I was finishing up an interview early this evening when I flipped open my laptop to find that Richard Perle had resigned his post as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. All I can say is, it’s about time. At TPM, we’ve been on Perle’s trail for the DPB shenanigans since early October 2001. But clearly our efforts were just — as the folks in uniform might say — reportorial triple-A compared to the transformational, big munitions Sy Hersh and others brought to bear in recent weeks.
As I said, it’s about time.
Another point. The conventional wisdom right now isn’t really ‘things are going badly.’ It’s more aptly characterized as ‘things sure look like they’re going badly but it’s too soon to know.’ Let’s unpack this for a moment. The specter of Afghanistan is hanging over the reaction to, and reportage of, this war. Back in Afghanistan things looked like we were in for a long, tough, bloody battle. And then suddenly everything broke free. Pundits who had deployed the Q-word (i.e., “quagmire”) too soon felt awfully exposed when the Taliban simply collapsed. No one wants that to happen to them again. So everyone’s keeping their powder dry.
But the Afghanistan experience hangs over this moment in a deeper way too. Back in Afghanistan, the folks at the Joint Staff really wanted to go slower. They wanted to bring up more men, more equipment, the whole bit. But Rumsfeld and his people said ‘no.’ They wanted to move much more quickly, relying on a mix of high-tech weaponry, quick-moving Special Forces operations, indigenous proxy armies, and agile, on-the-fly decision-making.
And something happened: it worked.
When people write the history of these years, I think they’ll place great emphasis on this fact. Rumsfeld and his deputies didn’t need a lot of convincing that they understood military affairs as well as or better than anyone. But this experience greatly emboldened them.
But it did more than embolden them. This part is harder to get at or know. But I think it subtly shook the confidence of some of the folks on the Joint Staff. Rumsfeld went for the Hail Mary pass and, amazingly, Paul Wolfowitz came down with the ball in the end zone.
Of course, this is an over-simplification. But it catches the outlines of what happened. And I think it played a key role on a variety of levels in allowing the Office of the Secretary of Defense to get the Joint Chiefs to go along with an Iraq war plan they were never comfortable with.
We’ll be saying more about this …
Meanwhile, self-parody seems to be the answer to our recent reverses in Mesopotamia.
When I was doing course-work in graduate school I studied a little 19th and early 20th century German history. What always struck me was that “crude Marxism” looked a lot less crude when you looked at it through the prism of late 19th century German history. You had the cartoonish reactionary leaders, the alliance of ancien regime with plutocratic capital. And a foreign military adventure was pretty much always the solution of choice when things looked iffy at home or the Socialists looked set to win a majority in the parliament.
In any case, you can see all sorts of examples now — cropping up everywhere it seems — that we’re heading toward some similar Gotterdammerung of ridiculousness.
I was watching a British military briefing this morning when a reporter asked one of the British generals what he thought of the fact that the running of the port of Umm Qasr has apparently already been raffled off to some American company. The look on his face was priceless. Sort of the Blair tragedy writ small.
Now, we hear that California Congressman Darrell Issa, a major recipient of money from hometown cell phone goliath Qualcomm is lobbying the Pentagon to rewire (rewireless?) Iraq with Qualcomm’s CDMA standard rather than the one now used in the country, GSM, which is preferred by European manufacturers. “Hundreds of thousands of American jobs depend on the success of U.S.-developed wireless technologies like CDMA,” says Issa.
And to think that for a moment I thought we were about to turn Iraq into a parodic banana-republic where favored US campaign contributors got to line up for Iraq-pork!
And speaking of the rather shariah-offending concept of Iraq-pork, at least we’re not going to try to evangelize Iraq by turning over aid distribution to evangelical faith-based organizations from the Bible Belt, right?
Here’s another charmer from the always invaluable Beliefnet. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said yesterday that his organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has an army of relief workers “poised and ready” to roll into Iraq to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the Iraqi people. He’s in constant contact with the US government agencies in Amman to help coordinate efforts.
Graham says that he knows he can’t just whip out the good book and start preaching the gospel in an Arab country. But “I believe as we work,” said Graham, “God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son… We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ.”
That should go over well.
I mean, it’s not like the Muslim Arabs have a chip on their shoulder or anything about the Christian West launching a new crusade against them to reclaim Arabia for the cross. So it shouldn’t be any problem.
In all seriousness, obviously the US can’t bar anybody with a Christian affiliation from doing relief work in Iraq. But optics seems to be the issue here. The American president is a deeply-believing born-again Christian. He’s closely associated with Franklin Graham. Graham has repeatedly called Islam a “wicked” religion. And now Graham’s missionaries are coming in behind US tanks invading Iraq.
If the Arab world had electronic media that tended toward sensationalism and inflammatory coverage this could really be a problem …
Hope is not a plan, as the Army planners say. And they say it for a reason …
Here is our text for the day. It comes from an interview last evening on PBS’s Newshour, when Gwen Ifill asked retired Colonel Samuel Gardiner whether the momentum of the campaign could be sustained. Gardiner said …
No. I just want to add a political military dimension. Yesterday a very important thing happened. Two retired four-star generals: Wes Clark and Barry McCaffrey, who was a division commander in the first Gulf War, said we don’t have enough force. Whether they are right or not, the leadership of the United States has a problem. And that is if we go to Baghdad with two divisions and there are losses, that’s regime change kind of stuff. And I don’t mean Baghdad regime change. But you don’t send American men and women into battle without all it takes to do that. I mean, that’s a very serious thing.
Now, a few points. I know Gardiner was only talking about changes of government at the ballot box but I’m still always a bit uncomfortable when even retired military men talk publicly about US governments being turned out because of poor military decisions. I didn’t like it under Clinton; and I don’t like it now. Retired military officers have as much right to speak out as the rest of us. But given the importance of civilian supremacy over the military, there’s a penumbra of prudence that stretches over the public comments of even retired career officers. (Late Update: My criticism, if there is any, is not directed at McCaffrey and Clark. I think it’s not only right but incumbent on them to speak out. My only point is that, in the case of Gardiner, it may be the better part of wisdom for retired career officers to speak out against bad defense policy but leave spelling out the political consequences to others. Again, a mild, tentative criticism, but one that I think worth voicing.)
Having said that, his comments get at a very big issue and one that may have profound political implications. War is, by definition, unpredictable. But what we’re seeing right now was predicted. The predictions were just ignored.
Relations between the Pentagon’s civilian political leadership and the uniformed services has been more vexed and acrimonious in the last two years than it has been for decades. (I discussed this at greater length in this article I wrote last August in Salon — you can also see it here — and touched on part of the debate in this earlier post.) The disagreements range over a number of issues including war-planning, ‘transformation,’ force structure and military-diplomatic relations with various countries across the world. At heart, however, the civilians believed the folks in uniform were overly conservative, risk-averse and failed to understand how technology had transformed modern warfare.
Don Rumsfeld (and Rumsfeld, in this case, stands for Rumsfeld and his various civilian deputies) thought Saddam Hussein could be taken down with a relatively small number of ground forces in conjunction with fast-moving and agile high-tech air power and special forces. (Keep in mind that the Pentagon’s civilian leadership originally wanted to mount this war with as few as a quarter of the troops we now have in the theater.) The Sec Def’s military advisors told him he was sending them into Iraq under-gunned. They argued about it for months. Rumsfeld thought he knew better than they did, however, and sent them in that way regardless of their objections.
We’ll be saying more about this. And I think it’s still to soon to fully evaluate Rumsfeld’s plan. Perhaps Saddam’s regime will collapse spectacularly in the coming days. But at the moment the results of Rumsfeld’s gamble are not looking very good.
P.S. Special thanks to valued TPM reader BZ for sending the Newshour link …
The uncomfortable reality is that presidents have often deceived the American public to pull the country into wars or extensive military engagements. FDR said he was trying to keep us out of World War II, even as he courted a conflict with the Axis powers, which he believed both necessary and unavoidable. History has judged him well. LBJ manufactured an incident to get us into Vietnam. Eventually it destroyed him. When President Clinton put American troops into Bosnia he claimed they’d only be there for a year, even though everyone knew they’d be there much longer. The verdict there has been generally positive, though more time needs to pass for a definitive verdict. There are many other examples both before and since.
Yet what the Bush administration has done and is doing is, I believe, qualitatively different from these and other examples both before and since. In each of these other cases the public had some sense of what war was being debated. Do we get into another world war based in Europe? Do we get into Vietnam the way we got into Korea? Do we sign on for a murky and perhaps unpredictable period of military oversight in the Balkans? Presidents may have lied about the costs of war or the pretexts. But there was at least some sense of what sort of war we were talking about.
That’s not the case here.
This war isn’t really about Iraq or deposing Saddam or even eliminating his WMD, though each of those are important benefits along the way. Nor is it something so mundane as a ‘war for oil.’ The leading architects of this war in and out of the administration see this war, and have pursued it, as an opening blow in a far broader war against political Islam. They see it as the first in a series of wars and near-wars which will lead eventually to the overthrow of most of the current governments in the Middle East, the establishment of western-oriented democracies throughout the Arab world, and the destruction of nothing less than the political world of Islamic fundamentalism.
That, as you might say, is a rather tall order. And it would have been very hard for the administration to sell the American people on such a struggle. So it didn’t try. It pushed rather to get us into Iraq, knowing that if it went about the process in the right way it would make a further series of wars against Iran, Syria and perhaps lower-level hostilities against Saudi Arabia and Egypt all but inevitable.
As Jeffrey Bell put it last week in The Weekly Standard, this is nothing less than a “world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism … a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future.”
In any case, I’ve tried to sketch this out and put together the various ideas and aims involved, in the cover piece of the soon-to-be-released new issue of the Washington Monthly. The piece was finished on, I think, the first day of the war. But events have been moving so quickly that we’ve decided to preview release it on the Monthly’s website. You can read “Practice to Deceive” here.
This is something the Bush administration has been doing for months now. We’re extremely powerful. But we’re not all-powerful. Almost, but not quite.
An example of such over-reach is our current decision to threaten almost every country on the planet with payback for not following our lead on Iraq. Such threats aren’t just ill-advised. Worse than that, they lack credibility since we’re just not in a position to stick it to every country at once. Here at TPM we’ve been focusing on Turkey. But Dan Drezner has an excellent post on another country we’re now threatening with payback: Canada … (Drezner’s post plays off this article in The Globe and Mail.)
On a similar note, there is an article today by Michael Ledeen in the New York Sun, which blames the French for the failure of our diplomacy with the Turks. (The article isn’t available online.) As I noted in my column in The Hill, the argument that Turkish Islamism is at fault is belied by the fact that the secularist, Kemalist deputies in the Turkish parliament voted against us by a far greater proportion than the ‘Islamic’ deputies. Ledeen says this happened because the French and the Germans threatened the Turks (i.e., the pro-Western secularists) with exclusion from the European Union if they went along with us. Ledeen lards the piece with several throwaway lines which are as meaningless as they are foolish. He says for instance that we’ll eventually find out “that French actions constitute the diplomatic equivalent of chemical and biological warfare.”
(What does this mean? If one wants a little shock value, shouldn’t the insults at least make some logical sense?)
Now, I have a few responses to this. First, Ledeen doesn’t proffer a lot of evidence for this claim, merely unnamed sources. But, frankly, I don’t doubt that they did make such threats. Perhaps they did; perhaps they didn’t. Yet, Occam’s Razor would suggest that it may not have played that decisive a role. No one in Turkey supported our war in Iraq. No one. Given that the secularists are out of government and not particularly inclined to help the Erdogan government, I don’t think they needed a lot of encouragement to vote this way. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense.
There’s a second problem with Ledeen’s argument. The Erdogan government has shown that it is also extremely eager for EU admittance. Why didn’t the threat work better with them?
The long and the short of it is that one doesn’t have to look too far past the Turkish borders to explain what happened.
But let’s assume for a moment that the French and Germans did level this threat. And that it had some effect. Far from being exculpatory of Bush administration diplomacy, it’s actually quite damning.
The centerpiece of the Bush administration’s strategic doctrine has been that alliances and international institutions hinder our ability to secure our vital interests far more than they advance it. Thus, they argue, we should chart our own course and invite the ‘willing’ to follow us or get out of the way. The subtext of that strategy is that if this or that country doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not ours.
Their opponents said, no. Our alliances help us shape international debates and catalyze our power rather than diminish it. What’s more, even with all our power, our isolation is our problem too. If true, France’s threat to the Turks is a textbook example of this fact.
France has never made peace with American dominance in Europe. What they’ve heretofore lacked was a constituency among the countries of Europe to work against that dominance. Now they have it. And France is a big player in … well, what else to call it, an alliance, the EU, which Turkey would really like to become a part of. If no more than French perfidy were involved here, France’s threat would carry little weight. France doesn’t run the EU. On the contrary, if the Turks think that the French are now speaking for most of the populations of Europe, the threat could be quite real. As we noted here, opportunists will always arise to exploit an exploitable situation. But we created a situation ripe for exploitation.
It’s sad and undignified for conservatives to trumpet the evidence of the administration’s shortsightedness and incompetence as evidence of its insight. They’re lost in a tangle of their own enthusiasm and self-deception. Unfortunately, we’re all along for the ride.
Thank god for small favors. At least there’s some good news on the Turkish front this morning. Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, head of the Turkish General Staff and de facto arbiter of Turkish civilian governments, said today that — barring a massive deterioration of the situation in Northern Iraq — he will not send troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. That staves off one truly nightmarish scenario.
Yet look a bit further down in the article and you see a deeply revealing comment from Gen. Ozkok.
I have difficulty understanding those who claim there is a threat to them across the ocean. And when Turkey says the same threat exists on the other side of its border, this is found to be unbelievable.
What answer can we make to this?
It’s difficult to fully grasp the deeper import of this remark without some sense of how deeply pro-Western and, more specifically, pro-American an institution the Turkish General Staff is. These are notes of resentment being sounded by our most loyal friends — in the region, or anywhere for that matter.
My column in The Hill this week is on the Turks and the rise on the American right of a foolish, dangerous and utterly self-serving argument which holds that our problems with Turkey are due not to our own high-handed incompetence but rather to rising Turkish Islamic fundamentalism. The people who make this argument are either liars, utterly ignorant, or folks who are so unwilling to confront the reality of what’s happened in Turko-American relations over the last three months that they’ve just willingly spun themselves. As I write toward the end of my new piece in The Hill …
The Bush administration acted toward Turkey like the stereotypical rogue from a 1950s B-Movie. First we told Turkey what we wanted. When she balked, we got a little rough. When even that didnât do the trick, we pulled out our wallet, saying in essence, âFine, how much do you want?â When even cash failed, we told her to get out of the car and walk home.
This just gets uglier and uglier. And the costs keep rising.
Neil MacFarquhar has a fascinating and disturbing article in Wednesday’s New York Times. The upshot of the piece is that almost everybody in the Arab world hates Saddam. But many are also energized and inspired by seeing Saddam’s troops make problems for the US-UK invasion force. “They want Saddam Hussein to go and they expect him to go eventually, but they want him to hold on a little longer because they want to teach the Americans a lesson,” says a Saudi newspaper editor.
What echoes through this piece and others in the papers this morning is the simple possibility — never really appreciated by the more zealous Iraq hawks — that people could hate Saddam and yet also fail to happily greet our invasion. (Saddam is a tyrant ergo we must be right and we must be welcome.) Equally so, few of them ever seemed to grasp that the Bush administration’s long litany of indifference to world opinion on almost every issue imaginable might have some impact.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that an alternative approach would necessarily have made the Iraqis act differently. It’s just that the administration seems to have premised its entire geopolitical and military strategy on the notion that they would.
The quote came in response to a question from the floor, asking how many casualties the American public would be willing to endure and still support the war in Iraq. This was the heart of his response …
I think it all depends how the war goes. And I think the level of causalities is secondary. It may sound like an odd thing to say. But all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people. And that we love war. And one of my favorite comments on American character, which is Patton’s speech at the beginning of the movie, where he says “Americans love war. We love fighting. We’ve always fought. We enjoy it. We’re good at it. And so forth.” What we hate is not casualties but losing. And if the war goes well, and if the American public has the conviction that we’re being well-led, and that our people are fighting well, and that we’re winning, I don’t think causalities are gonna be the issue.
If the American public gets the idea that we’re doing poorly, that we’re badly led, that the war plan is inferior, that we’re being outmaneuvered, outwitted and our guys are dying on behalf of a losing cause, then the American people will turn against it. And that’s the usual rule.
Interestingly, in the neo-conservative circles in which he runs, Ledeen is known not so much as an Iraq-hawk, but rather as an Iran-hawk.
I’ll put together a verbatim transcript later this afternoon. But two points struck me from Michael Ledeen’s comments from this morning at AEI. The first was his argument that Americans are a “warlike people” who have a high tolerance for casualties so long as they’re well-led and fighting in a just cause. He referenced the speech from the beginning of the movie Patton — you know, the one where Patton’s standing in front of the big American flag.
The other point was on the definition of terrorism. Ledeen argued that the record of the war thus far has confirmed Saddam’s practice of terrorism. His point was a reference to the Iraqis’ practice of having soldiers try to blend in with civilians by taking off their uniforms and putting on civilian clothes, false surrenders, ambushes, and stuff like this.
Now, I don’t defend this stuff for a minute. These are clear violations of the rules of war. But this isn’t ‘terrorism.’ It’s called guerrilla warfare. And guerrilla fighters, almost by definition, seldom follow the rules of war. This is something that’s almost always practiced — for better or worse — by forces that are vastly outnumbered by their opponents.
It’s amazing that anyone would not have expected that, and disingenuous to class it as terrorism.
Nothing seems as important right now as the possibility of a civilian uprising in Basra. If it plays like the hawks have long predicted it would, it would prove a major victory for the whole military endeavor.
Here’s the key, as I see it, to the current situation. Nothing that has happened is really that troubling from a purely military point of view. The US-UK forces have advanced to the edge of Baghdad in just a few days. This isn’t really good or bad, really. As we’ve noted before, the story will be told when we fight for Baghdad itself.
The problem isn’t with the military strategy. It’s rather that what we’ve seen so far on the military side of the equation has thrown into some doubt our political strategy.
We can subdue Iraq militarily. That’s really not a question. But if we have to subdue it in that sense our political strategy will be in a shambles. The strategy which the administration is following amounts to a grand politico-diplomatic carom shot. We can ignore the protests from around the world, they argue, because we assume that when we’ve finished with our plan the results will prove our diplomatic opponents wrong.
In other words, if we get into Iraq and we find tons of WMD and the Iraqis are praising us to the stars for liberating them, then France and Germany and Russia will have egg on their face. It really won’t matter how much they griped on the way in because we’ll be retrospectively justified. And with a pro-American Iraqi civilian population we’ll go about setting up a democratic polity which will be the envy of the Arab world.
On the other hand, if we have something more like an angry and restive civilian population, then, from a political standpoint, we’re really up the creek. We won’t have happy Iraqis making our case for us to the world community. And it will be very hard for us to set up a democratic government while we’re ruling the place with our fists.
The real outcome will almost certainly fall between these two extremes. But the Bush administration’s approach to changing the regime in Baghdad banked almost everything on a picture perfect response from the Iraqi people.
This reminds of a phrase they repeat over and over again in the Army: “Hope is not a plan.”
I just got back from a briefing from what we might call — with a nod to the Civil War lexicon — the Army of the Potomac. That is, the key regime-change boosters from the DC foreign policy establishment. This morning at the American Enterprise Institute, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and James Woolsey gave a briefing on the progress of the war. I’m going to write more about this later this evening. But I thought I’d write a little now from my filing station here at Starbucks just to give my first impressions.
To the extent there was any second-guessing it was from Ledeen, who said it was a bad idea to have “made the battle for Iraq almost entirely a military battle when there were so many political elements operating in our favor…” This is something we may be hearing a lot more of — basically, the neos saying we should have taken the US military-cum-‘Iraqi opposition’ approach.
There was some discussion of the much broader conflict or war of which Iraq is supposed to be only the first battle. But of that, more later.
Speaking in strictly military terms, it’s far too soon to say how this war is going or how good a strategy the US is pursuing. But there is one man in particular who comes to mind whose professional reputation very much rides on the outcome. His name is Eliot Cohen and he’s the author of a much-discussed book called Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime.
The thesis of Eliot’s book is that the best wartime leaders are those who heavily involve themselves in military planning. They don’t just leave it to the generals. They question and prod and, when needed — and that’s fairly often — overrule them. A key premise of Cohen’s argument is that generals and admirals are often overly risk-averse, trapped in the thinking of the last war, and sometimes overly devoted to the institutional agendas of their particular service.
Any quick description of a book will to some degree be an over-simplification. But this captures the main outlines of Cohen’s argument.
The book made a big splash in Washington policy circles. And what made the book so important was that it provided grist for a debate which was going on in Washington last year between the Pentagon’s civilian political appointees and those in uniform.
Was Rumsfeld and Co. right to tell the Joint Chiefs how to do their business? Were the staff officers on the Joint Staff just too unimaginative or maybe just too afraid of taking casualties? Did the uniforms really grasp the impact of new technology on the conduct of war? Or did the folks in uniform maybe know something that Rumsfeld and Co. didn’t?
For those who supported Rumsfeld and Co., Cohen’s book provided much-needed ammunition. If you didn’t want to fight a war in Iraq the way the military wanted to fight it, Cohen provided a reading of history which justified ignoring a lot of the career officers’ advice.
That debate is now coming back with a vengeance as a lot of retired Army commanders are coming forward with a big “I told you so.” (For a number of reasons, this debate centered most heavily on the Army.) This second-guessing from retired generals isn’t coming from nowhere. They’ve been saying this for 18 months. And the degree of tension and acrimony in that debate became quite intense. (I discussed some of this in an article about civilian-military relations at the Pentagon last year in Salon.)
The Pentagon’s political appointees were buoyed by the progress of the war in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld and Co. pressed the uniformed services to adopt a much more rapid and aggressive approach than they wanted to take. And it worked. By the early spring of last year, in part because of the success in Afghanistan and the discussion generated by Cohen’s book, it had become conventional wisdom in certain circles in Washington that the career officers at the Pentagon were really just a bunch of fuddy-duddies who needed to be told what to do.
That’s the backdrop to retired Army General Barry McCaffrey’s remarks yesterday to Reuters. McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Infantry Division in the first Gulf War, was asked whether he thought Don Rumsfeld had misjudged the nature of this war, particularly by sending in the Americans without enough force on the ground …
Yes, sure. I think everybody told him that … I think he thought these were U.S. generals with their feet planted in World War II that didn’t understand the new way of warfare.
There’s a lot more to tell here. (One part of the story is Rumsfeld’s practice of appointing military leaders who are not known for standing up to, or giving bad news to, their civilian superiors.) But if it does turn out that we don’t have enough men and materiel on the ground in Iraq, that’s the direction this debate is going to go.
Here’s another post for the foreign policy incompetence file. As we’ve noted here several times before, the administration thought muscling the Turks would pay off for the United States — a strategy that backfired terribly. I don’t even think I imagined, however, they’d be this clumsy. Buried in the last graf of this article in Saturday’s Washington Post comes this …
But one senior U.S. official acknowledged that U.S. pressure in recent months has backfired, saying that at one point Pentagon officials insinuated to Turkish politicians that they could get the Turkish military to back the request for U.S. troop deployments in Turkey. “It was stupid stuff. These are proud people,” he said. “Speaking loudly and carrying a big stick wins you tactical victories from time to time, but not a strategic victory.”
The backdrop here is that the military pushed out an Islamist government only a few years back. Going over the civilians’ heads to the Turkish General Staff would inevitably raise the spectre of a repeat of those events.
It’s the sort of tough guy tactics that’s worked for the Bushies at home but failed miserably abroad.
What I wouldn’t give to know who at the Pentagon tried this? Could someone with the initials HR possibly be involved? And who’s the “senior U.S. official” who said this to the Post? What I wouldn’t give …
Special thanks to TPM Reader JW for bringing this article to my attention.
Looking over the day’s news, my strongest impression is a curious sort of deja vu. Military planners have been thinking this through for years. And when I spoke to a number of them last year to write an article about a war against Iraq, I tried to draw them out on precisely this issue. What will be easy? Which parts will be hard? Which parts of doing this worry you the most?
Most everyone agreed that we’d roll up the south pretty quickly. (Despite all the rough news of the last couple days, that’s pretty much been borne out.) And then we’d come up to Baghdad with a massive coalition army. And then the big question would be answered. Would the regime fold? Or would Saddam have enough loyal Republican Guards to pull us into a really ugly fight for Baghdad?
That’s always been the question and it looks like we’re about to learn the answer.
This was always the question that worried military planners. I also did my best to put this question to the more zealous hawks.
Jim Woolsey was pretty straightforward. He thought we might possibly avoid a pitched battle for Baghdad, but thought the possibility was very real and that such a confrontation would be very bloody. This from my interview with Woolsey last April …
It could well end up that Baghdad will be a big battle … This could be a bloody and very bad thing … It may be that the uprising will spread even among the Republican Guards and he’ll lose out very quickly. But I think we would have to count on having to fight for Baghdad …And that could be a bloody undertaking. But it was a bloody undertaking to fight the Battle of the Bulge and for the Russians to take Berlin in 1945 and I don’t really see any alternative.
Richard Perle was a good deal more cagey. I had a very hard time pinning him down on what would happen if Saddam’s government didn’t collapse before we got to Baghdad, or for that matter really any of the serious downside possibilities. He never seemed to accept the premise. This from my interview with him, also from last April …
I don’t think you have to go to Baghdad. At least it’s not certain that you have to. I think if you’ve initiated activities, or at least his opponents have in the north and the south, he either accepts the loss of that territory — which I think he is loathe to do — or he sends that same Republican Guard out to try to reverse the situation. And when he does it is exceedingly vulnerable to American air power.
[At this point, I asked Perle why Saddam would ignore textbook military doctrine which would counsel him to fight on ground on which he was least vulnerable, i.e., in Baghdad. I also pressed him on the necessity of having some plan in place if Saddam didn’t fold or send his Republican Guards out to meet us on the barren desert.]
Well, first of all, his revenues would shrivel, which is to say he would have none. His ports in the south would be gone. What does he do? Just hold up in a palace near Baghdad? Try to assert authority over the country as a whole or does he accept that he now rules the Baghdad area but that’s all? I think we can put him in a situation where he’s got to try to assert authority over his own territory. And when he does he’s highly vulnerable, his forces are highly vulnerable. There are other ways of doing this. It’s certainly not up to me to decide what strategy we pursue. But I think there are strategies that do not entail an inevitable result on Baghdad.
Soon enough, this will cease to be a matter of conjecture.
Over the weekend, I’ve only been able to keep up on press reports sporadically. But what caught my eye over the last two days was the failure to take the southern city of Basra. It made me think that things weren’t going quite as well as the initial reports implied.
Now, in this case, it’s very important to give some context to words like ‘failure’ or things going better or worse than expected. Over the last year I’ve spoken to many US military planners. And what’s happened so far seems well within the range of what they considered expected outcomes. It’s only that the best case scenario does not so far seem to be materializing.
Let’s take Basra first. Part of the lightning approach the US is following here is to set everything aside in pursuit of getting to Baghdad and decapitating the regime. On that thinking, it’s fine just to seal off Basra — and its military capabilities — and move on to Baghdad. One needs to be sure that it’s sufficiently secured so as not to allow Iraqi units to circle back and attack the relatively vulnerable US supply lines on the way to Baghdad. But that’s probably not too big a worry. The Iraqi Army’s real bite, if it has one, is going to be in defensive actions, particularly in urban settings. The issue is not that Basra’s resistance is a problem in itself. It’s what it may portend for Baghdad, Tikrit and other Iraqi cities.
Basra is in heavily Shi’a southern Iraq. And it’s garrisoned by the regime’s least reliable troops. So if the regime’s military were going to fold quickly or be overwhelmed by restive civilians, you’d expect it to be there. The fact that it hasn’t makes it much less likely that that sort of happy outcome will happen in Sunni central Iraq, among the Special Republican Guards, Saddam’s Tikriti tribesmen, and others closely associated with the regime. In short, Saddam seems to have a good number of troops who are willing to fight and die for what appears to be a doomed regime.
Here’s a key passage from an article in today’s Washington Post …
The Iraqis holding out in Basra are members of the Iraqi army’s 51st Division, not the elite Republican Guard who have been moved to defend Baghdad and were expected to put up the stiffest resistance the U.S.-led invasion. That regular soldiers have stood so long and fought has surprised some who were predicting that Basra could be taken on the first day of fighting, to provide the American-led coalition a quick victory and deliver an early psychological blow to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Now, the failure of a rapid capitulation in Basra doesn’t necessarily mean the Basrans want to fight the US soldiers. It may mean there is a sprinkling of Republican Guards and still-fearsome security forces in the city who have been able to keep a reign of terror in place which has prevented any slide toward capitulation. In a sense, though, the fact is more important than the ‘why.’
This is why the uniformed military wanted to do this operation with a massive number of US troops (as we do have there now) rather than pursuing the so-called ‘Afghan model.’ It was always possible that the regime would just fold. But if it didn’t, they wanted to have on hand overwhelming force to crush such resistance very quickly.
Inspiring, chilling, haunting words out of one of the first towns of liberated Iraq …
All through the day here, as American and British tanks and troop carriers rumbled through the town on their drive on the nearby city of Basra, the town of Safwan seemed to celebrate the collapse of Mr. Hussein’s local rule with a glance over its shoulder.
Only hours before, they said, the Mukhabarat, Mr. Hussein’s security force, had held Safwan in a state of near permanent terror. Even now, the villagers said, Mr. Hussein’s agents were still among them, waiting, as they did twelve years ago, for their moment to return.
“There, there are Saddam’s men, and if you leave me they will kill me right now,” said a trembling Najah Neema, an Iraqi soldier, who said he had torn off his uniform and thrown down his gun and ran away as the American army approached at dawn.
Like many townspeople here, Mr. Neema feared that the Americans would lose their will, as they had in 1991, when an American-encouraged uprising across southern Iraq fell before a withering assault by Mr. Hussein’s regime that drew no American riposte.
This from a late article by Dexter Filkins in the Times …
Well, I was ambling through Union Square in New York City this afternoon when I happened across an ANSWER rally against the war. I stopped and listened long enough to hear about US support for the feudal conditions in Saudi Arabia and the grand educational opportunities for women in Iraq. I guess this is one of those cases of running afoul of that whole ‘the truth, THE WHOLE TRUTH, and nothing but the truth’ thing.
A few points. What’s most striking about this war so far is the extremely heavy reliance on multifaceted psychological warfare and propaganda. Every war uses psywar as one of its elements, but seldom I think has it been so integral to the effort. This whole effort about the fate of Saddam is of course a key point. For the US, if he’s dead, great. If the US can get the word out that he might be dead, also great — since it spreads doubt about the power of the regime. If the US can coax Saddam out into the open to prove he’s alive, that’s still good — since it gets him out in the open for the US to take another hit at him.
A similar logic applies to all this talk about on-going surrender negotiations with elements of the Iraqi army.
Tony Karon at Time.com has a nice, short piece on this issue.
Now, some more from the TPM archives. Last year when I was reporting the article on Iraq that I wrote in the Washington Monthly, I interviewed General Najib al-Salhi, head of the Iraqi Free Officers Movement, an exile who now lives in Washington DC. In one portion of our interview, from last May, he argued that Saddam had actually been able to convince many around him that US, privately, actually wanted him to stay in power. The mix of my transcription of the interview, combined with the fact that Salhi was speaking through a translator, makes the text a bit choppy. But I think the gist comes through …
They are waiting for a chance from outside so they can revolt against him. Saddam also makes propaganda with his own republican guard. “Don’t worry about what you see on TV” [he tells them] “I have a special relationship with the US. I am very strong with them. They want me to stay as leader of Iraq, don’t pay attention to all of this, this is just propaganda. Even today America wants me to stay as leader, I have a special relationship, quietly.” People really believed in that â¦ [But] after a few of those statements President Bush [made], people started doubting if there is that special relationship. That is the crack. [But they did believe he had that special relationship with the US] â¦ “I’m here to protect the US interests in the region. The Arabian countries and Iran â¦ I have been told to attack other Arab countries and to put them in their place. I am here as the protector of the US interests in the region. Just ignore what you see on TV and in the media.” [Then others in Saddam’s circle say] “We’ve heard this for the past ten or twelve years. When they got him out of Kuwait, they didn’t do anything. Don’t waste your time. He’s gonna stay there until such time until the interests of the US is finished with him.”
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.
There seems to be a few folks who misunderstood (perhaps willfully?) my earlier post about resolution 1441. I never said the US violated resolution 1441 — the one passed unanimously by the Security Council several months ago — by going to war. What I said is that 1441 gives no sanction for the attack, since the countries then on the Security Council were quite clear that 1441 could only be enforced by another vote of the Security Council. The US made it very clear it reserved the right to opt out of the Security Council process altogether — which it eventually did — if the Security Council later acted in a way that the US administration did not deem serious. The US has that right. Some folks don’t think we have that right. I think we do. I just don’t think it was wise in this case.
In any case, declaring a contingent intention to opt out of the UN process is, by definition, not a part of the UN process. If there’s anyone who doesn’t grasp this, I’ve got some square pegs and round holes I’d like you to take a stab at.
Now James Taranto over at the Wall Street Journal says my “hair-splitting legal analysis completely ignores Resolution 678 of Nov. 29, 1990, which authorized U.N. member states ‘to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.'”
Now, I’m all for fig leaves in their place. We used one in Kosovo, if I recall correctly. And I’m glad we did. But let’s know a fig leaf when we see one. For conservatives to hang this on 678 in any serious sense is sad and unseemly. Better just to have the courage of your own unilateralism — since unilateralism has its place — rather than resort to this sort of feeble caviling.
If you want to read a truly cartoonish column, I’ve got one for you. It’s a piece by Daniel Pipes in yesterday’s New York Post. Pipes argues that “the Left” really doesn’t care that much about 9/11 and is actually quite admiring of Osama bin Laden since his outburst is the sign of a new global proletariat rising up to overthrow the United States. The same apparently applies to Saddam. “The Left takes to the streets to assure [Saddam’s] survival, indifferent both to the fate of Iraqis and even to their own safety, clutching instead at the hope that this monster will somehow bring socialism closer.” Who knew?
One of the nice things about having a blog is the ability to expand on points you’ve made in a more formally structured article or column. So let me expand a bit on my column in the current edition of The Hill. The piece says that we’re missing a key point about what made the democratic transformations of Japan and Germany successful: the vast mauling of the civilian populations that took place prior to the war.
Now, let me touch on a few points. A few people seem to think I’m saying we should kill more Iraqis in order to get good democracies. I think it’s pretty obvious that’s not what I’m saying. A few other folks seemed to think I was arguing that suffering under carpet bombing somehow inculcates a democratic, pluralistic sensibility. Thus one reader tried to disprove my point by noting that Eastern Europe’s civilian population had it even worse than most parts of Germany and they ended up being run by Communist dictatorships. Not what I mean. Yet another idea was that I was saying that too many of the militarists were dead to reconstitute themselves. Again, not what I’m saying.
In any case, this column seems to have generated a lot of attention, so let me say a little more …
What got me thinking about this was actually a section of my dissertation, or rather an argument that runs all the way through it. That is, the conditioning effect both of overwhelming violence and also violence used as a weapon of terror. What happened back in New England back in 17th century is obviously very far afield from what we’re talking about today. Equally so, from what happened in Germany and Japan sixty years ago. Still, there are parallels. Just as shattering violence affects people, it affects whole peoples, busting up the basic assumptions and givens in a society that usually prevent thoroughgoing change.
We normally think of people reacting to violence in a rational manner. So, for instance, when you hit them they either hit back or decide you’re too strong and just decide to obey. But certain experiences of violence are so total that the reaction transcends either of these ‘rational’ reactions. It leads to something more like, well … shock and awe. And not just for a few moments or a few days.
There’s an additional point we might add. In a very general sense we can say that the wartime governments in both Germany and Japan were run by dominant but not-previously-unchallenged factions in these countries’ political orders. Basically, in each case, the authoritarian, aggressively militarist parts of the country were in the saddle. The Nazis certainly cannot be equated with Germany’s older blood-and-iron Bismarckian tradition. But there were deep affinities between the two. And something similar, at least at a very general level, applied in Japan — though I know much less about Japan’s pre-war history.
These forces led both countries to utter ruin. And in both cases, the result was a profound discreditation of those forces in the respective societies, in addition to a profound malleability and openness to transformation. That result, or that perception, was mediated by our subsequent denazification programs and also a degree of moral realization of the evils committed by those regimes.
Those situations are different from Iraq because large segments of the populations of Germany and Japan were deeply supportive of these regimes — at least at the outset — whereas almost no one thinks Saddam Hussein has any real following in Iraq behind his security services and cronies. Whether they want their country remade by us is an open question.
One final point, some people have made the point that the Iraqi people already have lived through a profound mauling, in the form of Saddam’s rule and twelve years of UN sanctions. On Saddam’s rule, there’s no doubt that’s been a horrible mauling. How it will play out in the context of democratization, I’m not sure. As for sanctions, though, I don’t think it counts in this case. My reading of analogous cases tells me that grinding hardship — as opposed to shattering violence — produces rage and resentment rather than the sort of transformative openness to change you had in post-war Germany and Japan.
We’ll talk more about this later.
There are hawks of war, dogs of war and, alas, as always, the jackals of war. You can see them coming with their lazy eyes, cackling grins, bloody lips and long teeth. The eve of war is literally an electric time, pregnant with fear, hope, edgy eagerness, uncertainty and manic energy. You’ll always find people who want to grab some of that swirling energy and exploit it for some cynical purpose. Like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, it would seem.
As you know, a few days ago Senate Minority Tom Daschle told a union audience that he regretted that the president had “failed so miserably at diplomacy that weâre now forced to war.”
This was an uncharacteristically frank remark from a congressional leader on the eve of war. But it has the saving grace of being true — which is always a nice thing. I don’t know that better diplomacy would have avoided war. But it’s unquestionably true that the president’s repeated diplomatic foul-ups, goofs and course-corrections got us into a very bad situation and forced us into war on a very poor geo-political footing. I’m extremely happy to see that Daschle has crisply refused to retreat from that statement one bit.
That is especially so in the face of opportunistic grabs from across the aisle. There have been all manner of nasty comments from Republicans, criticizing Daschle, calling on him to apologize, and so forth. And that’s fine. Anyone can criticize, just as Daschle has criticized the president. (We won’t even get into the fact that many of these self-same Republicans said almost identical things when Bill Clinton sent American troops into battle.) But then comes Dennis Hastert, head of operations in the other body, who says that Daschle’s “comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close.”
Like I said, he’s pulling some of that awful energy out of the air and using it to score a few cheap points — the Speaker of the House suggesting that the Democratic leader in the other body may be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Almost needless to say, Senator Daschle is a Vietnam-era vet, Air Force intelligence, if I remember correctly. Hastert, during the same years, was otherwise occupied.
This is a delicate subject. But now seems like the time to broach it. As we move toward trying to democratize Iraq we often think of Japan and Germany. But I think we miss a key element in what allowed those experiments in democratization to be a success: how many Japanese and German civilians had died during the war. That’s what my column this week in The Hill is about.
Why is the New York Times calling Bill Frist “Dr.Frist” in its regular news coverage of the Senate Majority Leader? He has a medical degree. He used to work as a doctor. I’m sure he’s saved many lives. But doesn’t this sound like something that comes right out of the good doctor’s communications department?
I did a little hunting around on Nexis. And it seems like the Times started using the “Dr.” a bunch more after he got the top job. But the Post and the LA Times and Roll Call and most other publications just call him the more appropriate “Mr.Frist.”
Maybe he’s got something on Howell Raines?
Some miscellaneous thoughts. As long-time readers know, the posts have been a bit more sparse for the last three or four months. And the reason has been that I’ve been preparing the final draft of my dissertation manuscript. And tonight I finished it. That doesn’t mean the whole thing is done. It still needs to be approved and revised and defended and other miscellaneous stuff. But it’s a big hump. So I’m sitting here with a few moments free for the first time in months it seems like and looking at the news over the wires about the imminence of war. It’s a weird mix of feelings.
I was just reading several articles in the Washington Post about what’s going on in Iraq right now. And they have an interesting piece about how everyone is stocking up on guns. In public, they say they’re buying them to fight the Americans. The reality is that everyone wants to be armed when things go crazy and the looting and the vengeance and the mayhem starts.
It made me think of a conversation I had when I was writing my first article about Iraq almost a year ago now. The conversation was with a retired career military officer with a lot of experience working the Iraq file at the Pentagon and, let’s say, in other parts of the world. One of the lines that stuck with me from that interview was how he described what will happen when the cork is finally popped on the extreme repression Saddam has held this country under. These are from my notes of the interview …
Changing the regime is not the biggest problem. It’s what happens afterwards â¦ you’re dealing with an uncontrollable event … the physical analogy to Saddam Hussein’s regime is a steel beam in compression. This is an extremely repressive regime. Even to say those words doesn’t do it justice. When it breaks … it’ll give off absolutely no sign at all that it’s about to fail … [and then] Ka-Wammo! And it just goes crazy. That what’s gonna happen here. You may have control over how the things start … There are a variety of ways to do [it] … You may have a horse you’re going in with. But that guy isn’t gonna survive first contact.
This isn’t pro-war or anti-war. It’s just a sense of what this place is like or about to be like. When we talked further about this, one of the subjects that came up again and again was revenge. So many bad things have happened for such a long time that you’re just going to have tons of people out for blood and revenge when the secret police or their families or their cronies or whomever suddenly lose all their power. It’s going to be daunting. And a hell of a situation to control. Like he said, a steel beam under compression.
The White House put out a list of 30 countries that constitute our ‘coalition of the willing.’ The presence of Montenegro on the list doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. But then I saw that the list includes Turkey. What am I missing? Turkey? They’re part of our coalition?
And as long we’re on the subject, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain announced today before his parliament that Spain would send no troops to fight alongside the US in Iraq. I’m not sure what I think about that. “Spain will not participate in any attack or offensive missions … As a result, there will not be any Spanish troops in the theater of operations.” He did say, however, that if Turkey is attacked he will mobilize the Spanish Air Force. There’s only so much levity that’s appropriate at a moment like this. But this one pretty much comes with the levity already installed.
At this point, obviously I hope this goes quickly and as cleanly as possible. Getting rid of Saddam will be a very good thing as will getting rid of his WMD and ambitions to get more. I was long for something like this. I changed my position because in the course of moving in this direction we incurred an even greater risk to our security than Saddam himself was. Clearly, though, that conversation is over. The one bright sign today was watching Tony Blair, who remains an inspiration.
For people who oppose this war I strongly recommend moving on from it in this very specific sense. This war is about to happen. But there are still two very important issues that hang in the balance that deserve serious attention. The first, though more long-term, is the necessity of as rapidly as possible restoring our relationships with our historic allies and beginning to repair our standing in the world. This makes the 2004 election far more important than it was before. But we’ll get into that later.
The second is the one that deserves your serious attention. Despite the certainty of war, this administration remains divided about the purpose and aftermath of this war. One camp sees this as a fairly limited, surgical effort to get rid of Saddam, put a reasonably democratic government in its place and then move on. Another camp sees this as only a first step. After this comes Iran, Syria, perhaps also Southern Lebanon, and more. And I don’t mean calling them names. I mean, taking them out.
The vision of what we’re trying to get is go out and give the hornets nest a few whacks and get them all out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. If that sounds scary to you, it should.
That camp in the administration would like to prosecute this war in such a way as to invite those further confrontations.
The question of whether we go that route is still to be decided. Unfortunately, the group that ended up winning the debate on Iraq inside the administration is one the that favors that future. So if you want something to work against, that’s what should be on your mind…
Oh, what a tangled web we weave â¦
I had meant to say nothing more about David Horowitz. But he’s done something now that really needs a response. He’s now written on his site the following â¦
Note: One reader of the blog took me to task for not pointing out that Marshall maintained that the Holocaust book was so far in the past that it did not actually disqualify the prime ministerial candidate. So here is my acknowledgment. I don’t see that it changes anything, except to put Marshall in an even less favorable light.
Now, the reader in question has actually written to me and told me that this is the precise opposite of what he said. (He’s learning Horowitz’s MO.) But did I say anything like this? Here are the relevant portions of the post he’s referring to. (It’s a long post so I clipped out portions that don’t touch on this issue, but you can find the entire thing here.)
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.
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.
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.
Now, you can be the judge. But I feel pretty clear that I didn’t say what Horowitz claims I did. I’d say more about the guy. But we’ve got more important stuff going on in the world at the moment. And I think his actions and words speak for themselves.
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.