Thursday, December 18, 2003

Great articlein the Prague Post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Democrats are gang-tackling Howard Dean for making the following comment:

"The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will help keep our soldiers safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

What exactly about that statement isn't true?

My "International Papers" press review on Slate. It was my Brit-born editor, not me, that inserted the word "donnybrook" ("Dude, it's a fancy word for 'fight,'" she explains) into the headline.

It's about the European constitutional crisis. This was one of the longer column's I've written for Slate and I found it quite enjoyable, despite the subject matter, which is usually mind-numbingly boring. There was a lot to say. Isn't it funny, for instance, that the europhobic Anglo-American right thinks Poland's stick-to-its-guns intrasigence is a victory of sorts. ("New Europe Wins," wrote Sullivan, in a particularly nit-witted remark, calling the summit failure "good news for the U.S." And when did Spain become part of "New Europe," now the most meaningless phrase in the geopolitical lexicon?)

If you actually read some news reports instead of just skimming the surface, it appears this was actually quite a blunder on Poland's part. From the Telegraph:

Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, was open to discussing one formula under which laws would have required the backing of 54 or 55 per cent of EU members and 64 or 65 per cent of the EU population. But the Poles, assuming these ideas were the first offers in a long negotiation, refused. At around midday on Saturday, M. Chirac, Mr Schröder and Tony Blair went to see Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier and chairman of the talks, and persuaded him to declare them over.

Poland got much of the blame for so much work coming to so little. One diplomat said: "The Poles totally overplayed their hand. They thought they were the deal-breaker when, in the end, it was not up to them to decide".
And look at the public remarks of the heads of state and government. Poland does appear a quite a bit on the defensive. If this were truly a victory for anybody, I have trouble believing they'd be making such squeaky apologetic noises.

On the other hand, as EuroSavant points out, quoting Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza, there's an alternative version of events. Warsaw says the Germans appeared willing to compromise, but it was the intransigence of the French and Belgians that killed things. We're dealing with two completely different versions of the same events here. In any case, Berlusconi comes out looking like a real schmuck, as usual.

There's some interesting discussion over at Fistful of Euros, where I'll be posting something later if I have the time (and they're still willing to have me as a guest blogger).

What's notable is that it never came down to big countries versus small countries, as many have framed it. It came down to Europe's four big countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK) and the two medium sized countries (Poland and Spain, both at about 40 million) that want to be considered big countries. It's all quite silly, because it's evident that a compromise exists, somewhere, that would please everybody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

He didn't just say what I think he did, did he?

DEAN: Iran is a more complex problem because the problem support as clearly verifiable as it is in North Korea. Also, we have less-fewer levers much the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent Iran from them developing nuclear weapons. That is also a country that must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons much the key to all this is foresight. Let’s act now so we don’t have to have a confrontation which may result in force, which would be very disastrous in the case of North Korea and might be disastrous in the case of Iran.
And we've got to crack down on those Czechoslovaks with their Semtex, too. Sorry, I meant the Austro-Hungarians. The Prussians. Whatever name those people over there go by today.

Schweet Jesus.
Here's my Prague Webwatch column for Prague TV, i.e. what you missed if you haven't been paying attention to the Pragueblogosphere the past week.

Don't forget about the Amnesty Christmas Party this Saturday.
Belfast Telegraph:

The interrogator then said: 'If you had no weapons of mass destruction then why not let the UN inspectors into your facilities?' Saddam's alleged reply was: 'We didn't what them to go into the presidential areas and intrude on our privacy.'

The answer is a strange one, as the last set of UN and International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) inspections, under Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei demanded and got access to presidential palaces.
Forgive me, but isn't the question itself a bit strange as well, for the exact same reason? Are Saddam's captors talking him into senility?

Clearly they're using the old journalistic trick of asking the interview subject when he stopped beating his wife. There's no correct answer.

(Granted, that's an imperfect analogy, because Saddam was in fact responsible for a helluva lot worse that wife-beating. Not that wife-beating isn't bad on its own. Oh, never mind.)
I finally removed that silly poll that I put up over the summer about the Prague Pill. You gotta admit, it was pretty funny at first, wasn’t it? In the end, 38 people bothered voting, which I consider pretty impressive.

Anyway, the final results are now in.

“Who’s responsible for the demise of the Prague Pill?”

A plurality of over thirty-four percent of you agreed: It’s the French.

Evan Rail of the Prague Post was beaten by a whisker, with 12 votes, and Matt Welch trailed in third place with seven, edging John Ashcroft’s six. Nobody voted for poor Salam Pax. Salam, that's what you get for selling your soul to the devil (The Guardian, that is).

View complete results table here.
Nice company: "On the same topic, PRAVO writes that the Communist Party tried to persuade Jan Kavan to be their European Parliament candidate 'Number Two'. Mr Kavan received the offer from the party's deputy chairman Miloslav Ransdorf, but has refused. Another communist vice-chairman tells PRAVO that unfortunately, in Jan Kavan the Czech political left loses a first class MEP. "

Sunday, December 14, 2003

More on the Atta-Prague connection from yesterday's New York Times. Author James Risen probably has the most riding on showing that Atta did not meet the Iraqis intelligence officer in Prague, as he originally broke the story that the Czechs had backed down from it. Now he's reporting that even the guy he was supposed to have met (the dude from the Iraqi embassy here) has denied ever meeting him.

UPDATE: I just noticed Cerny got to this one first, and NicMoc got there second. Cerny has some interesting comments. I just realized I still haven't read that Respekt article.
I've decided to do what relatively few bloggers are going to do because so many bloggers are obviously going to do it (if you know what I mean): Write a long post with my thoughts about Saddam. (Also, it's still early and a Sunday in the U.S., so not too much has been said yet.)

Josh Chafetz on Oxblog writes:

I think guerilla attacks will intensify before they fade away, but I think this is basically the death knell for the opposition. With Saddam gone, the locals should be less afraid of turning the guerillas in -- there was clearly fear among many that Saddam would return to power and punish those who had aided the coalition. Saddam's capture will also make it harder for the guerillas to recruit any new members...
Let's hope. But...

The other day I was chatting with a journalist friend of mine (Theo Schwinke, who expressed chuffedness last night about his previous "cameo" on this blog) who’s been doing some research for an article about Iraq and Scott Ritter and the American Voices Abroad conference in Prague and that sort of stuff.

And Theo cited some article that appeared in a somewhat credible place (maybe he can help me out here) that pointed out something very, very interesting, especially given recent developments in a spider-hole inside a lean-to next to a mud-hut somewhere near a farmhouse 15 kilometers from Tikrit.

Here’s that interesting thing: The reason a good number of Iraqis are not supporting the insurgency isn’t because they actually like the Americans or because they think killing is wrong. They’re not supporting the insurgency because they hate Saddam and are afraid of him coming back to power.

So, Theo asked me, totally hypothetically: "What happens if Saddam is captured tomorrow?" (I’d like to say that this conversation took place yesterday or Friday, but in fact it was earlier this week.) The insurgency becomes an actual popular uprising? The U.S. says "job done," hands over a few decrepit voting booths they’re not using any more (let’s give them the ones from Florida) and high-tales it out of Iraq? And then what?

Suddenly this isn’t so hypothetical anymore.

It’s important not to underplay and poo-poo the capture of Saddam. As CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told the anchor who threw her a skeptical question: Don’t down play this celebration. This is huge -- certainly more tremendous that the fall of Baghdad. And to be sure, it’s great news for the Iraqis. The way it happened was rather extraordinary, too – Saddam taken prisoner without a shot fired, looking complacent, resigned, even talkative and cooperative; from the look of things, he was relieved that this was all over.

The fact that he surrendered without giving up a fight is already making some Iraqis ask why he didn’t turn himself in months ago, thus sparing us all the agony of uncertainty. He's been revealed on Iraqi national television as the self-serving cowardly brute that he is, he’ll be tried in Iraq for crimes against Iraqis (though I wonder how the Serbs are going to feel about that one) and there’s hope for a peaceful future and all that jazz.

I remember something this guy once said during a class on Ancient Greek History when I was in college: The nice thing about studying the classics is that there’s such a limited amount of primary source material, you’re really down on your hands and knees alongside the so-called “experts.” Got Herodotus? So does everybody else, and that's about it. As arrogant as this may sound, I often feel the same way about the Iraq situation: If you follow the news, there’s a pretty good chance you have as good a view, at least of the big picture, as anybody on up to George W. Bush.

So one question that remains unanswered, in my mind: Is this really such great news for the Americans? I'd love to think so, and there’s a chance that the rosiest predictions will come true: The "resistance" dies, Iraqis join common cause in establishing a liberal democracy. They elect a moderate, boring government stacked with technocrats and slimy self-serving pols, just like in "normal" countries, but slimy pols that at least are friendly with their neighbors and the U.S. Ten years later, some loud American backpackers will be hanging out in a Baghdad café saying, "Can you believe how cheap the beer is here?"

Everything worked out, what a happy end!
Americans and Iraqis are friends again
So let's all join hands, and knock oppression down!

-- a misquote

Let’s just say I would not be terribly surprised if it doesn’t work out that way.

Here’s what I think Saddam's capture -- and the way it happened, with a cooperative Saddam literally climbing out of a hole in the ground without any shots fired -- shows: He’s not been in charge of the insurgency. He’s probably not even connected to the insurgency. The last man who had any faith in him abandoned him long ago. How could anybody stay loyal? This is a man who has spent his life lying to those closest to him, most likely abandoning his own sons to their fate, enforcing "loyalty" with manipulation, betrayal and a state apparatus of terror.

Looking at those pictures, let's just say I get the feeling he’s not really cut out for guerilla life. Saddam, you’re no Che Guavera – or Osama Bin Laden, for that matter.

And yet all we keep hearing, especially during that last few weeks, is that the insurgents' attacks are becoming increasinly coordinated and sophisticated. Ergo, somebody's been calling the shots and we can reasonably assume that person or persons still is calling the shots.

Try this one on for size: The insurgency has nothing to do with Saddam, and the fact that he was still on the loose was only limiting its appeal.

Mickey Kaus is waiting to catch the first commentator trying to spin this to say it's actually good news for Howard Dean. Right now, I don’t see how it could be, although it could prove an opportunity for Dean to articulate a stronger Iraq policy. With Bush's primary war booty in his hands and the economy on the upswing, this greatly increases the chances of a Bush victory in 2004 -- or at least that’s the way it seems at the moment.

But everything depends on how events over the next few weeks unfold.

At the very least, here’s hoping that Saddam’s capture clears up a lot of the muddle that’s surrounded the Iraq issue, on both the doves' and the hawks' side. Politicians can (and should) start making some clearer indications of what they think should be done next. I also think you’re going to start seeing greater evidence of the weird collusion of interests between the Bushies and the former Baathists, both of whom want the U.S. out of Iraq "as soon as possible" regardless of what that actually means for the Iraqis.

P.S. Why did they name this “Operation Red Dawn”? After the most jingoistic American Cold War movie of the 1980s, the one where the Russians parachute into a mid-western town, massacre all the school children, and then raid the local gun ownership registry to round-up all the gun owners, leading Patrick Swayze to flee to the mountains to establish a homeland guerilla resistance movement?
Favorite part of General Sanchez's press conference announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein: "Do you think you could play that videotape again?"

The room really lost it when they showed it the first time. Who can blame them? Much as I can't stand George Bush, I don't have to sing pop songs about how I'll be with him till the day I day. Not yet at least.