Monday, December 15, 2003

Bow Ties Over Baghdad

Kudos to Tucker Carlson for actually going to Iraq. I hate the conservative hack buffoon he usually plays on Crossfire, but elsewhere he generally plays it pretty straight. He seems to be a fairly decent guy:

CARLSON: Well, I just got here, so I don't know much about the security situation other than people act like it's very dangerous.

We heard gunfire within moments of getting to Baghdad. We left about noon from the Kuwait border to the south, rolled right across the border. I never spoke to a single official. It's pretty wide open, it seemed to me.

Didn't see a single American soldier until we arrived at the CNN bureau here at the Palestine Hotel. Not a single one.

And drove very fast. I went with Kelly McCann, a CNN contributor, a frequent CROSSFIRE guest and guys who work for him, mostly ex-Special Forces. We drove about 100, 120 most of the way, heavily armed.

Pulled over for gas at one point. There are these enormous gas lines here, four-mile long gas lines in some cases. Pulled in, you know, nine armed guys with machine guns got out of our cars, out of our convoy, sort of took over the gas station, you know, blocked off entrance, searched cars, looked through cars, that kind of thing, while we filled up.

People seem like it's threatening. One of the guys I was traveling with is a former Marine recon guy, Special Forces guy, who spent five months in Somalia in the early '90s. And he said he believed after living here for six months that it's more dangerous than Mogadishu, is what he said.

Again I don't quite know how to evaluate that. But spending the rest of the week here, I'll find out. But that's what people say.


But I will, I think, get a better sense of how the country is running. And it seems to me, you know, is it safe to walk outside is a pretty good measure. Again, I don't know that.

I can tell you that coming over here, we're staying far outside the Green Zone in a house. I'm staying with Kelly McCann and some of the guys he works with.

Just coming over here to the CNN bureau, we put on body armor, and they, you know, got a whole carload of weapons. And it was night. Most people don't travel at night here. But there was a sense, you know, it's dangerous to go to the CNN bureau.

Again, I don't know what that means. It seemed perfectly safe. But who knows?

CARVILLE: Let me get on a human thing, there's a four-mile gas line, and you guys pull up in front of the line and people get out with machine guns and sort of commandeer the gas station.

CARLSON: That's right.

CARVILLE: And fill you up with gas. You don't think that the Iraqis might -- as a human being, they might resent that?

CARLSON: No, that's absolutely right. It's exactly the kind of behavior that I've always resented, frankly, watching the Secret Service behave that way as they invariably do, as you know. And so of course, it is bad.

However, as a Westerner traveling here, there's really no option. You put yourself at some risk if you don't do that. If you were to, for instance, get boxed in by traffic...

CARVILLE: Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

CARLSON: Well, that's right. But more damned if you don't. CARVILLE: Dead if you don't.

NOVAK: This is an occupied city in a country that was defeated in the war. What's the traffic situation like? Is the -- Are the streets free of cars?

CARLSON: Well, they're not at night. But it's interesting. Apparently part of the reason there are these incredibly long gas lines is because there are so many more cars in Baghdad.

Apparently the CPA, the coalition, lifted the duty on cars. Good for them. And so somewhere between -- CNN is saying somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 new cars have come just in Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of new cars. That's part of the problem; it's just there aren't enough gas stations. And there are other reasons for it.

But yes, there's a ton of traffic on the road, which suggests that it's not that dangerous, if people are conducting commerce, and they are. I don't know; I've only been here 12 hours.