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Since 1:30am, September 16, 2001

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{Saturday, May 03, 2003}

"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."
- Voltaire

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The Watchtower
Mike Van Winkle has started up a new blog "to monitor the status of individual rights and civil liberties following the passage of the USA Patriot Act of 2001."

The blog, called The Watchtower, is a group effort, and has already attracted Arthur Silber (of the Objectivist-themed blog, Light of Reason) and Sean Paul Kelley (of The Agonist).

Here's hoping that Mike and company find they have nothing to write about.

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{Friday, May 02, 2003}

Sleight of blog
Instapundit commits an act of deliberate misdirection or shocking ignorance in this post about the recent protests in Iraq. He accuses people who make a fuss about the Iraqi protests of not understanding the Middle East.

WHEN IRAQIS RIOT, it's supposed to be a sign that the United States is blowing it, and doesn't know how to operate in that part of the world.

The alternative explanation, of course, is that it's the critics who don't understand how things tend to work out in that part of the world...

Reynolds goes on to link to, and quote, a New York times article about an earthquake in Turkey, where Turkish citizens clashed with security forces. According to the section of the article that Reynolds saw fit to quote, the government's inadequate response to the quake prompted the survivors to protest, and the protests turned violent, leading to a response from the security forces.

The clear implication is that such clashes are normal in the Middle East and are therefore nothing to worry about. People there riot over earthquakes, they riot over the presence of US troops, they riot over anything. Americans who draw conclusions from a riot just don't get it, Reynolds informs his readers. The relationship of US forces to protesting Iraqis is no different than the relationship of Turkish security forces to their own protesting citizens.

As it happens, there is something deeply flawed in Reynolds' use of this analogy, but one would never know it from the information that he presents. Here is everything Instapundit felt was worth quoting about the riot in Turkey:

BINGOL, Turkey, May 2 — Security forces clashed with earthquake victims protesting the government's relief response today, but an uneasy quiet hung over a flattened boarding school on the outskirts of this regional capital as rescuers continued poring through the rubble for surviving students.

Gunfire filled the air outside the governor's office as heavily armed troops tried to disperse rampaging protesters, upset at what they said was inadequate assistance for quake-affected residents.

The only problem is what Reynolds chooses not to quote from the original article:

There have long been tensions between eastern Turkey's predominantly Kurdish population and the government security forces. Kurdish rebels have waged war in the mountainous area for 15 years, prompting fierce government crackdowns.

Authorities accused Kurdish rebels today of trying to take advantage of the natural disaster to press their cause. But some of the protesters said security forces had overreacted as displaced people had called on the area's governor, Huseyin Avni Cos, to help them find shelter or resign.

"We just came here to get tents," one protester, Ramazan Yararli, told The Associated Press. "But they started firing on us."
The protesters were not ordinary ethnic Turks but Turkish Kurds. The clash in Turkey was not an isolated incident centering around a natural disaster, but one more flare-up of a decades-long conflict between Turkish Kurds and the government that rules them.

This incredibly salient point is not mentioned by Instapundit, despite the fact that the government of Turkey's war with its own Kurdish population has led to over 19,000 deaths, to the internal displacement of over 2 million, and to the destruction of over 2,000 villages.

Protests by Kurds in Turkey, and the violent response to those protests, are not par for the course in the Middle East -- they are one product of a long and bloody rebellion that threatened (and sometimes still threatens) to tear Turkey apart.

If anything, a comparison between Iraq and Turkey in this respect is troubling, not heartening. The one glaring failure in Turkey's Islamic democracy is its opression of the Kurds. Do we want to normalize this; to emulate it in Iraq?

Glenn Reynold should certainly be aware of Turkey's history with its Kurdish population. All the talk about Turkey's opposition to a Kurdish state during the build-up to this war could not have been lost on him. And what of the New York Times article? Did the sections that he failed to quote just not register as he read them?

I find that hard to believe. It looks a lot more likely that Instapundit picked the quotes that supported his thesis and ignored the ones that blatantly refuted it. From someone both talented and popular, that's a shame.

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Life imitates Onion
On March 26, the Onion ran a piece called Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy.

On April 30, the AP ran a piece called U.S. Troops Fire on Iraq Protesters Again (again!). [link via Reenhead]

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Text and subtext
In the story above, the killing of Iraqi protesters (15 so far) is the attention-getter. Discussion revolves around the events and the explanation.

The Army claims that it was fired upon by gunmen within the crowds, and that it only returned fire. This could be true. It is possible that gunmen among the protesters are just Iraqi soldiers who faded out of the army and are now causing trouble as "civilians."

In the words of one American soldier, "These are deliberate actions by the enemy to use the population as cover."

But here's the thing, if we weren't shooting at them, the big story would not be that the U.S. has killed fifteen people, the big story would be the protests themselves.

There were 1,000 people in Fallujah the day 13 were killed. They were chanting, "Yes, yes for Islam; no to America, no to Saddam."

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Snipe Hunt
Jim Henley alerts the world to a post by the Cogent Provocateur that he calls "magisterial." What's it about? It's "the best writing about missing WMDs yet. Period." The post is called Operation Desert Snipe, and it goes something like this:

The joke is on us, but does it matter any more? We won, didn't we?

Yes, we won ... and yes, it still matters, else high officialdom wouldn't be clinging gamely to the original premise. And the PR labs wouldn't be working overtime testing damage control solutions.

From August's "what's all this frenzy about a war?", to September's "you don't introduce new products in August", through November's election victory over an opposition "soft" on Saddam, through the winter games of spinning Blix on ice, through Powell's PowerPoint prestidigitation in February, to a no-time-to-vote forced March, we plied the crowd with predictable fare. We loosened them up with liberation cocktails. We circulated tray after tray of Saddam-as-Hitler appetizers. We dutifully jotted down orders for commercial or strategic side-dishes. But the main course was always a grand sterling-covered platter of sizzling Snipe a la Bush.

No WMD, no War Powers Resolution. No WMD, no UN Res. 1441. No WMD, no Coalition of the Willing. No WMD, no Azores ultimatum. Everything hinged on Iraq's possession of WMD, and her intransigent refusal to give them up. (more)

There is more, not all of which I agree with. But the post is full of gems and the narrative reads like fiction. Of course, reality is sounding more and more like fiction all the time.

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Snipe hunt update
Condoleeza Rice calls Colin Powell a liar. Sacre bleu! After Powell and the President made frightening claims about Iraq's WMD program, our National Security Advisor floats the idea that there may be much less there there.

Addressing the UN Security Council on February 5, Mr Powell said recent intelligence showed a missile brigade outside Baghdad was "dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agent to various locations". Mr Bush was equally alarmist, describing satellite evidence showing that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq's nuclear weapons programs with his top nuclear scientists, his "nuclear mujahideen."

When Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, suggested Iraq's WMD program could be more fragmented and degraded, he was pilloried as naive or incompetent. When his inspectors talked of a more complex search for WMD, where components or precursors could be in the form of legal, dual-use chemical or biological agents that had to be monitored, they were dismissed as flatfooted and overcautious.

Yet Dr Rice's descriptions of Iraq's weapons program is far closer to Dr Blix's analysis than she would want to concede.


Condoleezza Rice is now acknowledging that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program is less clear-cut, and probably more difficult to establish, than the White House portrayed before the war... for the first time, Dr Rice is saying publicly that it is less likely many actual weapons will be found. [emphasis mine] Rather, she described the programs as being hidden in so-called "dual use" infrastructure. In other words, chemicals and biological agents could be in plants, factories and laboratories capable of being used for legal and prohibited purposes.

Almost three weeks since the fall of Baghdad, with senior Iraqi scientists and officials in US custody, no chemical or biological weapons stockpiles have been found. Neither has any evidence been uncovered that Iraq had restarted a nuclear program.

The article goes on to make what was always the true hawkish case for war, and to note why this case was not pressed publicly.

Many international weapons experts believed that the threat from Iraq did not come from chemical-filled Scud missiles or aircraft, as sometimes cited in Washington. The threat was less direct. It was about whether Saddam was trying to maintain the core of a WMD program, both raw ingredients and scientific expertise, which he could reconstitute when the world got tired of containing him.

For arms control experts around the world that threat was a very real one. But it was far less dramatic and threatening than that presented by the US to justify a pre-emptive war.

In other words, the hawkish case for war, the real one, was the one Cheney made in the beginning (and then quickly shut up about): this was about regime change. Whether or not Iraq had WMDs today was not the issue. But when Cheney tried to sell this to the public, they weren't buying. That's when a supposedly existing stockpile of WMDs became important, when UN inspections took a brief role in the spotlight, and Colin Powell's "evidence" of an imminent Iraqi threat was trotted out before the Security Council. The pace of loud, alarmist announcements was matched only by the frequency of their refutation.

The imminence was never there and most people in government knew it.

This doesn't detract from the hawk's real argument -- but it alters the picture of what happened. At best, the Iraq hawks deliberately misled the public about the imminence of the Iraqi threat (and its relevance to the "war on terror") in order to head off what they felt was a genuine, but longer-term danger.

Maybe that's the role of leaders, to get the public to approve of what is necessary, using whatever means they must. I saw A Few Good Men.

But I didn't sign up to be led, or to have some public servant tell me what's best for me while lying through his teeth because I can't handle the truth.

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