Say what you
will about Robert Novak's sometimes
plutocratic and reactionary politics ... actually, that's not fair, let me try that again. Say what you will about Robert Novak's consistently plutocratic and reactionary politics, the man's a hell of a good reporter. As the tired journo cliche has it, he's that rare thing: a columnist who actually reports. In any case, this evening I was reading his column
from January 27th and I came across this passage.
Powell, a master at negotiating the national security bureaucracy's dangerous waters over the past generation, knows that now is not the hour to publicly dissent from President Bush's hard line or give Iraq the impression of a divided U.S. government. Beneath the surface, however, Powell remains the voice of restraint against unilateral action.
That is one cause of Powell's genuine anger when France joined Germany in counting itself out of an attack on Baghdad. It prevented a solid coalition and also contributed to the contempt by the administration's hawks against alliance warfare, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sneering that France and Germany are ''old Europe.''
Powell is reported as even more frustrated by the mindless intransigence of the Iraqi regime. Officials in Baghdad who have had indirect, unofficial contact with Powell have begged for some counsel from Washington on how to avert a war they would be doomed to lose. The secretary of state--also indirectly and unofficially--asked for confessions of weapons violations from the regime. All he got was the ''discovery'' of four empty chemical weapons warheads.
I'm not sure what my comment is about this revelation. But in a debate where most of what we hear is both sides repeating the same points ad infinitum
, I think this is probably the most interesting thing I've heard on this subject in some time.
What's the deal with this back-channel communication? And -- something that would interest me a lot -- where do the Brits fit into all this?
Meanwhile, another point: take a look at this lead editorial in The New Republic on Iraq. It's a bit too harsh for my liking in some respects, too monochromatic. This debate has a distressing tendency to become the political or rhetorical equivalent of a Godzilla movie, with a crowd of cartoonish syllogisms doing clumsy battle with one another. (Yes, my metaphors got somewhat the better of me there, but we're just going to move along ...) But there's a point, at this juncture, in crystallizing matters. And I think the TNR editorial does a good job of capturing the incoherence of a certain sort of opposition to possible war. Whatever you think, give it a read.
Finally, back to North Korea. A friend of mine who knows as much about Asian politics as anyone I know, told me yesterday how shocked people in the region were by one thing in the president's speech. From an American perspective, the speech seems fairly moderate and composed vis-a-vis North Korea. It struck me that way. But to many in the region, apparently, what was stunning was that the president described the North Korean situation as even more threatening and dangerous than Iraq. That is to say, he used it as an example of how bad things can get if we don't act soon enough. If we don't act now in Iraq, we could end up in as tough as situation as we are now in North Korea, etc.
Now the TNR editorial buys into this line of reasoning, I think. And the notion is implicit in much of the debate one hears on both topics, Korea and Iraq. But it strikes me as a fundamental misapprehension of the situation. I'll say more about this later.