Tuesday, 22 April 2003
I went to the Louvre once.
It's a huge place, with thousands of priceless art treasures; the ones I remember best are the Mona Lisa (of course), the "Winged Victory" statue— and an unremarkable, undecorated, ordinary little clay pot, something you or I might have made on a pottery wheel in an art class… but this one was nine thousand years old.
I've been to the Smithsonian too, but I was twelve years old at the time: I remember the Hope Diamond and Charles Lindbergh's plane, but not much else. I think the Smithsonian's collection of Really Old Stuff was less impressive than the one at the Louvre, but of course the Louvre has a lot less Americana (i.e., it has none), and in any case I'm not sure that old pottery would have impressed me as a twelve-year-old. Looking back, though, I think about that ancient vase more often than I think of the Mona Lisa, or the "Spirit of St. Louis," or anything else I saw in either museum. It makes me wonder which random Coke bottle out there will survive the next nine millenia and end up in a museum, for no other reason than that it escaped destruction for such a long time.
I think about these things when I read about the looting of Iraq's national museum—or, worse, of the outright destruction of many ancient treasures. Iraq was one of the first places in the world, if not the first, where humans made permanent settlements, developed agriculture, and began the long, slow, painful climb to indoor plumbing and Joe Millionaire; I imagine the Baghdad Museum must have had one of the world's finest collections of antiquities. At best, those artifacts are now being smuggled out of the country and sold into private collections; at worst, they're gone forever.
It's tempting to put such tragedies into perspective, and ask whether anyone would have made the Faustian bargain that left Saddam free to continue slaughtering a thousand Iraqis a week but kept the museum intact. Or, perhaps, the more relevant question would be to ask whether preserving the museum was worth, say, risking the lives of ten American soldiers by diverting them to protect a building with little to no military value. Arguably the answer to the latter question was "yes" in hindsight: Capturing and protecting the museum should have been assigned the same priority as driving tanks down a boulevard in view of the television cameras, and for the same reason. Neither act was particularly useful from a purely military force-on-force perspective, but both were important to the "psyops" campaign to demoralize and weaken our foes. I'm sure that if we had secured the museum, the anti-American elements of the media would have simply wailed a bit louder about the state of Baghdad hospitals and the lack of electricity—but, nonetheless, protecting the museum would have deprived our opponents of a PR weapon, and for that reason alone we should have done it.
So, then, let me be especially snarky and issue a memo to the troops: When taking Damascus or Pyongyang, please remember to secure the museum. It might also be handy to call up a few M*A*S*H units after the fall of a major city, in case the civilians express their pent-up rage at the fleeing dictator and his cadre by looting their hospitals along with their homes and offices. Thank you. (P.S.: Nice job delivering this to Saddam.)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:00 am. comments.
Sunday, 13 April 2003
Attention eBay shoppers:
The coalition has issued to soldiers in the field a deck of playing cards identifying the 52 "most wanted" members of Saddam Hussein's regime.
I want that deck. You hear me, eBay heatseekers? I will pay top dollar for a deck of playing cards with Saddam's evil mug on the Ace of Spades. (I'd pay higher for a deck with Saddam as the joker, but I'll take what I can get!) Anyone with a Deck of Evil for sale, or who knows where to get one, let me know.
Update: Found them at greatusaflags.com. They only ship within the USA, which means I'll have to do the old "mail them to my parents and have Mom and Dad ship them over" trick. Handy tip for expats: Keep an American billing address on at least one of your credit cards, because there are a lot of places that refuse to accept cards with an overseas billing address—even though the card itself was issued in the USA. Leave your Discover Card at home, too, because it's only useful as a lock-pick over here.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:11 pm. comments.
Thursday, 10 April 2003
We now return you to our regularly scheduled warblogging,
or at least we would, except that the "war" part is in delightfully short supply at the moment. The BBC is broadcasting live footage of jubilant Iraqis waving American flags and setting fire to Saddam posters (ain't that a switch?), and the talking heads are rapidly moving to questions of administering post-Saddam Iraq and whether the United Nations will get a piece of the action. We still don't know if Saddam is dead or not—but even if he's alive, his hold over Iraq is broken forever.
Speaking of post-war talking heads, though, I'm going to take a moment here and tweak Steven Den Beste over at the USS Clueless, because one of his patron saints just came out and agreed with me in a Washington Post article:
There is a strong impulse in the administration right now to punish erstwhile allies in Europe who opposed the war. A certain righteous triumphalism in Washington is to be expected, and payback is a normal human desire. But this is the time for a little self-interested magnanimity.
That's the voice of Robert Kagan, one of the featured authors in Den Beste's Essential Library. Go read the whole article, and then review last month's exchange between Steven and myself on the question whether America's foreign policy goals are best achieved via punishment or persuasion. Kagan continues:
So why not make amends in Europe? Of course Bush should reward those who took risks to support him, especially Tony Blair. And it won't be possible to do much business with France so long as the Chirac government continues to present itself as the builder of a great counterweight to the United States. But if the United States looks like it's asking Europeans to choose between being "European" and being pro-American, we'll fail. The European Union is still the dominant political institution in European society, and Blair is trying to knit back his own tattered relations with Europe. Punishing the rejectionist Europeans won't help him.
Exactly. We certainly shouldn't reward Chirac's France, and we shouldn't treat his government as a trusted friend and ally—but there's a real possibility ahead that America will overplay its hand, and give Chirac the chance he's actively seeking: To play David against America's Goliath, victim against America's bully, and counter-weight against American leadership. We're facing a political battle against France, not a military one... and you don't defeat a political opponent by "punishing" her, but by winning away her supporters.
When we last discussed the issue, Steven argued that "even if reprisals against the French harm us, that harm will be less than the harm we would suffer if we don't respond at all, encouraging other nations to cross us the same way." I frankly see little value in having "allies" who stand by our side because they fear to do otherwise, and I don't see other nations eagerly lining up to "cross us," as Steven puts it. What I see is a post-war Iraq that absolutely requires the use of soft power—we can't build a stable democracy in Iraq if the majority of people there become hostile to our efforts—and a situation where following through on the impulse to "punish" France would reduce our soft power at the time we need it most.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:17 am. comments.
Thursday, 03 April 2003
I'm back from a five-day tour of Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, and other
points deep in the heart of the Australian Outback. Words and pictures
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:36 pm. comments.