution is a concern shared by a number of Post staffers.

This practice is indeed somewhat less than meritorious (I had to use a thesauraus to find the right word, lest it come off too strong). But to be fair, it's also widespread among journalists everywhere. International publications are always cribbing stories from the locals without giving credit, for instance. I used to fly into a frenzy about this when I was working for a English-language local publication; now, as a freelancer working for internationals, let's just say I'm a bit more sympathetic. Still, one should always give credit where it's due.

But as regards the "anti-Prague Post vibe," let me say that as far as Prague hacks and newshounds go, I'm actually a staunch defender of the Post. True, it's never been too good at breaking stories, but the writing is solid and professional, the coverage is well-rounded, and at the end of the day, it does what it sets out to do quite well. And compared to other English-language rags in other cities in the region and around the world, it's a downright excellent newspaper. It's an easy target that foreigners living in Prague are often too eager to criticize, which is maybe the result of unrealistically high literary expectations -- the weight of Prague expatica and all that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Remind me to read all these books when I finish the Old Testament.

P.S. From the numerous reports I've read, it looks like Uday and Qusay might actually be t?t.

P.P.S. Why can't this new Blogger even handle a simple umlaut?
I recently had an idea for a brilliant campaign ad. (For whom, I don't know, but I'd vote for whoever did it.) Somebody should hire Sally Struthers to come onscreen and say, over images of U.S. operations in Iraq: "For just 44 cents a day, or $13.40 per month, you can occupy your own Middle Eastern country." That's the $4.9 billion-per-month cost (much higher than originally estimated) of invading and occupying Iraq, spread out evenly over American taxpayers.

I'm not saying invading and occupying Iraq was a bad idea, no I would never say a thing like that. But it would be nice if somebody pitched it to the American people in exactly those terms so they can decide for themselves whether it was worth it.
"We're going to kill those cruel Punjabis." Jonathan Ledgard reports in the Daily Telegraph on the brewing low-level war between Afghan and Pakistan border forces.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Read here and here for more about the Sabina Slonkova business, in Czech. (She's the star reporter at Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes I was obliquely referring to earlier -- the one who quit over the publisher's quashing of a story. The news is out now.)

On the train to Berlin Friday afternoon, I received a call from a friend who works at Mlada fronta. Apparently one of the executive editors had read this blog and wanted to pass the following message to me (not an exact quote): "Please tell your friend he has a very interesting web site, but it contains some inaccuracies. In fact, there is not outrage in our newsroom, and if he would like to see for himself, I would be happy to show him around."

The idea of a guided tour of the MfD newsroom with all its happy reporters sounded pretty appealing, but I finally decided that if anybody from the newspaper wants to discuss with me what's been written on my little blog, they can contact me directly at scott(ZAVINAC)tulipcafe.cz, rather than passing messages through my friends.

Those Czech-language blogs linked to above contain statements from the paper's spokesperson defending how it dealt with the aforementioned story about politicians' perks at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Basically, it says the editor-in-chief postponed publication of the article because it had shortcomings from the editorial point of view and required readjustment. (If that's a bad translation, feel free to correct me.)

The newspaper seems to be saying the final decision on all editorial matters lies solely with the editor, not the publisher, and that the KV story was not in fact quashed by the publisher for commercial reasons, but postponted and "reworked" for editorial reasons. (And Slonkova quit over that?)

Two things: First, I know for a fact that the publisher was involved in discussions about the article because I saw him going over it with his colleagues with my own eyes. I also know this was in response to festival organizers' raising a stink about it. If the editor-in-chief has the final say on what goes into the newspaper, there's no reason for the publisher even to be involved. So the publisher's intervention looks pretty bad by itself, and that comes from an unimpeachable source: Yours truly. Second, it seems the re-worked version of the article focused mainly on Information Technology Minister Vladimir Mlynar, completely obscuring the fact that these sponsors' perks for government officials are a widespread practice; plus, mention of the Karlovy Vary Int'l Film Festival itself was almost completely missing from the article, which seems odd, since that's what the article was originally supposed to be about. Decide for yourself, but it certainly looks to me like the Festival was successful in pressuring the paper (via the publisher) to tone down the article.
Trying to sort this David Kelly business out in my head. It's not funny and never was funny, even before the guy apparently killed himself, but regardless, it's now a complete Horlicks to me.

BBC reports that British gov't "sexed up" weapons dossier, citing "senior intelligence official." British gov't demands to know who this source is. BBC says take a hike. British gov't pull out some unnamed guy and says, "Did he look something like this? Because you got the story all wrong and he denies saying that!" BBC says no, he didn't look like that, and sticks its story. The name of the guy fingered by the gov't emerges, somehow: David Kelly. (Here's how it emerged.) But he's not a senior intelligence official, he's a scientist, and he denies saying all those things. BBC stays mum. Then David Kelly slits his wrist and dies. After talking to his family, BBC confirms he was the source after all. (Thanks to Jeff Buehler for that link.)

All in all, this is just about the strangest, saddest and least predictable news episode to come down the pike in a while.

But what, it gets even better: Andrew Sullivan says the BBC has blood on its hands! Let me see if I can follow this, um, "logic." The BBC misrepresented what Kelly said, and that's why he killed himself. How do we know? Because Kelly himself denied saying the things he was quoted as saying before he killed himself. How do we know Kelly wasn't lying, and the BBC isn't telling the truth? Because the BBC are liars. How do we know they're liars? Because they're Bolshevik bastards and that's what Bolshevik bastards do. They lie. Case closed.

I'm reminded of Thomas Friedman's comment about France and its objection to war... This is not an argument. This is station identification.

By all means, according to a summary glance at the facts of the case, the BBC has one big something to answer to: Why did this scientist get ID'd as a "senior intelligence official"? (Here's the BBC's Andrew Gilligan's response: "[N]one of our reports ever described him as a member of the intelligence services[.]") It's a dodgy defense, but even so, I have a hard time believing this false ID was the reason Kelly killed himself.

The British government, in its zeal to discredit the BBC, played a far more unsavory role in this affair than the BBC itself. Maybe it's just a differing approach we have in American toward anonymous sources and public policy: A source is cited anonymously because he/she wants to remain anonymous and because the media trusts the source. It's up to the public to decide whether or not to believe a statement from an official who doesn't wish to stand behind his views by using his real name. The British government was right to challenge the veracity of the anonymous statements of an unnamed "senior intelligence official," and I can see why it would have privately reprimanded Kelly for unauthorized contact with the media. But it went way too far when it outed Kelly himself. This is the Blair spin machine at its ugliest and cruelest.
I just got back from Berlin. What a fine city. What a fine country! Truly, a nation of hippies. I rode around on those public bikes I'd heard about, but never really believed in. (I think they first introduced them in Amsterdam.) In a sentence, you basically grab a bike off the sidewalk, rent it via your mobile phone, and when you're done, deposit it at any major intersection in the city. And somehow it all seems to work.

Here's something I just wrote, belatedly, in response to a recent Steve post at Pragueblog. But wait. First, I'll cut and paste that part from his post I'm responding to, to save you the hassle.

Josh Marshall provides a useful, occasionally amusing service. ["Amusing" was linked to an archived post but the permalink seems to be messed up, so I'm not sure which post Steve is referring to. -S]

I sometimes worry about him and whether he's getting enough sleep, though. He's behaving lately a little like a dog chasing cars with a bloodthirsty vengeance.
I was meaning to respond to this before going away for the weekend, but I didn't have a chance, and now you, Steve, won't read it for a whole 'nother week. Damn.

Josh Marshall wrote something a while back that has stuck with me. It went something like this: Yes, it's true that harping on the issue of Bush's WMD lies (misrepresentations, inaccuracies, things that don't rise to the level of a presidential speech, whatever you want to call them) is a political dead end for the Democrats. Most Americans, after all, feel the war was justified even if we don't find any weapons. But there are some things, Marshall wrote, that you just have to say simply because they're right, regardless of the political expediency of saying them.

This is one of those things. That car he's chasing is the most outrageous campaign of deception launched by a US government in a long time -- certainly in my lifetime. Just because he's never going to catch the car doesn't mean he shouldn't be chasing it.

In fact I think pro-war liberals should take this more seriously than the anti-war faction. After all, this just gives people like Erik Alterman a leg to stand on -- scratch that, it gives them a huge motherfucking pedestal. Indeed, most anti-war liberals are pretty dismissive of the whole Niger yellow-cake thing, arguing that it's just one of a litany of Bush's lies.

I don't really buy that. Yes, politicians lie, always -- but if there was ever a lie that went too far, this was it. The statement about African uranium was included in the State of the Union for one reason, and one reason only: To scare the bejeezus out of little old ladies in Kansas who might otherwise think twice about a US invasion of Iraq. Bush had every reason to know the evidence was shaky at best. He said it anyway, because he wanted to go to war.

This is not to say that the war wasn't justified for a host of other reasons -- reasons that we're all too aware of by this point. But the idea of Saddam getting his hands on nukes tipped the scales for a lot of people. And I'm sorry, but you can't just go around making shit up like that.