I want to start


I want to start this morning by issuing an uncharacteristic thank you to Richard Perle, AEI Senior Fellow, Defense Policy Board Chairman and all-around international man of mystery. My thanks is for bundling his disingenuousness in such a compact and neatly manageable form this morning.

(Just as a personal note, Dick. I know we’ve exchanged some words and all. But I do appreciate this, because I’m trying to take a few days of sort of light duty after finishing the manuscript. And this is a great help. So thanks. Or ‘mega-dittos.’ Or whatever it is you guys say.)

In the Guardian this morning, Perle writes an opinion column celebrating what he sees as the end of the UN. That’s fine. That’s his opinion and his desire. But look at this graf …

Facing Milosevic’s multiple aggressions, the UN could not stop the Balkan wars or even protect its victims. It took a coalition of the willing to save Bosnia from extinction. And when the war was over, peace was made in Dayton, Ohio, not in the UN. The rescue of Muslims in Kosovo was not a UN action: their cause never gained Security Council approval. The United Kingdom, not the United Nations, saved the Falklands.

The structure of the first three sentences is a bit jumbled. But Perle is saying explicitly in the case of Bosnia and implicitly in the case of Kosovo that these operations were the work of ‘coalitions of the willing.’

Not really. The US bombings in Bosnia were done by the US but with the implicit go-ahead by the European powers who had shown in the early ’90s their utter incapacity to end the slaughter. And the follow-on occupation is a NATO operation. The much more ambitious war waged in Kosovo in 1999 was, of course, a NATO operation from start to finish, not the product of a ‘coalition of the willing’. And the fact that it was a NATO operation was, on various levels, critical to its success.

This omission, I think, is not an accident. It’s an intentional fiddling with the facts. The absence of UN legitimation of this exercise, as I’ve said many times in the past, has never been the central issue. We didn’t have that go-ahead in Kosovo. And that was fine. The issue is the cavalier indifference to our historic allies and alliances. And the happy trashing of the same.

(In an earlier passage in the column, he calls NATO — in the context of defeating the Soviets — the “mother of all coalitions.” Perle seems incapable — even to the point of diction — of confronting the distinction between ‘coalitions’ and ‘alliances.’ This is a topic we’ll address in a later post, hopefully this afternoon or this evening.)

What we’re seeing right now is a dual story, two stories which are and in a significant respect will remain independent of each other. On the one hand, things look to be going quite well on the ground in Iraq. US and UK forces are pushing easily and rapidly into southern Iraq.

Now, it’s important to say that it’s always been assumed that we’d push easily through this part of the country. This is the region which has suffered most under Saddam and it makes no sense for Saddam to send quality forces out into the Iraqi desert to be destroyed with ease by American firepower. The question is and has always been whether the core of Saddam’s forces would put up stiff resistance in urban warfare in Baghdad and Tikrit. Having said that, from a military point of view, things could not be going much better. And I have no doubt you’re going to see tons of Iraqis who are genuinely thrilled to be out of under Saddam’s regime.

At the same time, there are massive protests going on in almost every country in the world right now. The heads of state of virtually every great power are denouncing us. And the major countries in Europe are discussing whether the EU should start functioning as a geopolitical counterweight to the US rather than a partner.

One thing is very good and the other is very bad. And neither trumps the other.