Archive:

April 2003, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Congratulations to Meryl Yourish on the second anniversary of her site.  The site's success is due, in part, to her generous spirit.  She has helped me more than once, especially when I was just getting started.  I know of several other people who have similar reasons to be grateful to her.  The site's success is due, even more, to her good cheer; you rarely leave her site without a smile on your face.
- 9:04 PM, 23 April 2003   [link]


In a Bizarre Column, based on an American Prospect article (which he did not mention), Paul Krugman claimed that President Bush had threatened Mexico with "discipline" for not supporting us on Iraq.  In this post, I showed that the Krugman column, and the American Prospect article, were based on an incorrect news story that misquoted Bush.  (Krugman has not, of course, corrected his column.)  Now, the president of Mexico, Vincente Fox, has spoken in a very positive way about the relations between the United States and Mexico, even though we disagreed on Iraq:
"It's a fact that Mexico thought it could be solved in a different way," Fox told foreign journalists.  "But things happened the way they happened, and today we are looking at the future.  We are keeping this bilateral relationship very intense."
. . .
"We think that we can keep on building the bilateral relationship and narrowing these differences of opinion on positions that we had," Fox said.
Does that sound like a man frightened by the threat of "discipline"?

Fox, unlike Canadian Prime Minister Chretien, wants better relations with the Bush administration, and is working hard to achieve them, with practical cooperation on many issues, including security.  I have no doubt that the Bush administration will meet him halfway.
- 8:51 PM, 23 April 2003   [link]


Rumors show the hidden fears of a society.  This Times of London story about the rumors current in the Iraqi city of Karbala show what the Shiites there fear from the coalition forces: sexy pictures, short dresses, and robbery.  Other Iraqis are hoping that we bring "democracy, whiskey, sexy"; these just hope we go away soon so that we do not corrupt their society.
- 8:13 PM, 23 April 2003   [link]


This Editorial from the Times of London on George Galloway also has something important to say about the UN:
There are also wider questions that the allegations against Mr Galloway raise about the operation of the UN's Oil-for-Food programme.  The sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War were poorly policed by the UN, wide open to corruption and increasingly undermined by the activities of countries such as Russia.  They were never a satisfactory means of containing Saddam, and their efficacy was undermined from within the UN by both Russia and France.

Their failure is a lesson to all who trust in the UN as sole guarantor of Iraq's future.
That so many continue to put faith in the UN after such failures shows, in Samuel Johnson's phrase, "the triumph of hope over experience".  Johnson said that about a man who remarried shortly after the death of a wife ended his first, very unhappy marriage.  That was a single failure; the UN has had many, but hope continues that it will do better next time.
- 7:59 PM, 23 April 2003   [link]


More on Galloway: There was another document referring to Galloway in the box found by the Telegraph.  Saddam Hussein complained that Galloway was too greedy.   (There may still be more documents to come from the box; that would explain why the Telegraph was so confident in its first story.  They may also, like Iain Murray, trust their reporter, who appears to have a fine reputation.)  The leftist Guardian wondered about the discovery, but thinks the documents may be genuine:
Most intelligence sources suggested yesterday that the documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph were probably the real thing.
Reactions to the story and to Galloway varied predictably.  Yesterday, the Telegraph argued in an editorial that the payments showed that some leaders, and some part of the "peace" movement were rotten.  Today, the Guardian replies with this editorial absolving Galloway's followers in the movement:
And it is childish to attempt to paint these allegations as the gravest possible setback for the anti-war movement - as significant as the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary were for British communists.  The millions who marched against the war did so according to the dictates of their own consciences, not out of any allegiance to, or admiration for, Mr Galloway.
It may not be the "gravest possible setback", but the character of a leader does show something about his followers.  Those who were influenced to march by Galloway are, at best, suckers.  The Times of London, between the Guardian and Telegraph in its ideology, recycled its own story on Galloway's corruption, that he had taken money from a fund set up for a sick Iraqi girl.

The division on Galloway's career was even sharper.  The Guardian tells us that he has worked hard for his constituency and is generally supported there, because of all the services he has supplied for his constituents.  The Telegraph tells us that he has been an anti-American phony all through his career, and that his constituency no longer supports him.  The Times, again coming in between, thinks the story of his career is that he has "has got away with it before, time and time again".  The Telegraph wins this competition easily, by supplying the best Galloway story:
Under the tutelage of Galloway, Dundee - that austere and generally depressed city on the north shore of the Tay - twinned itself with Nablus on the West Bank of the Jordan.   It was an unlikely union that saw the PLO flag flying over the Gothic splendour of Dundee's municipal buildings, but it quickly took on a farcical air when, as part of the twinning ceremony, the Mayor of Nablus was presented with a crate of whisky and a kilt by the Scottish delegation.  What use a strictly teetotal Muslim, both of whose legs had been blown away in a terrorist explosion, would have had for whisky and kilts was never made clear.
American media figures made similar ideological choices.  From what I can tell, the major networks, all liberal, ignored the story.  The New York Times carried only an AP story, while the Washington Post had its own summary of the press coverage.  The Seattle Times did not even carry the story, while the Seattle PI had only the AP story.   In contrast, every conservative talk show host that I listened to yesterday discussed the story at length.
- 9:45 AM, 23 April 2003   [link]


French Opinion, Too?  In earlier posts, I have documented how support for removing Saddam grew in many nations, and reached majorities in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Denmark, and Canada.  Opinion has now shifted in France, as well.   Though French polls do not yet show a majority supporting the coalition action, there has been a large move in our direction:
Until three weeks ago, 84 percent of the French were opposed to the war.  Last week only 55 percent were still of the same opinion, according to a poll in the French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
Chirac's popularity has fallen from record highs to 65 per cent, which may help explain why France now backs the suspension of sanctions on Iraq, though not their immediate removal.
- 8:16 AM, 23 April 2003   [link]


Canadian and American Numbers:  While I am on the subject of Canada, let me recommend this brisk comparison of government spending in the two nations.  The two countries are more similar than one might think, and have become even more so over the last decade.  Total government spending, as a share of GDP, has declined in both nations, by 1.8 per cent in the United States, and by an amazing 9.8 per cent in Canada.  (Our reduction came mostly from cuts in defense spending.  Local and state governments actually increased their share of GDP during the period.)  The Canadian economy has done very well since 1992, and from what I have seen, the cuts did not starve Canadians or destroy public services there.
- 10:44 AM, 22 April 2003   [link]


Getting Along With Our Northern Neighbor:  In this column, Seattle PI political writer Joel Connelly makes an unexceptional argument:  It is to the advantage of both Canada and the United States if we cooperate.  But he does not explain how we are to achieve better cooperation while Jean Chretien is Prime Minister.   Connelly begins by chastising the Bush administration, claiming that:
Although Canada never looms large on the U.S. radar screen, President Bush lately seems to be waking up each morning and asking himself a question:  What can I do today to screw over Jean Chretien?
This is a trifle overstated.  What the Bush administration has done so far to "screw over" Prime Minister Chretien is (1) postpone a trip to Ottawa indefinitely, and (2) have our ambassador make a rather mild statement criticizing the stream of the petty insults coming from Chretien's Liberal Party.

The Bush administration took these two small steps after years of provocations from Chretien's government and party.  Chretien openly favored Bush's opponent in 2000 during the election campaign.  After the election, Chretien did not make any serious efforts to heal the breach he had created.  Insult after insult came from Chretien's government and party.  Chretien's director of communications, François Ducros was overheard last December calling Bush a "moron".  Liberal party MP Carolyn Parrish was overheard calling Americans bastards and saying that she hated us.   (She issued an apology that I found unconvincing.)  Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal said that Bush has "let down the world by not being a statesman".   This stream of insults must reflect Chretien's own view of Bush.

There are substantive problems, too.  Canada did not support us over Iraq, in sharp contrast to Britain and Australia.  (Any Canadian support would have been almost entirely symbolic since Chretien has reduced the Canadian armed forces to a shell.)   Besides the disagreement over Iraq, Chretien's government has subsidized and supported Castro in a variety of ways, as you can see in this editorial from the National Post of Canada.  Chretien's government has helped terrorists more than once; Michelle Malkin's most recent column describes how Chretien personally intervened to help an especially dangerous Al Qaeda supporter.

Given the insults, and the legitimate American grievances toward the Chretien government, how does Connelly think the Bush administration should work to improve relations with Canada?  Is it even possible while Chretien is prime minister?  I have seen no evidence that Chretien wants to improve relations with the United States, at least while Bush is president.  This is not, by the way, because Canadians wouldn't support a more friendly policy toward the United States.  Large majorities of Canadians actually favor that, and are critical of the insults.  (Why Chretien has pursued this unpopular policy is not entirely clear to me.  As I mentioned here, some Canadian experts think that it can be explained by Chretien's desire to protect his base in Quebec, a province far more anti-American than the rest of Canada.)

The Bush policy of waiting until Chretien leaves office, which will be soon, seems about the best that can be done in this bad situation.  Whoever succeeds Chretien is unlikely to share his visceral dislike for Bush and the United States.  The largest opposition party, the Canadian Alliance, has criticized Chretien sharply for his anti-American policies and statements, and his likely successor in the Liberal Party, John Manley, has already called for strengthening Canadian defenses, something the United States has been advocating for years.  If Connelly has a better idea he should present it, rather than just carping about Bush.  Despite the nonsensical claims about American hegemony, often there is little we can do, without great costs, to change another country's policies.  Americans and Canadians would rather the two nations got along better, but while Chretien is prime minister, it isn't going to happen.
- 10:18 AM, 22 April 2003   [link]


Affordable Spaceship:  Many supporters of an active space program despair about getting it from NASA's bureaucracy.  There have been a number of privately funded attempts to build better launch systems, most under-funded.  Now, Burt Rutan, a brilliant aircraft designer, has built an inexpensive suborbital vehicle, with an estimated cost of 20-30 million dollars.  The vehicle should be able to take three people into space, though not into orbit.
- 5:50 AM, 22 April 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  This USA Today analysis of the low US casualty rate in the Iraq war.  The table comparing the deaths for major wars is worth some study.  From it you can learn, for example, that World War II was the first major American war in which non-combat deaths did not exceed combat deaths.  Disease, rather than musket and cannon fire, was the main hazard to soldiers for most of our history.
- 5:31 AM, 22 April 2003   [link]


Well, Well, Well:  The London Telegraph is reporting that it has found documentary evidence that Labour MP George Galloway, a long time supporter of Saddam Hussein, was taking enormous payoffs from the Iraqi regime.  Since British libel laws give much more protection to public figures than American laws, the Telegraph must believe that it has found solid evidence for these sensational charges.  (Galloway has denied the charges, of course, and is threatening a lawsuit.)  Knowing that extraordinary charges like these require more than ordinary proof, the Telegraph published the documents here, and an account of their discovery here.   Skeptics may wonder if the reporter may not have left something out in the account.   Just possibly, some intelligence officer told him that he might find something interesting if he were to look in the box that held the papers.

The Telegraph's editorial on Galloway raises larger issues.  Since the money Galloway was taking came from the oil for food program, Galloway may have been profiting from the suffering in Iraq, which he often condemned.  The anti-war movement, which embraced Galloway both in Britain and the United States, has some explaining to do.  Why did they find this man, with his dubious history, an acceptable spokesman?  Nor is Galloway the only dubious spokesman the anti-war movement in Britain found acceptable.  As the editorial notes, "the chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, Andrew Murray, was an active communist and supporter of North Korea".

Americans will naturally wonder if there are figures here who also took money from Saddam.   I think it very likely there are, and I think it almost certain that some of the money for anti-war organizations came from nations like North Korea and Iraq.  This is not a question that will attract investigative reporters from the New York Times and similar newspapers.
- 5:18 AM, 22 April 2003   [link]


End Sanctions Now?  Never mind, says Bert Sacks, who has been a spokesman for the cause for years.  Now that Saddam has been overthrown, he sees no reason to rush to end the sanctions he has been condemning bitterly for years.  That would, he thinks, legitimize the coalition's war on Saddam.   I learned about this switch during his appearance this morning on the Dave Ross talk show, which is broadcast on Seattle's KIRO 710.  Even Ross, who is inclined to, shall we say, give leftists the benefit of the doubt, found Sacks' new attitude a bit strange.   (It has never been clear to me that Ross knows when he is being fed a line by people like Sacks, Scott Ritter, or Robert Fisk.  My guess is that he knows that their views will please much of his audience in left-leaning Seattle and just doesn't care enough about the facts to correct them.  He has not answered several emails I have sent him on this subject, so I must add that other explanations are possible.)

Sacks likes to argue that conscience often requires one to break laws, as he did in taking medical supplies to Iraq.  (Whether they ended up in one of the regime's warehouses, or were sold on the black market, is an open question, of course.)  Or, I should say, he liked to argue that.  Now, the man who argued for years that human needs, specifically the needs of the children of Iraq, should over-ride mere legalities, argues that sanctions should stay, with all the suffering he thinks they cause, until the legalities can be adjusted to his liking.  Did he ever care about the Iraqi children?  I suppose so.  But less, it is now obvious, than he cares about bashing America.

(Christopher Hitchens has this neat little piece on people who, like Sacks "prefer Saddam to Hallburton".)
- 12:05 PM, 21 April 2003   [link]


Did Chretien Help a Terrorist?  That's what Michelle Malkin thinks:
Khadr is suspected of siphoning charity funds to bin Laden and other jihadists, and of serving as a chief terrorist recruiter.  Known as "al-Kanadi" (Arabic for "The Canadian"), Khadr had previously been in custody in Pakistan for the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad that killed 17 people.

As I've noted before (and it is especially worth repeating in light of attempts by some high-ranking American diplomats to make amends with Canada), our so-called friend and supposed War on Terror partner Chretien was instrumental in securing Khadr's freedom.
Khadr is a Canadian citizen, though not that county's best representative, but should Prime Minister Chretien have worked to free this terrorist and mass murderer?  And, given Chretien's attitudes, should we be so quick to drop our guard on our northern border?   And, I should add, both Pakistan and Egypt have legitimate grievances about Khadr's release, too
- 9:59 AM, 21 April 2003   [link]


Pizza Hut and Burger King are back in Iraq, at least at the British base in Basra.  The most interesting detail in the story is that it ss Kuwaiti franchise holders who are providing the British soldiers with an alternative to military rations.  There are businessmen all through the Arab world who will do much to restore Iraq, if given half a chance.
- 9:31 AM, 21 April 2003   [link]


Iraq Destroyed Chemical and Biological Weapons Before War:   An anonymous Iraqi scientist claims that Iraq destroyed many of its illegal weapons just days before the war began, according to this New York Times article.   Like other criminals, Saddam may have been trying to destroy the evidence as he sees the police at his door.  The Iraqi scientist also claims that chemical weapons and technology were sent to Syria, and that recently Iraq had begun cooperating with Al Qaeda.

There is strong evidence for the story.  The scientist "led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs".  He gave the American investigators documents he had hidden in his home.  Judith Miller, who wrote the story, is one of the best qualified journalists to evaluate this evidence; she is the co-author of Germs, a fine book on biological weapons.

The importance of this story is obvious.
The officials' account of the scientist's assertions and the discovery of the buried material, which they described as the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons, supports the Bush administration's charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it.  Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.

The officials' accounts also provided an explanation for why United States forces had not yet turned up banned weapons in Iraq.  The failure to find such weapons has become a political issue in Washington.
If true—and I think it is—this story would explain the reports of chemical contaminants being detected in Iraqi rivers.  Read the whole thing, even if you have to register to do it.
- 7:27 AM, 21 April 2003   [link]


Raiders of the Lost Art:  I haven't said anything about the looting of the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities because what happened there is not clear.  Even now, what headline writers like to call the "Raiders of the Lost Art" remains a murky, disputed incident.  At first, most news accounts made the looting a part of the general breakdown of law and order in Baghdad and described the looters as outsiders.  A day or two later, when it became apparent that some of the looters knew precisely what they were looking for, and had keys to some of the exhibits, most decided that the looting had been, at least at first, an inside job.  (The original thieves may have invited ordinary looters in after they had stolen the best pieces in order to cover their tracks.)  Nearly all the early accounts blamed American forces for not stopping the looting.  Meghan O'Rourke's article, from Slate, gives what is now the conventional view:
Numerous newspapers quote Iraqi citizens who saw American patrols impassively watch as looters carted away vases, jewelry, pots, and other goods.
But is that what actually happened?  Those accounts come from anti-American, and often inaccurate, British newspapers like the Guardian.  A more recent account from the Chicago Tribune gives a very different story.  (Registration required.)   The American soldiers near the museum were in a large battle at the time, and say that they did not realize what was happening to the museum.
"There's a common misconception that American forces arrived and stood around as looting took place," said 2nd Lt. Erik Balascik, who was helping guard the museum Saturday and who participated in the battle around the museum grounds.

"We didn't observe any looting at all," Balascik said.  "There are back doors.   They came in through the back and out the back.  We never observed the actual looting of the museum.  However, the whole city was being looted at the time."

Balascik said it would have taken a larger force than his Task Force 164 Charlie Company to secure the museum during the battle.

"And it would have opened the flank of our task force," he said.  "Our security would have been gone."
Now I don't know whether the American soldiers or the museum officials are telling the truth.  One of the groups failed to protect the museum and has good reason to make up a story.  Given the accuracy we have observed in statements from Iraqi officials, I would bet that Lieutenant Balascik's account is closer to the truth.

Then there is the fact that the story of American forces allowing the looting is terribly useful to those who opposed the overthrow of Saddam.  I have seen more than a dozen letters in the Seattle papers from people who were obviously delighted to have found this stick to use on the Bush administration.  It fits almost all their stereotypes, except, perhaps, that this claimed indifference to looting is motivated somehow by too great a closeness to Israel.  (I say perhaps because I would not be surprised to see that argument soon.)  And it allows them to change the subject from the constant stream of articles about new horrors discovered each day in Iraq, like those in this Newsweek cover story.   Far better, if you opposed removing Saddam, to change the subject.

That there is this motive does not mean that the Guardian, and similar sources, are wrong in claiming that the American forces allowed this looting.  But it does make it far less likely that they will go back and check the story.  From their point of view, the story, if not true, is so good that it ought to be.
- 4:57 PM, 20 April 2003
Update:  Chris Bertam's prompt answer to my email on this post showed me that I should expand the argument.  When I said the incident was murky, I meant the entire affair.  We do not know whether, as charged, American forces allowed the looting of the museum, though, as I explained above, I think it unlikely.  For very similar reasons, we do not know when the losses happened, who the culprits were, how big the losses are, and whether most of the stolen objects can be retrieved.

Let me go over these uncertainties in order.  The Antiquities museum had been closed for some time, so we do not know when the thefts occurred.  We do not know who all the culprits were, though most think they included some insiders—including, possibly, some of those now complaining about American inaction.  We do not know how big the losses are; there has been no inventory, and there will not be one for some time.  Even then, many of the losses may prove to be replaceable.  Mass production has been used for millennia; many of the objects that we admire in museums were produced in very large numbers, sometimes even in what we would call factories.  Even the losses at the library are unknown.  The fire there may have been set after the most valuable pieces were stolen.  We do not know whether most of the stolen objects can be retrieved.  My guess is that most will be, though it might take a generation for some of them.  If you follow the art news at all, you will know that some pieces of art stolen during World War II are still being returned to their rightful owners.  In more than one case, a collector's heirs felt obliged to return stolen artworks after the collector's death.

What we do know is this:  Iraqi officials, from Saddam's regime, have charged that there was extensive looting of the institutions they were obliged to protect.   Credulous reporters, many from anti-American British newspapers, have spread this story over the entire world without much effort to check on the facts.  I don't think it is intellectually responsible to go farther in our conclusions than those two points, until more facts are available.
- 1:12 PM, 21 April 2003   [link]


German Spies Helped Saddam?  That's what Iraqi documents found in Baghdad suggest:
Germany's intelligence services attempted to build closer links to Saddam's secret service during the build-up to war last year, documents from the bombed Iraqi intelligence HQ in Baghdad obtained by The Telegraph reveal.
Now why would Germany want to do that?  Especially when the Iraqis made it clear that they valued the connection for its anti-American and anti-British potential?  Bush and Blair may have known about contacts like this one before the war.  That would explain why Bush is in no rush to establish better relationships with the government in Berlin.

And, still other documents have more information on how the Russians were helping Saddam.
- 9:58 AM, 20 April 2003   [link]


Poincaré Conjecture Proved?  Maybe.  If you, like me, were a little vague on the conjecture, see this New York Times article for a layman's explanation.  If Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman did solve this century old problem, he will receive all or part of a million dollar prize.
- 9:35 AM, 20 April 2003
Update:  Here's another article, also from the New York Times, with another explanation of the conjecture.
- 9:40 AM, 21 April 2003   [link]


Easter in Baghdad:  Pastor Ikram Ibrahim Mehanni and his church are celebrating another Easter miracle, surviving the war.  Pastor Ibrahim had to change his routine a little to protect his church.
"Normally," he said, "I would have been arranging lots of choir practice this week, but I have been too busy firing my AK47 from the roof of my office."

"I have been shooting in the air almost every night, to scare the looters away.  I haven't had time to bake any cakes either."
Good for him.
- 7:26 AM, 20 April 2003   [link]


Oops!  On Friday, when I was installing a new version of Linux (Red Hat 9), I managed to mess up the hard drive I use for Linux.   I have repaired it and restored much of the data, but had to stop posting for a day while I fixed my mistake.  And I have been delayed in replying to some email, for which my apologies.  As far as I can tell, I didn't lose any data, since I had made a backup of my files before I started playing sorcerer's apprentice.

(For technophiles:  Without going into the details, I'll just say that I was caught by a foolish mistake I made in partitioning my second hard drive, where I keep the Linux distributions.  I made the mistake over a year ago and finally got bit by it.   On the good side, I have to say that, from what I have seen so far, Red Hat 9 is the best version yet and a notable improvement over Red Hat 7.3, which I had been using before.   The new font manager produces notable improvements in some applications.)
- 7:06 AM, 20 April 2003   [link]


Johann Hari is one of those unusual journalists who favors liberation for everyone, whether they are victims of Saddam, or the inhabitants of an even more oppressed land, North Korea.   Among the regime's many crimes is massive starvation:
Starvation is endemic in North Korea because of the government's catastrophic economic system.   Amnesty offers the conservative estimate that 10 per cent of the population - 2 million people - have died since 1994 from hunger.  Many refugees argue that a quarter of the people they know (which would mean 5 million people) have starved to death.  There are widespread reports that people have resorted to eating grass, the bark of trees, rats and even human flesh.  (While this was happening, Kim Jong Il has spent over 300m on weaponry.)
Hari, unlike me, favors military action to remove this cruel regime.  I think that's too dangerous and that there are other options for undermining Kim Jong Il.  But I do admire Hari's consistent support for those who suffer from tyrants.  At one time, believe it or not, this was common on the left.
- 9:23 AM, 18 April 2003   [link]


North American Pollution Down:  This brief article summarizes the progress in reducing pollution between 1995 and 2000, a time of vigorous economic growth.  The report comes from a commission set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.  (More later today.)
- 9:06 AM, 18 April 2003   [link]