Editors’ Blog

Nothing seems as important

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

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.

There was a definitely a sense that things weren’t going as well as had been expected. But the general tenor of the presentations was ‘Let’s wait and see; we never said it would be easy, etc.’

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

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.

This run-down of the

This run-down of the events of the last three days in Ha’aretz strikes me as a pretty apt summary of the current military situation.

Heres another post for

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 days

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 Ive

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

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

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. Whats

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 … [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] … “I’m here to protect the US interests in the region. The Arabian countries and Iran … 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.”

More soon.

I want to start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There seems to be

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

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

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

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 we’re 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

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

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

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 … 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

Oh, what a tangled web we weave …

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 …

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

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.

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

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.

Liberating Iraq Or privatizing

Liberating Iraq? Or privatizing Iraq? Another bad sign

Heres more TPM required

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.

Were clearly moving into

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

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

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.

Here is some required

Here is some required reading for the day: Mike Lind on our current foreign policy predicament and how the Bush administration got us here.

This morning the president

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.

Oh what a tangled

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we do talk trash …

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren’t sure you have the vote?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I don’t think — it basically says that he’s in defiance of 1441. That’s what the resolution says. And it’s hard to believe anybody is saying he isn’t in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we’ll call for a vote.

Q No matter what?

THE PRESIDENT: No matter what the whip count is, we’re calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It’s time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

Presidential News Conference
March 6th, 2003

U.S. officials also began laying the groundwork today for Bush to reverse his pledge to call for a Security Council vote, no matter how bad the vote count looked, because “it’s time for people to show their cards.” Under one scenario, the administration could say the resolution was being withdrawn at the request of the co-sponsors, Britain and Spain.

Washington Post
March 14th, 2003

Spain ate my homework …

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