Steve Sachs Duke


Sunday, April 27, 2003


Aid and comfort. The Sunday Times (reg. req'd.) is reporting that France regularly provided Saddam's regime with accounts of private meetings with U.S. diplomats. According to files found in the Foreign Ministry, in September 2001 the French ambassador briefed Iraqi officials on the contents of talks between Chirac and Bush; the files also reported Powell and Hubert Vedrine's discussions of new U.N. resolutions. (A free CNN account is at the bottom of this page--link courtesy of OxBlog.)

Of course, maybe these were intended leaks; maybe the U.S. was trying to send Iraq a message through French intermediaries. But much of the information France provided--such as U.S. plans to challenge Russia over its support for Iraq--we wouldn't want Saddam to know. The better explanation seems to be that France just didn't mind handing diplomatic secrets to its friends in Baghdad.

(What Russian support, you ask? According to documents described in the Daily Telegraph, Russia provided Iraq with secret intelligence on conversations between Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, as well as details of its arms deals and lists of assassins in Western countries.)

Well, at least they're not on the Security Council or anything.


Friday, April 25, 2003


More reports on the way. I had several thoughts while on the trip that I've been meaning to post, but they'll have to wait until after my six hours of exams in the morning.

(Yes, I have work too, no matter what Steve Wu might think...)


Tuesday, April 22, 2003


The report from the front: Finland is, in fact, cold. And snowy. And the people have a near-pathological respect for "don't walk" signs.

But as Mr. Tannous Basil of Sidon, Lebanon, will be pleased to learn, I saw no cause whatsoever for military intervention.


Friday, April 11, 2003


Because it's too darn cold. From the Associated Press:

"However, Tannous Basil, a 47-year-old cardiologist in Sidon, Lebanon, said Saddam's regime was a 'dictatorship and had to go.'

"'I don't like the idea of having the Americans here, but we asked for it,' he said. 'Why don't we see the Americans going to Finland, for example? They come here because our area is filled with dictatorships like Saddam's.'"

Well, this American is going to Finland. Tune in ten days from now for reports from the front.


Thursday, April 10, 2003


Prime numbers and prize money. On May 24, 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced a prize of $1 million to anyone who could solve one of seven famous problems in mathematics. As OxBlog reports, a new result in prime number theory may help point the way to a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. Yet Josh Chafetz worries that this sort of prize will only delay mathematical progress--giving individual researchers an added incentive not to publish their intermediate results, for fear that another mathematician will then swoop in to complete the proof.

For my money, all sane mathematicians who thought they were within striking distance of the Riemann Hypothesis would have already gone into hiding. (Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat's Last Theorem, was famously secretive about his work.) The Riemann Hypothesis is one of the most celebrated unproved conjectures in mathematics--it was famous enough a century ago to be included as number 8 on the list of Hilbert's problems. Anyone who solved it would have glory for the ages; the million bucks would only be gravy.

The Clay prizes were never really meant to motivate mathematicians with money. (Would the mathematical community expend substantially more effort if the prize were $1.5 million?) Instead, the prizes were meant to grab the public's attention and to focus research on certain deep questions in mathematics. Over the years, the pursuit of celebrated problems has inspired many important results and new proof techniques, not to mention generations of young mathematicians.

The Clay prizes are just one more way of speeding that process along. Not every list of problems gets a lot of press--not everybody is Hilbert--and along with the dollar signs come an awful lot of outside attention. But as with Hilbert's problems, those actually engaged in the work of seeking solutions are searching for fame, not fortune.



Best-Case Scenario: I've been thinking recently about what the world would have been like had the U.S. and Britain not decided to go to war three weeks ago. Specifically, what would the chances have been for some type of democratic reform in Iraq?

The Guardian, a few weeks before war broke out, asked 48 different opponents of the war to suggest an alternative policy toward Iraq. A number of them, such as former Nasser adviser Mohamed Heikal, suggested that lifting the sanctions would have allowed the Iraqi people to rise up on their own. Sanctions make Iraqis dependent on the regime for basic necessities, Heikal argued; if they were lifted, the Iraqi people, "who are at the end of their patience," would "take their destiny into their own hands."

Based on what we've seen over the past three weeks, I'm trying to envision the most likely scenario in which an indigenous uprising against Saddam would actually have succeeded. What I can't understand is why anyone would prefer that scenario to the invasion that's going on now.

Let's look at the criteria. The first is civilian casualties; the most frequent argument employed against a U.S. invasion is that it would lead (and has led) to the death of non-combatants. But it's nearly impossible to imagine any local uprising resulting in fewer civilian casualties than the campaign we're now witnessing. The U.S. military has some of the best force protection in the world; American soldiers are protected by air cover, armored personnel carriers, and bulletproof vests, none of which would be available to Iraqi revolutionaries. In an uprising, there would be no computer-assisted targeting of artillery units, no air strikes to reduce the enemy's strength before an attack, no sabotage of Saddam's communications networks. The army divisions and Republican Guard troops that have been so woefully ineffective (thus far) against the U.S. would be a far, far more dangerous adversary against civilians -- and those who participated in the uprising could expect the regime to target their parents and children, who are even more vulnerable.

Moreover, while the U.S. military was able largely to pass by the cities and do its heaviest fighting in the desert, an uprising would have to be fought street by street and block by block, with all the attendant horrors of urban combat. The fedayeen and Ba'ath paramilitaries, whom the British had to fight for weeks to gain control of Basra, would have had free reign to make war on their own people. In a civilian uprising, it would be impossible for the government's forces to distinguish combatants from non-combatants--even assuming that they cared about the distinction, which they don't. And let's not forget what might happen when the regime found itself losing its grip on power: chemical weapons are much more effective against civilians who don't have gas masks, antidotes, and protective suits.

The second criterion is the danger of involving other regional powers. True, an internal rebellion would be less likely to involve Israel or to spark a wider regional war. But would the Turkish army, which has been restrained from crossing the border and occupying northern Iraq only by the pleas and promises of the U.S., be less likely to invade if the Kurds themselves were doing most of the fighting? Would Iran, which is believed to have already sent agents into Iraq, resist the temptation to supply--or even intervene on behalf of--the Shiites in the south?

The third criterion is the likelihood of establishing democratic government. After a successful uprising, it must be admitted, the Iraqi people would have achieved their freedom through a collective struggle. But collective struggles rarely involve all of the people equally, and at the end of the uprising, there would be little incentive for the dominant rebel group to hand over power to any new democratic government. Saddam's regime has systematically destroyed any institutions that could serve to organize civil society after his fall; the opportunities for any kind of "Velvet Revolution" would be extremely limited. An uprising in Iraq would be less like the American Revolution, which was fought by colonial governments recognized as legitimate by their citizens, than like the French or Russian Revolutions, which swept away previous social institutions and which ended in dictatorship. Without international forces on the ground to enforce the transition to democracy--why should we expect the Security Council to send such forces, and why should we expect the rebels' interim government to welcome them?--a newly freed Iraq would be ruled by whoever had the most guns. And if the uprising took the form of a coup d'etat, there would be a far greater chance that a different general would simply take control and that a new autocracy would be established.

The fourth criterion is the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity. The Kurds, whom the U.S. has pressured to accept autonomy within a federal Iraq rather than an independent state of their own, would be much less likely to make these concessions if they had won their freedom by their own efforts. Divisions among Iraqis would be heightened, rather than reduced, by an uprising that was organized along tribal, ethnic, or religious lines--and no other lines of organization suggest themselves. A post-uprising Iraq would not have nearly as much incentive to protect the rights of ethnic minorities as would an external occupying force. In fact, all the worries about Iraq becoming a new Yugoslavia, with Shiites taking revenge on Sunnis and violence spiraling out of control, would seem far more plausible in the anarchy of an internal revolt.

Finally, there is a fifth criterion, namely preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. One of the biggest dangers of the war is that the fruits of Saddam's weapons program, having been well hidden from inspectors, may fall into the wrong hands during the chaos following the invasion. But the regime's supply of chemical and biological weapons, assuming they were not used, would be even harder to account for without U.S. teams on the ground actively looking for them. And if the downfall of the regime took place through multiple local rebellions rather than a single organized effort, that would only increase the temptation for a local warlord, upon finding a store of chemical weapons, to sell them to the highest bidder.

None of this, of course, means that the U.S. invasion will be problem-free, or that we don't face substantial risks of disaster ahead. A botched American occupation of Iraq could spur terrorism, hurt America's standing in the world, and permanently destroy our relations with many nations in the region--none of which would occur if the liberation were homegrown. But given the choice that the U.S. faced, it's hard to say that the alternative policy--that of letting Saddam remain in power and abandoning those under his rule to their own devices--would necessarily have done the Iraqi people any favors.


Wednesday, April 09, 2003


Isaiah 21:9: "...And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground."



Alaska on the Euphrates. One idea for the reconstruction of Iraq that seems to have gained momentum in the past couple weeks is that of giving the nation's oil wealth to the Iraqi people--literally. In Alaska, part of the revenue from oil production is placed in a permanent rainy-day fund, but another part is divided and doled out each year to every citizen of the state. A similar program in Iraq, according to Michael Barone, could pay an annual dividend as high as $1,000 a year to every man, woman, and child--a small fortune "in a country where Umm Qasr dockworkers make $30 a month." A similar suggestion is made by Steven C. Clemons in an NYT op-ed; putting oil revenues into an independent fund, Clemons writes, would simultaneously reduce suspicion of American motives, prevent the concentration of oil wealth by a corrupt governing elite, and make individual Iraqis stakeholders in the success of their new society.

But there's one more advantage such a plan might have: forcing other Gulf states to do the same. In a region with gross inequalities between rulers and ruled, the example of an Iraq whose people share in its prosperity--who are made quite well-off by regional standards, actually--would be a potent weapon in the hands of reformers.

It's good that this proposal is gaining currency in the press; here's hoping that someone in the administration is listening.



Divesting from defense? As I suspected, it was Prof. Yve-Alain Bois who accused Harvard of "war profiteering"; he did it again in a letter to Tuesday's Harvard Crimson. Rather than make a straightforward demand for divestment from defense contractors, Bois called only for "debate," which took place (although in a somewhat muted fashion) at the next faculty meeting.

Unfortunately, Bois's letter doesn't really clarify the argument in favor of divestment. One possibility is that by investing in defense contractors, Harvard is increasing their ability to produce death and devastation abroad (especially in Iraq). But in fact, the reverse may very well be the case: providing more capital to the defense industry, and thereby making American weaponry more lethal and more precise, probably has the effect of shortening wars and saving the lives of both American troops and foreign civilians. A well-equipped U.S. military is invaluable to the current global security system. As my brother points out, imagine what would happen if defense companies' products were only 50 percent as effective--would America and the world be any safer?

These are the grounds on which The Crimson's editors, in an in an uneven but generally sensible editorial, oppose the call for divestment. In order to justify divesting from U.S. defense contractors, one would have to show that the companies involved really are doing more harm than good--which is the claim of the editorial's dissenters, who raise the issue of arms sales to repressive governments. I don't have enough information to judge this argument; American arms traders may be doing some awful things, and if so Harvard may be obliged to divest from them. But it's important to note that even if the dissenters are right, their criticism has nothing whatsoever to do with the rights and wrongs of war in Iraq.

A second argument for divestment is that it would be immoral for Harvard to derive a benefit from an unjust war. This argument is much closer to Bois's heart; he finds "the idea that Harvard should be made richer by the present war morally repugnant." As someone who benefits from Harvard's wealth, he feels personally "stained" and "soiled" by such enrichment. In fact, Bois isn't just worried about the defense industry, but also about Harvard's investments "in the oil and construction companies that will directly gain from the war, notably through the lucrative contracts they will get for the reconstruction of Iraq."

This position confuses me. Why should Harvard be ashamed of its investments in a company that is working to rebuild damaged Iraqi hospitals and schools? Regardless of one's views of the war, isn't such a company doing the Lord's work? The need for post-war reconstruction is the same regardless of whether the war is just or not. The fact that an unjust war is the but-for condition of a company's involvements seems pretty irrelevant, actually. Trauma surgeons working on a gunshot victim, environmental lawyers suing a polluter, and firefighters combating arson are all employed because of the immoral actions of others, but that doesn't mean that their salaries are somehow morally tainted. And at some level, isn't almost any firm in the economy affected, to a greater or lesser degree, by the demand for goods and services in the process of reconstruction?

It's not even clear that Harvard has really made any money here. For instance, Raytheon (in which Harvard owns more than 68,000 shares) has gone up by about 30 cents since the war began, but the stock has also lost about a third of its value since last June. In fact, the developments of the past 10 months seem to have diminished the company's share price rather than increased it. So how is the financial benefit from the war to be measured? (Bois's argument here is not helped by his admission that "I do not have the foggiest idea of how the stock market operates.")

Some of Bois's points raise deeper questions about exploitation and market incentives. Part of why it seems wrong to profit from others' misfortunes is that by doing so, one chooses to bank on suffering instead of working to reduce it. If you hear that a drought-afflicted country is experiencing bread shortages, the argument goes, the moral response is to donate some food, not to call your broker and invest in wheat futures. On the other hand, the market is able to meet a large number of different needs in part because prices adjust in cases of scarcity. If no one were allowed to raise prices for a scarce good, there would be no profit opportunity and thus no incentive for outside firms to increase their production. Could it be immoral for any particular firm to raise prices, yet morally necessary that prices be allowed to rise?

But no matter how these questions are resolved, the moral difficulties they describe arise only after a deliberate decision to invest on the basis of other people's misfortunes--not a simple continuation of past practice. There is no evidence that Harvard purchased defense stocks with the intent of profiting from an unjust war; the university is being accused only of holding on to its previous investments. And if those investments have not facilitated the suffering of others (indeed, they may have reduced it), there is no reason for Harvard to withdraw them. Whatever financial windfall the university receives--remembering that there's little evidence of one thus far--shouldn't be regarded as ill-gotten gains. If anything, it's a silver lining.



In the wake of war: I just read Thomas Friedman's NYT column on the looting in Umm Qasr. I don't know enough to judge whether this degree of disorder is at all unusual for wars (what was Berlin like in 1945?), but I can't imagine a situation in which this kind of unrest is in our strategic interest. It discredits America in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis, and the economic damage it inflicts will make reconstruction that much more difficult. And the fact that plans for policing Iraq are still in the planning stages doesn't give one much confidence.

So why hasn't the military done more to preserve order in the areas we've captured? Was this a logistical necessity, determined by the limited number of personnel and our limited ability to deploy and supply them? (It's only been a few weeks since the whole thing started, and I don't know how many military police we have on hand in Kuwait.) Was this a security decision, made on the assumption that military police would be in too much danger--from the fedayeen and other Saddam sympathizers--so long as the regime was still perceived as being in control? Or was this a cynical (and likely short-sighted) move to give the new civil authorities more legitimacy? After all, if the troops had left a military policeman on every corner as they went through, everyone would have been screaming 'occupation.' But if the establishment of an American-led government brings the end of looting and a return to daily life, well...

Or was it just plain foolishness?


Monday, April 07, 2003


McDonalds and the Mexicans: In a stunning burst of cultural sensitivity, McDonalds has begun a new advertising campaign in Italy, featuring a big, sleeping Mexican resting barefoot against a cactus.

The campaign is intended to showcase the "McMexico" sandwich, which apparently is all the rage in Rome. I never tried it myself, but after a friend decided to grab a snack in the McDonalds on the Via del Corso, I couldn't help snapping a few digital photos. The main promotional poster, shown below, lapses from Italian to Spanish in encouraging customers to try "the flavor of Mexico," accompanied by depictions of singing and dancing Mexicans.

As the McDonalds marketing geniuses should be aware, the "sleepy Mexican leaning against cactus" is one of the "least appropriate symbols" for symbolizing Mexican culture, according to a groundbreaking study by University of Colorado professor Sandra Moriarty. More appropriate symbols, says Moriarty, include "family scenes (in kitchen, at table, sitting on porch)" or depictions of "children playing with handmade toys or family dog." (I don't know about you, but when I see kids playing with a dog, I think of Mexicans!) Moriarty also concludes that "old Native American women" are appropriate symbols for vegetarians, and that mothers of young children do not respond well to symbols involving "war, violence, sex, starvation, social discontent, anger, [or] aggression (the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for example)."

Far be it from me to challenge the experts--either Moriarty or McDonalds--as to which marketing symbols are appropriate and which are not. All I can say is that if McDonalds ever tried these mustachioed caricatures in the U.S., they'd have their heads handed to them.

Anybody know the email address for La Raza?



"Harvard Stands to Profit from War": According to The Harvard Crimson, various faculty members at Harvard have accused the university of "war profiteering," as a whopping "nearly half a percent" of the endowment is invested in the defense industry. Religion lecturer Brian Palmer claims that the Harvard fund is "contributing to the death and suffering [of] thousands of people," while another faculty member surnamed "Bois" (Pulitzer Professor of Modern Art and Chair of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture Yve-Alain H. Bois, perhaps?) comments as follows:

"The idea that Harvard would get richer by the good fortune of these stocks is war profiteering," he said. "It should be discussed."

Let's put this claim in perspective. Harvard has less than 0.5 percent of its endowment invested in defense. In 2001, the most recent year for which all of the applicable statistics are available, U.S. GDP was $10.082 trillion. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, U.S. military spending in 2001 was $308.5 billion (PDF link), or 3.1 percent of GDP. Spending for goods and services likely to be performed or supplied by contractors (such as operation and maintenance, procurement, and military R&D) was $209.6 billion, or 2.1 percent of GDP.

Looking more specifically at investing, the current total market capitalization of all NYSE-listed aerospace and defense companies is $154 billion. For comparison, that's 1.2 percent of the $12.9 trillion total global market capitalization of the NYSE on Feb. 28 (the most recent date for which the data is available)--more than double the proportion of Harvard's investments.

So by a number of measures, Harvard is hardly in the pocket of the military-industrial complex. If anything, Harvard is underinvested in the defense industry, compared to its impact on the economy as a whole. What's more, there's no evidence that Harvard bought in on the assumption that fighting was about to break out, or that the Harvard Corporation used its nefarious influence to start a war for fun and profit. So what's the problem here?

Bois and Palmer seem to be arguing two different points: first, that investments in the defense industry contribute to death and suffering abroad, and second, that it's immoral to profit from other people's suffering in wartime.

On the first point, it's almost tedious to point out that the decision to start fighting in Iraq was made by President Bush, not by Lockheed. Once weapons are produced, the decision about how they are to be used (for good or ill) is ultimately a political one. And unless it's immoral to make weapons in the first place--which would mean that it's immoral for the U.S. to have a military, period--investments in that industry can't be wrong per se. (They might become wrong if the companies involved have been doing various other immoral actions, or if Harvard should expect the U.S. military to be used primarily for evil purposes, but neither of those points are argued by Palmer. Personally, I think the U.S. military brings more good than ill overall by providing security worldwide, and that it's a good thing that defense contractors exist to supply it.)

On the second point, it's true that the condition for other people's suffering (the fact that bombs are falling) is also the condition that might provide for Harvard's investments appreciating. But so long as Harvard hasn't done anything to cause or exacerbate that suffering (along the lines of the first point), the same would have been true if Harvard had been invested in just about anything during World War II, when the war substantially raised aggregate demand.

My brother adds that a similarly breathless article could be written about other tragedies that Harvard might "profit" from: just imagine the headline when Bois learns that some companies make medicines. ("Harvard Stands to Profit from Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Depression, and Impotence"...)


Thursday, April 03, 2003


Next on "America's Most Wanted": Gen. Ali Hassan al Majeed. Known as "Chemical Ali," al Majeed is wanted for ordering Iraqi forces to use chemical weapons on Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988. Gray-haired and with a mustache resembling that of his cousin, Saddam Hussein, al Majeed "has been hiding his identity by dressing up in plain attire, so he can blend into the populace." Informants also report that he has been driving around southern Iraq "in an old red car, possibly a 1979 Nissan."

John Walsh, call your office.

UPDATE: Case closed.



Danger signs. Despite the below, some of al-Sahaf's statements may be ominous in their absurdity:

"What they say about a breakthrough [in Najaf] is completely an illusion. They are sending their warplanes to fly very low in order to have vibrations on these sacred places.

"And I think this will agitate, this will be scorned by all Shiites all over the world because those tombs are the most sacred to Shiites all over the world, and they are trying to crack the buildings by flying low over them."

One guess as to what happened here.



Al-Sahaf goes bonkers? Maybe Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has finally lost it. To be honest, I'm not sure how else to explain quotes like the following:

The minister also said that coalition forces were throwing booby traps in the form of pens and pencils into Iraqi villages and townships.

"The authority of the civil defense ... issued a warning to the civilian population not to pick up any of those pencils because they are booby traps," he said, adding that the British and American forces were "immoral mercenaries" and "war criminals" for such behavior.

"I am not talking about the American people and the British people," he said. "I am talking about those mercenaries. ... They have started throwing those pencils, but they are not pencils, they are booby traps to kill the children."

What possible incentive would we have to kill children with booby-trapped pencils? If we wanted to kill children in Iraq, wouldn't the MOAB work just as well? And does he even realize just how silly this makes him sound?

Then again, maybe al-Sahaf just wanted a little diversion from a long day of manufacturing quotes from Never-never-land:

Al-Sahaf also said the Iraqis have "shot down a lot of those cruise missiles" and said war's impact was "trivial."

"I can assure you that those villains will recognize, will discover in appropriate time in the future how stupid they are and how they are pretending things which have never taken place," he said.



Geraldo goes home.Personally, I find it hilarious that Geraldo Rivera has been forced to leave Iraq (although revealing future troop movements on a live broadcast isn't quite as funny). But what's even better is his explanation for how it happened:

A Pentagon official told CNN that members of the 101st Airborne would escort Rivera to the Kuwaiti border. But Rivera appeared in another live report from Iraq hours after the official announced his expulsion, and said he knew nothing of it.

"In fact, I'm further in Iraq than I've ever been," he said. "It sounds like some rats from my former network, NBC, are trying to stab me in the back."...

Rivera said he had heard nothing about being expelled until he called network headquarters for the scheduled live broadcast.

"MSNBC is so pathetic a cable news network that they have to do anything they can to attract attention," he said. "You can rest assured that whatever they're saying is a pack of lies."

Nevertheless, as the day went on, Fox News executives pleaded with Pentagon officials to not expel Rivera. Pentagon officials stood their ground and insisted that Rivera go, and a deal was eventually reached, the Pentagon sources said.

A "pack of lies"? What is there for them to lie about? The mistake was made on a live broadcast, and he's either being expelled from Iraq or he isn't. Maybe Rivera is just polishing his rhetoric to get a job with the Iraqi Information Ministry:

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Iraq's information minister on Friday denied U.S. claims that Syria was sending military equipment to Baghdad, calling the claims "baseless" and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "ridiculous."

"These accusations against brotherly Syria are of course baseless," Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said in an interview with Lebanon's Al-Hayat LBC satellite channel. "He (Rumsfeld) makes such lies on a daily basis."...

Speaking to the Lebanese satellite channel from Baghdad, al-Sahhaf said: "This man (Rumsfeld) is the most despicable creature. Rumsfeld is ridiculous. He is a strange case."



The wrong angle on Arnett. Oxblog has gone back and forth (and back and forth) on whether NBC was right to sack Peter Arnett after he gave an interview to a uniformed questioner on Iraqi state TV.

I'm not going to try to settle this debate--I don't have a ready answer to the question of whether his views, as expressed in the interview, create a reason to fire him. (If Arnett thinks that the U.S. war plan has been inadequate, and that the Iraqi resistance has been stronger than expected, well, that's a reporter's analysis. On the other hand, providing propaganda for Iraqi state TV in the middle of a war isn't exactly a neutral position.)

But regardless of Arnett's assessment of the war, NBC still had more than adequate cause to fire him after he said this:

ARNETT: Well, I'd like to say from the beginning that the 12 years I've been coming here, I've met unfailing courtesy and cooperation. Courtesy from your people, and cooperation from the Ministry of Information, which has allowed me and many other reporters to cover 12 whole years since the Gulf War with a degree of freedom which we appreciate. And that is continuing today.

Of course, Arnett doesn't mention that foreign reporters are under near-constant surveillance by Iraqi "minders"; that individual Iraqis are punished for speaking too freely to the press; that CNN (along with several other major news media) has been forced out of Baghdad for unfavorable coverage; or that several other journalists were thrown in an Iraqi prison a week ago (they were still missing when Arnett gave his interview). Arnett was silent about their fate even after the Committee to Protect Journalists, on whose board of directors he serves, had interceded on their behalf. These journalists, now released, have a somewhat different take on press freedoms in Iraq:

"I asked him if he was held by people from Iraq's Ministry of Information and he just said 'That's a nice name for them.'"

There are two possibilities here. One is that Arnett was simply unaware of the actual conditions under which journalists in Iraq are allowed to operate. He had no idea that the minders were watching his steps, that his man-on-the-street interviews might be less than truthful, or that he was seeing only what Saddam’s regime wanted him to see. In that case, NBC would have a right and a duty to fire him, because he would be misleading his viewers and presenting his reporting as more accurate than it is. (Given that he goes by the title of "journalist," NBC in this case would also have a right to fire him for being singularly unobservant.)

The second possibility, which I feel may be more likely, is that Arnett knew perfectly well what conditions he faced and was merely shilling for the regime. CNN was booted out because it was unpopular with Saddam's government; Arnett wanted to stay on, and the price may have been some friendly quotes. Consider the statement he gave to TV Guide (recently quoted by Ha'aretz):

In the April 5 issue of TV Guide magazine, Arnett said he felt he had found redemption reporting on the current war.

"I was furious with [CNN founder] Ted Turner and [then-CNN chairman] Tom Johnson when they threw me to the wolves after I made them billions risking my life to cover the first Gulf War," Arnett told TV Guide.

"Now [Turner and Johnson] are gone, the Iraqis have thrown the CNN crew out of Baghdad, and I'm still here," he said. "Any satisfaction in that? Ha, ha, ha, ha."

He said the Iraqis allowed him to stay in Baghdad because they respect him.

"The Iraqis have let me stay because they see me as a fellow warrior," Arnett said. "They know I might not agree with them, but I've got their respect."

Does Arnett really think that Iraq's government decides which reporters to allow in and which to kick out based on respect?

I'm not really sure why this angle has been underplayed--of the stories I saw, only the WSJ's Joe Flint got the story right, with a headline of "Arnett, on Iraq TV, Praises Treatment of Reporters." But no matter what the explanation, whether he's a fool or a liar, Arnett is unfit to continue reporting from Baghdad.

Since then, Arnett has been scooped up by the Daily Mirror, in the best traditions of the British press.

POSTSCRIPT: Reading the transcript again, I'm still shocked by Arnett's contention that "clearly this is a city [Baghdad] that is disciplined, the population is responsive to the government's requirements of discipline." Why might Iraqis be so "responsive to the government's requirements"? Maybe, say, because they fear being tortured to death?

Again, I don't know whether that statement is enough to cost Arnett his job. But there is no doubt that it is morally repugnant.



Two good signs. On the same day that Saddam Hussein (or whoever speaks for him) called for a jihad against the U.S., it was nice to see that there were at least two signs in Tuesday afternoon's press that Iraqis aren't listening. The first involved the Marines' defeat of a contingent of Baath paramilitaries near the town of Diwaniyah:

SOUTH-CENTRAL IRAQ - U.S. Marines waged a firefight with Iraqi forces Tuesday in and around the town of Diwaniyah, killing up to 90 Iraqis and taking at least 20 prisoners, according to reports from the field.
Coalition forces entered Diwaniyah, going a couple of blocks inside the town, where local residents told translators where to find the Baath Party headquarters and the military headquarters from which rocket-propelled grenades had been fired, said Capt. Brian Lewis of the 1st Tank Battalion.

The key point here isn't that the Marines won, but that their reconnaissance work was performed voluntarily by Iraqi civilians. These civilians may not be rising up against Saddam, but that hardly means that they support him, or even that they're neutral. With the Iraqi people as our allies, the military's job is made much easier:

Local Iraqis are increasingly informing British sources of the whereabouts of officials from Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party, [British Col. Steve] Cox said.
Thirty-five party officials are in custody, and three to four more remain at large, Cox said.
[Umm Qasr] was plagued by pockets of resistance until several days ago, but is now safe enough for troops and ordinary civilians to walk around at night, Cox said. He added that there has been no recent guerrilla activity.

The second piece of good news, which is the lead item of the story above, is that two Iraqi suicide-bombers-to-be have picked "to be" over "not to be":

UMM QASR, Iraq - Two Iraqi soldiers who said they were sent on a suicide attack mission to the country's largest port have turned themselves in to British troops, the British commander said Tuesday.
"We had two suicide bombers turn themselves in yesterday because they didn't want to be suicide bombers any more," Col. Steve Cox, commander of the Royal Marine Commandos running Umm Qasr, told reporters. "We are accommodating them."

Obviously, there's a significant danger of wishful thinking here. But isn't it likely, given everything we know about Saddam's regime--in particular, that it will sometimes murder its own soldiers to get them to fight--that the noncommissioned officer who committed the May 29 suicide bombing may have done so under duress? Isn't it likely that his family, which was rewarded handsomely for his death by the regime, might have suffered a somewhat different fate had he refused? And isn't it therefore likely that the suicide bombing reflects not popular resentment, but rather an official tactic that is both desperate and ultimately short-lived?

I don't doubt that there are others in the region who would happily blow themselves up for Saddam; the man who drove a truck into U.S. soldiers in Kuwait is believed to be an Egyptian electrician. And these others could make things very messy for the post-war occupation. But these stories give me some degree of confidence that we're not facing the nightmare of a guerilla force that is supplied, hid, and earnestly supported by the Iraqi people. The fedayeen, the Baath paramilitaries, the jihadis-for-hire--these may represent, at least for the moment, an external and unpopular force rather than an authentic popular resistance. Let's do everything we can to keep them that way.



"We are all Israelis now." Until recently, I always drew a distinction between two types of suicide bombings: those directed at soldiers, and those directed at civilians. The latter were simply abhorrent. The former, however, although disconcerting, seemed potentially legitimate as a tactic. The soldiers were combatants and knew their lives to be in danger; the use of suicide bombs seemed to be merely one more way to conduct the fight. (True, the bombers don't wear uniforms, but U.S. special forces don't exactly walk around with big American flags.) So long as only soldiers were targeted, and the cause (by assumption) were just, why would a suicidal bombing be any different than a suicidal Pickett's Charge?

I no longer think that way. What changed my mind was this:

In a statement tonight, the Army said that at 4:30 local time this afternoon a civilian vehicle approached a military checkpoint on Route 9 near Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad.

The Army said soldiers at the checkpoint motioned for the vehicle to stop but were ignored. The soldiers then fired warning shots, which were also ignored by the driver, the Army said.

The soldiers then fired shots into the engine of the vehicle, ``but the vehicle kept moving toward the checkpoint,'' the Army said.

"Finally, as a last resort, the soldiers fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," the statement said.

The Army said that upon further investigation, it determined that 13 women and children were in the vehicle. Seven of the occupants were killed, two were wounded and four were unharmed, the Army said.

The suicide bombing on May 29, which killed four U.S. soldiers, also killed these seven women and children. Any responsible military faced with suicide attacks would have to fire at oncoming vehicles, in order to protect its own troops. The May 29 attack succeeded, in that it forced the American military to distance itself from the population and regard all Iraqis as potential threats. It deliberately created a situation where innocent civilians would be exposed to greater risks--and was recognized as doing so at the time:

"It's a shame they are doing that because now we're going to have to treat every civilian vehicle like it is hostile," said Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings. "If we accidentally kill a civilian because they took a wrong turn and came at us, it will be on their (the Iraqi leadership's) head."

As the NYT ed page has pointed out, that was exactly the point. Iraq has better ways of killing American soldiers than suicide bombings (though, thank God, not many). But what these bombings can do is make the U.S. look absolutely awful in the eyes of the world--can make it, in short, look like Israel:

Israeli troops at a checkpoint shot and wounded a pregnant Palestinian woman in labor and killed her husband today as the couple tried to reach a hospital -- a day after another pregnant woman was shot in an almost identical case at the same West Bank roadblock, Palestinians said...

According to the army, soldiers opened fire when a car tried to get past an earthen barricade blocking the road, and ignored soldiers' orders to stop. When the driver attempted to reverse to detour around the temporary roadblock, soldiers shot at the car, the army said.

After the car came to a stop, Hayek opened the door and began yelling, "baby" in English, she said. Soldiers approached, and began administering first aid, placing her and her father-in-law on stretchers, she said.

I had never before entertained the idea that these civilian deaths might be a deliberate terrorist tactic. Now I can't imagine that they wouldn't be.

This is why suicide bombings, regardless of their targets, can be instances of terrorism. Those who employ a dangerous tactic in wartime are at least partly responsible for its consequences; these accidental deaths are most certainly on the heads of those who kill under cover of civilian dress. And when the very purpose of an attack is to produce these deadly mistakes, when the lives of innocents become mere instruments to produce useful propaganda, then the effect is to turn civilians into weapons of war--just as surely as destroying buildings with a hijacked airplane.



Well, I'm back. After an embarrassingly long hiatus, I've managed to start writing again. February was a month of work; I've been in and out of Oxford since mid-March, and right now I'm back at home recovering. But I've saved up a few posts, and hopefully will be able to maintain a steady stream of content for a little while.

I've also updated my links at the left (which I should have done a month ago) to include Ross Douthat's new web log, The American Scene.




Blog Archives

Front page
XML Feed


© 2011 Stephen E. Sachs


Anglia Regnum