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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

When historians get around to trying to explain the last six months (i.e., how we got from resolution 1441 to the breakdown of the UN process and war) I don't think they will chalk much of this up to anyone 'losing their will.' I think the truth is more prosaic and straightforward. Yes, everyone voted in favor of 1441. But there were two groups amongst those fourteen member nations. And they had very different conceptions of what they were voting for.

Actually, I think this is a generous interpretation. But let's set that aside for the moment.

France, Russia and most of the rest of the countries on the Security Council thought they were signing on to a juiced-up version of inspections, basically like what we had until the old system broke down in 1998. That would mean a relatively open-ended process in which inspectors went into Iraq and searched around at will. If they found stuff it would be destroyed. If they obstructed the inspections, then the UN might sanction forcing the issue by authorizing an attack.

You might say that this is a lily-livered approach, or bad policy. But I think it's clearly what they thought were signing on to.

We, and perhaps also the Brits (but I have my doubts), had a very different idea. Our idea is (and possibly was then too) that Saddam had to make the positive decision to come forward and hand over what we accused him of having or that was it.

Part of the problem is that the plain text of 1441, I think, can be read as supporting either one of these interpretations. As judges often will, though, one thing you do when the plain text isn't itself dispositive is to look back at what amounts to the legislative record: that is, what the diplomats at the Security Council said at the time.

On this point I think one thing is extremely clear. The key point of the contention was this matter of 'automaticity.' The Council was willing to sign on to demanding compliance but only if it was in charge of deciding what constituted compliance and non-compliance.

Basically, they were only willing to do it if they got another bite at the apple and got an opportunity to interpret their own words. It wasn't going to be up to DC regime-change scribes to decide what was a 'material breach'. It was going to be up to France, Russia et.al.

Maybe that's lame. But that's what they signed on to. If they 'lacked will,' they made it pretty clear up front.

Now, there was a degree of willful mystification that happened here. The different parties agreed not to look too closely at each others' interpretation of what they were signing. But the wording which the other countries demanded and received was wording which they believed put them in charge of deciding when or if there would be war. At the time, Ireland's Ambassdor to the UN said the word changes kept "the hands of the council members as a whole on the steering wheel of the resolution in the future. It's of enormous significance."

The problem for the United States is that we pretty clearly went on the record validating this other interpretation. Here's what America's UN Representative John Negroponte said at the UN on the day the resolution passed ...

There's no 'automaticity' and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution. Whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with in the council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken.
What he was saying there was that 1441 was not self-enforcing. Its language and what counted as an infraction was to be decided by the Security Council. This was the price we paid for getting for getting the unanimous vote.

What this means pretty clearly is that we cannot claim that Resolution 1441 gives us any basis for doing what we're about to do. The White House has sort of had it both ways on this -- on the one hand saying we're bagging the UN process and on the other saying 1441 gives us sanction. Clearly, it doesn't give us sanction since at the very least the expressed understanding of 1441 at the time was that only the Security Council could judge when 1441 had been be violated.

The US can decide the Council wasn't serious and forget about the Council. That's entirely legitimate -- though, I think, bad policy. But it shouldn't pretend that it has any shelter under 1441 since the plain facts of the matter show that it doesn't.

Here, though, we get to the bigger point. Setting aside enforcement, what was being signed on to? As I say, I think the others countries thought they were signing on to old-fashioned inspections, or some jazzed-up version of them.

Did we have a different understanding?

This point is more speculative. But I don't think we did. I don't think the administration really had a particular understanding at all. I think what happened is that they got muscled into going to the UN (largely by domestic political pressure -- little-noticed polls showed the president's foreign policy numbers dipping hard late last summer). Then once they got to the UN they could only get their resolution by agreeing to what was outlined in 1441. But pretty much immediately they decided that they'd paid far too high a price to get their resolution and tried to wriggle out of it.

The rest of the Council didn't like being wriggled. And that's how we got where we are. They felt like they'd been played. And, to a real degree, they had.

Still another TPM Must-Read. In Slate, Paul Glastris comes up with a dynamite comparison which illustrates one dimension of the administration's bungled diplomacy. Turkey's position vis-a-vis the Iraq war is quite similar to Greece's vis-a-vis the Kosovo war. How Clinton made the basket; how Bush fumbled the ball. Secret hint: it has to do with not *#$%&@# on your alliances.

David Horowitz, who suprisingly enough now has his own blog, has a new post up calling the proprietor of this website a "Leftwing Hatchet and Compulsive Prevaricator." The post is in response to an earlier one of mine in which I leveled some criticisms at his publication, FrontPage Magazine.

(He bizarrely calls my post an 'apology' when it was obviously, and expressly, the opposite of an apology. I guess he just wanted to juice his argument a bit?)

You probably know who Horowitz is, since he's rather fond of telling his personal story. But if not, he's a one-time sixties-era left-wing journalist and activist who, later in life, reinvented himself as a sort of Tasmanian Devil of right-wing agitprop and political hyperventilation.

Anyway, these are ominous days we're about to move through so I thought a bit of comic relief would be in order.

On his website he notes a highly-charged 'confrontation' we apparently once had ...

Shortly after this article was published Marshall appeared at an event I had organized and I had the occasion to confront him. Instead of acknowledging his ignorance and apologizing for the smear he steadfastly defended the falsehoods he had written and repeated the smear. I did the only thing it seemed appropriate to do. I called him a liar to his face.
The article he's referring to is one I wrote several years ago called "Exhuming McCarthy," which he said slandered him and various others. He later said Jake Weisberg, now editor of Slate, also slandered him and his friends along similar lines. It's a whole long story that doesn't merit going into here. But given Horowitz's flair for the dramatic, I thought I'd give a little detail of the moment he "confronted" me, since it was a bit different and rather more comedic, on both our parts, than he says.

If memory serves, the event in question was a Hillary-hating conference Horowitz had put on at one of the conservative think-tanks in DC. I was new in DC at the time so I thought I'd go and see what all the fun was about. So I went.

At this point Horowitz and I had already had a heated back and forth in the 'letters to the editor' section of the American Prospect. So at the end of the festivities, when everyone was milling around I figured, 'Hey, you should go up and introduce yourself.' (Clearly, this was a mistake ...)

So I went up and stood next to where Horowitz was chatting with some admirers and waited there with a friend of mine until I caught his eye and I could make my move.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited ...

After a while we started to wonder whether he was intentionally ignoring me or whether -- as seemed more likely -- he just didn't know me by sight and couldn't be bothered.

Anyway, I finally saw my chance, moved in, put out my hand and introduced myself.

At this point a sort of clenched, rumply look came over Horowitz's face and he blurted out something like, "What you wrote was disgusting." Or maybe it was despicable, or something like that. And then he made sort of a lean to turn away like I was beneath his contempt, which I suppose I probably was.

I shot back something to the effect that talking like that was beneath him and he shouldn't say things like that. (He now says he called me a liar. He probably did. Who knows?) And within a few seconds everyone within a twelve-foot radius started looking distinctly uncomfortable and that was the end of it.

In Horowitz's retelling, apparently the ghosts of Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, and various other indignant worthies hung around the event. But I didn't notice any of them. And as for moral clarity and Horowitz's long twilight struggle against The Left, I guess my memory is just too foggy.

Anyway, that's my comic relief for the day, now back to the drums of war.

Here's more TPM required reading: "The Arrogant Empire: America’s unprecedented power scares the world, and the Bush administration has only made it worse. How we got here—and what we can do about it now." It's just out in the new issue of Newsweek. This is an extremely thoughtful and subtle discussion of our current predicament. It shows how this is both the result of our current, objective predominance in the world and the ways in which the current administration has compounded the problem. The article, in case you're wondering, is by that notorious dove and America-basher Fareed Zakaria.

We're clearly moving into that fog of war phase where a lot of what we hear is going to be misinformation from one side or another. But there's some interesting information coming out in Kuwaiti press reports about at least some tiny fissures at the highest level of Saddam's power. In particular Saddam apparently placed his half-brother, Barzan, under house arrest after he refused to pledge loyalty to Saddam's son Qusay as his successor.

Here is a translation from a reportin Arabic which appeared today in Kuwait's Al-Ra'y Al-Amm ...

The sources said that Barzan was summoned to one of Saddam's headquarters on 5 March, along with his brother Watban, the former interior minister whom Uday Saddam Husayn shot in the leg in August 1995. In the meeting, which Saddam's third half-brother Sab'awi was supposed to attend, Saddam talked in length about the current developments. He indirectly expressed willingness to step down in favor of his second son, Qusay, and called on his half brothers to pledge allegiance to Qusay in case he decided to do that.

According to the sources, when Saddam came to Shaykh Zayid Bin-Sultan's initiative, which was presented to the Arab summit in Sharm al-Shaykh on 1 March, he addressed Barzan saying: "What do you think of what your friend (Shaykh Zayid) has said?" It is known that Barzan had a good relationship with the president of the United Arab Emirates, especially after the Iraq-Iran war.

According to the sources, Barzan remained silent. But when he was asked to comment on the possibility of Qusay succeeding Saddam, Barzan told the Iraqi president: "I tolerated the situation for more than 20 years because you have been there. When you are not there I will act in a different way." Here the Iraqi president became furious and addressed rude words to his half brother.

...

The sources said Barzan and Watban were probably placed under house arrest because they have recently made moves within the family and among the public to press for reform measures that would lead to change in the structure of the regime. This angered Saddam, who discussed the possibility of his stepping down in Qusay's favor only to discover the real intentions of his three brothers, who have opposed his policies since the mid-eighties, when Husayn Kamil and Ali Hasan al-Majid began gaining ground. Al-Majid, who was just a driver of the defense minister in the early seventies, became the defense minister and was appointed a governor of Kuwait after the invasion.

The sources noted that Barzan's eldest son, Muhammad, left Baghdad immediately after his father was taken to Al-Radwaniyah. Jordanian sources said he was seen leaving Amman for Geneva on board a Jordanian passenger plane on Friday, 7 March. But the sources did not say if Muhammad Barzan al-Tikriti, who spent time in Baghdad and Tikrit working in coordination with his father and uncle Watban, remained in Switzerland or left for another country.

Again, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this report. But it is what's being reported in the region.

Wow. There are so many scales falling from so many eyes that you almost have to duck and cover!

I have to tell you that I'm a bit surprised. The Washington Post editorial page has been extremely supportive of the president's Iraq policy for some time. But now he seems even to have lost them. The debate has become so polarized now that if you support anything but war next week you're "anti-war" and perhaps also a "surrender monkey" and various other bad stuff. And it's not that the Post has fundamentally changed its mind. "Military action to disarm Iraq [still] appears to us both inevitable and necessary," today's editorial says. But even the Post is calling for a delay of 30 to 45 days in order to gain more international support.

The key passage however comes here ...

... with more diplomatic suppleness, more flexibility on timing and less arrogant tactics and rhetoric, the administration might have won the backing of long-standing friends such as Turkey, Mexico and Chile. In effect, Mr. Bush and some of his top aides, most notably Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, have managed to convince much of the world that French President Jacques Chirac is right and that America's unrivaled power is a danger that somehow must be checked -- ideally by the votes of other nations on the Security Council.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Or, wait ... Well, never mind. We don't have to go there.

As the Post aptly notes, we've made the job of the French government easy, alienating friendly governments which should have been our allies, not theirs. As each new government turns away from us, the president's allies at home heap new abuse on the new defector, explaining how they've never been good allies to start with, and how this is still more evidence we shouldn't rely on allies in the first place. It's not a policy or even an argument. It's a self-validating feedback loop which always leads to the same conclusion: we were right all along!

I'm not the first to note it, but this summit in the Azores really does capture our diplomatic isolation perfectly. In a certain poetic sense at least this is what's become of our grand Atlantic alliance: not the combined strength of the great north Atlantic democracies, but three men on a tiny fleck in the middle of a great ocean. For Spain, I guess, these are salad days. I'm not sure a leader of Spain has stood so tall on the world stage since Philip II, certainly not since the Spanish Habsburg line ended. Then there's Blair, the Odysseus who's tied himself to our mast.

Our arms have never been stronger. And we're about to show that. But we're gravely diminishing the deeper sources of our power.

A number of readers have written in questioning or criticizing my decision to call soon-to-be Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen "unquestionably one of the good guys" in this earlier post. The criticism stems from this article which says he published a book in 1983 -- based on a dissertation written years earlier -- in which he denied or questioned key points about the Holocaust, particularly how many people died.

Now, a few points. The article appears in Frontpage Magazine, David Horowitz's online blunderbuss, which routinely publishes misleading, hysterical and tendentious writing. Normally, I wouldn't credit anything that appears there. However, in this case, the author of the piece does seem to be quoting reliable sources. So I assume that Abu Mazen, whose real name is Mahmoud Abbas, did write these things.

So here's my response. When I wrote the post this morning I was unaware of this book Abbas had written. It is obviously deeply disappointing and ugly that he wrote such things. And I'm not sure I would have used the same words. However, it doesn't really change my mind about what I wrote this morning.

Here's why ...

Obviously, I now think less of Abbas personally. And I'd like to believe that Abbas would now recant such statements (I doubt the Frontpage article would include any mention of this if he had). Given his current status, he probably would have to. But that wouldn't necessarily prove anything. Unfortunately, many of the older bulls in the PLO were reared in an ugly amalgam of Arab nationalism, anti-semitism, revolutionary socialism and whacked-out pseudo-history. And I am willing to say right now that when Abu Ben-Gurion or Said Washington come along, I will vote for them for Palestinian leader over Abbas.

(LATE UPDATE: It turns out the Frontpage article did omit a more recent comment by Abbas. According to this article in Tuesday's New York Times, in the mid-1990s, Maazen told the Israeli newspaper Maariv: "When I wrote `The Other Side,' we were at war with Israel. Today I would not have made such remarks." Still not quite a retraction, but an important addition to the story. This statement, it would seem, escaped Frontpage's detailed research.)

But the point isn't that Abbas is a good person, or has ugly beliefs. My issue is his role in the peace process over the last decade -- Abbas was one of the architects of the original Oslo Accords. In the Palestinian Authority I think there are various camps. There are those who really don't want a just peace with Israel, those who do, and others who aren't really particularly committed to either outcome. Unfortunately, I think Arafat is in that latter category. I think Arafat was open to the idea of peace and at various points truly pursued it. But for a variety of reasons both personal and political was unwilling or unable to actually make the deal.

I think Abbas is in that category of Palestinians who really do want a just peace. I think his role in the various negotiations over the last decade shows that. Now, I'm no expert on the peace process. But I know a bit about it. And that's my opinion. To me, that makes him "one of the good guys" in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if he may have ugly beliefs and be an awful person.

(The proprietor of this website seems to say that I am a hypocrite for holding Trent Lott to one standard and Abbas to another. To this I would say, yes, I confess that I do hold the United States Senate Majority Leader to a rather higher standard than the capos of the Fatah faction of the PLO. But, you know, that's just me.)

Of course, many people in this country -- seemingly a lot of people on the web -- really don't believe in a two-state peace settlement; they think the whole Oslo Accord was just a con on the part of the Palestinians; and they prefer the stability and moral clarity of the on-going cycle of mutual death and destruction that has gripped the region for three years now. I guess we just disagree.

This morning the president announced that the confirmation of a Palestinian prime minister with "real power" would trigger the release of the White House's long-awaited 'road map' for Middle East peace. The appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister, announced last week, is definitely a positive development. Abu Mazen, a key architect of the original Oslo Accords, is unquestionably one of the good guys. And the release of the road map is good too, though Bush advisors had recently been spreading the word that the road map was dead. The real story here, however, is the unmistakable cloud of desperation and bumbling that surrounds this announcement.

Little more than a week ago, when the scope of the diplomatic train wreck wasn't quite so evident, the White House floated word that the whole Middle East peace process was on ice until we'd finished everything we were going to do in Iraq.

What's so sad and revealing and pathetic about this is that it's only at the eleventh hour and the fifty-ninth minute that the White House realizes that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is one of the moving parts involved in dealing with Iraq. On the whole world stage we're watching the president and his crew driving at eighty miles an hour into a brick wall called reality. Too bad we're in the car with them.

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