a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

John Bolton: worst possible man for the job

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st August 2005

With unerring instinct, President Bush has carefully prepared and carried out the worst possible nomination for the job of United Nations ambassador, by sending John Bolton to the position as a recess appointment that will last until January, 2007. The Washington Post’s Daniela Deane reports (“Bush Sidesteps Senate, Installs Bolton as U.N. Envoy“):

The White House move comes over the vociferous protests of Senate Democrats, who had complained that the blunt, combative Bolton lacked credibility. The Senate had twice voted to sustain a filibuster against Bolton. But Bush refused to give up on his nominee. […]

Since then, the impasse focused on Democrats’ demands to see two sets of documents related to Bolton’s State Department work. One involved national security intercepts of conversations.

The Washington Post article actually fails to note the most serious recent objection to Bolton: the fact that he inaccurately answered a Senate query whether he had faced questioning by an inspector general or other official inquiry other than routine Congressional testimony (link via TPM Cafe).

As Len Cleavelin and probably many others are pointing out, this amounts to a big “f* you” from Bush to the Senate and to America. It comes on behalf of a man who has played highly questionable roles on behalf of the Bush administration regarding the Iraq war and nonproliferation policy, to name but a few. See Stygius for many details on Bolton’s arrogant, loose cannon approach to his nation’s critical affairs, and for the practical case against this appointment.

If Bolton can’t even command the respect of a Senate led by the President’s own party, he has no business representing the United States.* If Bolton can’t give honest testimony to the Senate, he really has no business representing the United States. Once again, gang-style loyalty prevails over the national interest; once again, an administration that vowed to bring honesty and integrity to the White House is doing precisely the opposite.

* In a way, Bolton seems to agree: the Post article says he’s doubled State Department office space reserved for the UN ambassador, and has reportedly “told several colleagues he needed more space and a larger staff in Washington because, if confirmed, he intended to spend more time here than his predecessors did.”

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Die Zeit: “UN inspectors: Schroeder’s peace tactics were ‘crazy’ “

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd April 2003

Jeff Jarvis alerted me to this item: German reporters Jochen Bittner and Reiner Luyken recently interviewed UN weapons inspectors now cooling their heels in Larnaka, Cyprus. Their article — “The German blame for the war” — in this week’s Die Zeit is pretty astonishing. That is, if you equate the business of disarming a bloodthirsty totalitarian dictator with the farce that Blix and certain members of the Security Council made out of it.

The following is a translation of the article.* As the reporters mention, the inspectors could only speak anonymously, and were under “strict” orders from New York not to speak with journalists. I’ve added a few emphases here and there.

The Mediterranean waves lap against the narrow sand beach in front of the Flamingo Beach Hotel. In front of the plain tourist hotel’s entrance in Larnaka on Cyprus, bored policemen stand with their submachine guns dangling at the hip. The UN weapons inspection team is staying here, an hour and a half west of Baghdad by plane, after its hasty departure from Iraq. In the lobby, CNN war reports run 24 hours a day. For three and a half months, the inspectors were the focal point of world events. Now they are only spectators. Time to think about what was, and what could have been. The UN inspectors talk, but only anonymously. Orders from New York are strict: No interviews with journalists.

Could this war have been prevented? Yes, say some [inspectors]. But with a surprising argument: Germany, France and Russia made war unavoidable with their purported peace politics. Gerhard Schroeder’s categorical ‘no’ to military deployment was simply “crazy.” “We might have been able to fulfill our mandate,” one hears in the hotel lobby.

When the UNMOVIC (United Nations Ongoing Monitoring and Verification) inspectors opened their headquarters on November 27 last year … they believed Resolution 1441 was a potent tool to uncover Saddam Hussein’s terror arsenal: access to all installations. Unannounced inspections, even of presidential palaces. Interviews with scientists. Absolute freedom of movement, helicopters with high-tech sensors.

The 120 inspectors noticed soon, though, that they would not reach their goal without the full cooperation of Iraqis. But they waited in vain to be approached. A warning presentation by Hans Blix on January 15 in the Security Council didn’t change things. Iraq made its first concessions when Secretary of State Colin Powell presented sensational pictures, videos, and tape recordings of mobile bioweapons labs, rocket launching ramps, and munitions bunkers. And as the American threat of war became more and more clear and found more support.

The excessive surveillance of the inspectors by minders of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), which UNMOVIC had long objected to, then dropped off. For the first time, three interviews took place with Iraqi scientists with no minders present. The Iraqis also delivered some weapons programs documents that had been demanded in vain until then.

Why no German troops?

Blix delivered a more conciliatory situation assessment on February 14. This was the basis for Germany, France and Russia to speak of “functioning inspections” and to increasingly distance themselves from America and Great Britain. The governments in Berlin, Paris, and Moscow felt confirmed in the conviction that their peace strategy would lead to success.

The inspectors in Baghdad saw things completely differently: their position was suddenly weakened. Documents were held back again. Scientists appeared — if at all — only with their own tape recorders. After the conversations they had to deliver the cassettes to the NMD. The hope for greater assertiveness that had grown following Powell’s speech diminished again. “After February 14 we didn’t get much any more.”

In hindsight a clear pattern emerged, from the viewpoint of the UN inspectors: “Saddam Hussein followed every step in the Security Council closely. As soon as divisions appeared, cooperation diminished.” [emphasis added] The officials in Baghdad only became more cooperative when military pressure increased. Rhetoric never impressed Saddam Hussein, the inspectors say, the deeper the quarrels split the international community, the surer he felt more himself.

Hans Blix himself got a taste of the revived self-confidence of the Iraqi leadership following February 14. When the chief inspector asked General Amir Al-Saadi, head of the NMD, where 550 mustard gas artillery grenades were that the UN suspected were still in country, the officer claimed baldly that they had been been lost to a fire in the arsenal. But curiously there were no residual traces of that.

“We were dependent on military pressure”, an inspector emphasizes. They made no progress without the US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and without the troop deployments to Kuwait. They experienced the diplomatic tug-of-war between Washington and the European peace axis as a historical irony: from their point of view, every demand for a peaceful solution reduced the pressure on Iraq and made peace more unlikely. Success was less a question of time than one of the credible threat of the use of force. [emphasis added] “Where,” the inspectors ask today, “were the teeth?” More time, the demand of Germany and France for inspections, would have been well and good. But: “They should have sent their own troops and ships.” [emphasis added] In their opinion, installing the kind of traffic monitoring system important to effective control would only have been possible with a united Security Council backing them up. But to threaten force as a last resort, without seriously preparing for it — in their view, that could not impress Baghdad’s dictator.

Many times important details about Iraq were brought to the inspectors unofficially, or they learned more over a confidential coffee-table discussion than from official scientist interviews: this, too, a clear indication that the state apparatus was withholding information systematically. In one-on-one discussions, the UN personnel would hear again and again how the Saddam Hussein regime had ruined the lives of a whole generation. The academic elite, educated in the West and cosmopolitan, had to watch as their children were impoverished materially and spiritually in a totalitarian system.

Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship retained one capability despite the destruction of the Iraqi middle class: weapons production. The most visible sign for that were the Al Samoud rockets, which broke the permitted maximum range of 150 kilometers. Their destruction in the first weeks of March was interpreted by many not just as a signal, but as true progress on the way to disarmament. The laconic comment of one inspector: “Too little, too late.”

Iraqi concessions, inspectors report, were no longer in any relation to the American pressure. Iraq underestimated the resolve of the superpower. After George Bush announced his last ultimatum, NMD officials surfaced one last time at the Canal Hotel [UNMOVIC headquarters]. But even these papers contained nothing that could have stopped the course of events. [emphasis added]

Bittner and Luyken save what is possibly the most damning quote for last:

Was the mission programmed to fail? No, say the inspectors: a united Security Council might have forced a peaceful disarmament. But even then an ambivalent thought that sounds surprisingly hard coming from an inspector: “How does one best handle a tumor — with a quick surgical procedure or with long, difficult chemotherapy whose success is doubtful?”

It will be interesting to see how Blix et al spin this: probably countervailing inspector interviews, wistful sighs about “Project Mirage,” etc. But this article lays out a pretty solid case against the European position before the war: fundamentally unserious, naive moral preening. (Perfect qualifications to help run Iraq after the war! — I say let the Pentagon hand that off to Iraqi opposition leaders, not to Turtle Bay types.)

Translator’s note: I usually don’t translate an entire article, but this seemed like a “read the whole thing” item; should an English translation with these reporters’ bylines appear, I’ll link to that right away and up front. Also, I’ll use this space to register any edits to the translation, but I think it’s pretty accurate.
* The first paragraph was translated by Kim Hill, a fellow Jeff Jarvis reader who forwarded it to me. Thanks! I had initially skipped the paragraph as “atmospheric,” but it’s worth including.

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Mailbag: Slogans, invectives, and strong theoretical arguments

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th March 2003

I got the following letter from a loyal reader last week:

My thoughts keep coming back to your “conversation” with Mark Aveyard, and my great astonishment at his remark …..

“I suppose I’m not only disappointed but surprised at the nearly ubiquitous lack of concern for constructing a strong theoretical argument against the war. I hear invectives and slogans and that’s about it.”

It seems to me that deep concern, rather than lack of it, has been voiced by many thoughtful people around the world. For example, my latest find was published in [the German daily newspaper] “Die Welt” and is by American historian Paul Kennedy:

“Should the USA act without the support of the United Nations, they will meet massive criticism from the rest of the world. Yet an unwise blow against Baghdad would not mean the “end” of American superpower status. Nevertheless, it isn’t unwise to assert that the United States of America would be considerably weaker, if not with respect to its military strength, but in two other, longer-term aspects: a) the self-inflicted harm, be it a rapid victory tempting further acts of hubris [Ueberheblichkeiten], or a bloody action that leads to an opposing reaction among the public; and b) the harm the cause to the international system, transatlantic relations, the fate of good friends like Mr. Blair, and especially the credibility of the United Nations. In brief, it isn’t worth the price, as repulsive as Saddam Hussein may be.”

Please share this with Mr. Aveyard if you think he would be interested.

Dear Loyal Reader,

The credibility of the United Nations is already shot, and it was a self-inflicted wound. Between Bosnia (especially Srebrenice) and the ongoing farce with Iraq, this international “system” isn’t one, and I think it doesn’t deserve the allegiance of good people like yourself or Dr. Kennedy.

While I appreciate the morality of your position, stated on another occasion, about waiting to be struck first before striking in return, I think the Rhineland analogy I’ve raised is more appropriate: Iraq is under very exact requirements, which they have failed to meet for 12 years too many. The French should have crushed Hitler’s re-occupation of the Rhineland when they had the right and the means to do so. The world paid dearly for their failure. I don’t want the world to pay a similar price for failing to crush Saddam.

I’ll be happy to pass along the quote to Mark Aveyard, the “diablogger.” I agree, he apparently hadn’t looked hard for arguments against the war yet. But I don’t think you’ve necessarily found them in Kennedy’s statements either. Kennedy simply asserts what he claims is wrong with current U.S. policy, instead of persuading the reader. He assumes the reader shares his view that the US will either be weakened by the hubris of success or by a bloody failure, and assumes that the international system he refers to is worth salvaging in the first place. I notice that Kennedy doesn’t argue about the case against Iraq and Saddam itself; instead, he argues that the secondary effects are the important thing: allies — or “allies”– ticked off, an institution’s credibility damaged, and so forth.

Reading elsewhere in Kennedy’s remarks, it’s strange to me that Kennedy would bring up the breakup of the League of Nations over Ethiopia as an argument for his point of view. What broke up the League was the realization that they were unwilling and/or unable to enforce their own by-laws against Italy. Once that aggression happened and was not opposed, the League meetings weren’t worth attending any more. But what was sad was not the demise of a demonstrably worthless institution, it was the Ethiopian suffering caused by the Italian aggression that the League failed to prevent.

Should vetoes be ignored in the future, the realities of power will guarantee what gentlemen’s agreements can not. China and the United States will think about Taiwan the same way no matter what happens in the Security Council about Iraq; India and Pakistan will think about the Kashmir the same way. Many European nations will think about standing by their nominal friends elsewhere the same way, whether those allies are South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, the United States, or nations among their own number.

Alternatively, should other nations wish to build the United Nations back up, they will be careful to say what they mean and mean what they say when drafting Security Council resolutions; they’ll spell out timetables and consequences, and pledge the means to enforce those resolutions, instead of just remaining “seized of the matter.”

That seems unlikely, of course. I think it’s more likely that should the war take place, the U.N. itself will prefer to act as if it hadn’t. It will be convenient for all to continue to use the United Nations for the purpose that best suits it: a forum occasionally capable of creating cooperation, not an authoritative decision making body.

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Update: where I stand

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th March 2003

That would be the same place I explained about a month ago: with regrets, for war on Saddam. This update is prompted by the “defections” of former pro-war liberals Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and “agonist” Sean-Paul. I’ll skip discussing “agonist”; as you can see, he isn’t on my “blogroll” to the left, although he doubtless should be. So my opinion on his change of heart would be pointless.

I have read Marshall (“TalkingPoints”) and Drum (“CalPundit”) fairly often, though, and I’ll confess I’m feeling equal parts uneasy about and let down by their points. Since I hate feeling lonely, I’m hoping to convince one or the other of them to at least suggest what might bring them back. First, Marshall.

On March 8, Marshall writes:

The pros and cons of handling Iraq have never been separable from how you do it, the costs you rack up in the doing of it, calculated against the gains you’ll get in having accomplished it. At this point, we truly have the worst case scenario on the international stage. And I think that those costs now outweigh the gains.

This is more or less taking the out Marshall apparently left for himself by emphasizing Ken Pollack’s own extensive list of caveats about the right way to “do” Iraq. As readers of Pollack’s book know, and as Fred Kaplan has recently pointed out at great length in Slate (but who am I to throw stones), Pollack — like anyone who is sane — would have preferred: 1) to wait a little longer, 2) to have a Turkish front (in part, by the way, in order to assure US troops could deter the Turks from doing harm to the Kurds); 3) international approval; 4) a well-conceived consensus on how to go about the political reconstruction of post-war Iraq; 5) doubtless other conditions I can’t dredge up from memory right now. These were not given as of Marshall’s last discussion with Pollack, and they obviously still aren’t, to put it mildly. On February 28th, Marshall nevertheless wrote:

If we could turn back the clock a year and we had the choice of a) doing exactly what we’ve done or b) waiting a year or two for a more favorable moment or until a new team was in place who knew what they were doing, I think option ‘b’ would unquestionably be the better choice.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice. The administration has already done massive damage to our standing in the world. And they’ve managed to create facts on the ground — intentionally and unintentionally — which make pulling back arguably more dangerous than pushing ahead. The question is no longer what the ideal thing to do is. It’s more aptly described as which of the really bad alternatives is best to choose given the jam the administration has backed us into.

I agree with all of that, really, but particularly “we don’t have that choice” of turning back the clock, and “pulling back arguably more dangerous” — minus the “arguably.” Marshall takes on the argument, by Carnegie Endowment’s Joe Cirincione et al, that containment works; in an effective and actually sufficient riposte, he notes that containment now may well work, but it can’t be sustained. My instincts are that even in the short run, inspections and surveillance are not the golden tools their enthusiasts would have us believe. But if even the inspections we’re familiar with can’t be sustained, they’re worthless.

The point of the dates is to try to pinpoint what’s changed in the meantime. As far as I see, there are two things: the Turkish refusal to base troops, and the President’s insistence on going through with a vote in the Security Council. Yet the former has arguable silver linings — some argue a “sellout” of the Kurds was averted — and may in any event be reversed. So I’m left with the impression that Marshall has been secretly crossing his fingers for a UN Security Council breakthrough all along, and he feels that’s unlikely. I agree with the hope and the estimate. I don’t agree with the conclusion: that this renders the cost of action against Saddam too high.

The point of the UN Security Council is precisely to be effective in dealing with challenges like Saddam Hussein. They are about to prove themselves incapable of doing so; that incapability will culminate twelve years of futility by that body. I submit that Marshall is discovering that an institution was already worthless, not that the United States and George Bush have made it so. Properly accounted, the loss of the United Nations Security Council is a sunk cost long since incurred. It’s like discovering that a ship you planned to use has rusted through and won’t work. You can kick yourself and wish you’d drydocked and repainted it ten years ago, but that won’t help now. You’ll have to do without it, and replace it with something better as time goes on.*

Drum’s reservations are numerous; the last straw was the report that some evidence forwarded to the IAEA was forged by parties yet unknown (to me, at least). Kevin shared the deep regrets about the diplomacy that has failed to avert the looming train wreck in the United Nations. Finally — at least that’s all I’ll attempt to take on here — Drum was also severely unimpressed by the press conference Bush gave on Thursday night.

On the latter point, I’m more inclined to agree with Andrew Sullivan than with Drum or others: my main impression was that Bush seemed very tired and serious. I know I agree with Drum in one respect: Bush’s evocation of his faith does not bother me — a nonbeliever — in the least; someday, we’ll have a president who believes in the efficacy of transcendental meditation or yoga or reading classical poetry, and he or she will be right about that, too: whatever calms you down is fine with me. As for the rest of it: Bush was repetitive, because he was tired and because he was probably sticking to a team mantra of “staying on message”. It would have probably been better to not have held the press conference as far as convincing intelligentsia like Mr. Drum, but whatever: it’s done.

Regarding the looming Security Council “train wreck,” there’s another point to be made: given the democracies involved, and the vast majorities in Germany and France against the war, this was arguably an unavoidable train wreck. I think it’s pardonable that the Bush administration didn’t reckon with a German election that was a referendum whether Bush was Hitler and America was an overweening tyrant among nations. That’s what happened, though, and Bush was understandably if a bit unprofessionally ingracious about it for a while. Likewise, it didn’t seem likely as late as last September’s SCR 1441 — a 14 to nothing vote — that France and Germany would basically be acting as two hostile, conspiratorial countries in the run-up to the follow-on vote this week.

Yet in retrospect, this was “old Washington” thinking: this can’t be happening, our allies will rally ’round. But “old Europe” didn’t rally ’round, they went their own way. It’s true, we might have been able to finesse things better: Rummie could have shut up more often, Powell could have made a few more visits to European capitals. But what comes through, at least from the German media and blogs I read, is a fundamental difference of views, of “Weltanschauung.” It’s one I think is grounded in the belief — possibly well-founded — that Germany and Europe are too valuable as economic engines for anyone in their right mind to attack them — and that’s all they worry about.** It’s Europe as a super-Switzerland, and it’s an interesting point of view. But it’s not one I think will stand the test of Europe’s own ambitions for itself. To be a “player,” you need a real military, not the toy varieties that Europe fields, on average; but once you have a “real” military, you will acquire suspicious neighbors as if by magic — especially in Europe. And the days of being a player without an army and a navy are waning, and will probably be over by Tuesday or Wednesday or whenever that vote is.

This doesn’t mean we can’t work with these countries ever again; we need to right now, and it will behoove us to be polite about it. But it also doesn’t mean that we’ve lost some pearl of great price: the unconditional loyalty of other nations. We may have had something resembling that for a fleeting moment in world history. Now it’s back to the usual situation: everyone looking out for number one. That’s no more tragic than most periods in human history, and a good deal less tragic than some. Get over it.

The forged evidence — that bothered me a great deal, too. Not because the idea of a particular uranium smuggling attempt was the critical item on which my analysis of Saddam and Iraq stands or falls, but just because I have to wonder about any of the evidence I’ve relied on. Reviewing, I find that the evidence I’ve generally relied on has actually been German evidence and the recent consensus history — or at least conventional wisdom history — of Iraq. While Drum focuses on U.S. incompetence in failing to detect the forgery that the United Kingdom passed along, the question is still who did the forgery. It seems to me right now like Tony Blair ought to figure out who sold him this bill of goods and the “graduate student summer paper” used to substantiate the case against Iraq last year. Someone or some group in British intelligence has been playing games; there should be a housecleaning. But it’s not my country.

While I’m on things that bother me and Drum, and a lot of other people in this country, liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike: torture — should we do it? To me, the answer depends — on how many words I want to use: 1) No. 2) Hell, no. 3) Of course not. And 4), amplifying Jim Henley: Hell, no, of course not, because we’re the fucking United States of America; we should therefore court-martial anyone who does torture a prisoner and put them away for twenty years hard labor at minimum.

This has been even more of a ramble than usual, and I guess I didn’t accomplish what I hoped to: some kind of persuasive “keep your eye on the ball” essay. Saddam is flouting international law and agreements; he is a proven war-starter; his behavior seems unlikely to improve if he gets a nuclear weapon; he has tried to develop such weapons; he refuses to cooperate in a way that would give confidence that he isn’t still trying. These are some of the main arguments, in capsule form, that pushed Drum and Marshall into the pro-war camp. They still hold. The diplomatic, international costs Marshall and Drum identify — at least the ones so far — will not be new costs, but “sunk” ones, already long since incurred, but only recently recognized. In my opinion, the case for war against Saddam still stands.


* What could that replacement be? I don’t know either. A half-serious suggestion: a league for the defense of democracies, open only to countries who have actually fought to do so, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia as the apparent charter members. Germany, France and others would join once they had fielded proportionate armies — in combat — for the purpose of defending a democratic regime from aggression, restoring one to power, or establishing one. Nothing else would count, and ongoing membership would require ongoing participation in such actions. This would basically resemble the situation we’re heading towards anyway, but would suggest how to grow the league and share out the military burdens, and it would suggest what the point would be.

The point of the international order can not be to maintain the status quo of a country like Iraq, a permanent threat to its neighbors and a curse to its own people; such a country should have no expectations under international law; although it might well be able to ensure its sovereignty via deterrence and bilateral agreements. But that’s a different matter.

**I wrote a two part blog “We’re not in the same boat… so we won’t be rowing together” last February 20 outlining half of this thesis, well before the Iraq crisis; based on interviews and observations of the German legal system, it seemed like there was already a different calculus of the risk from terrorism in Germany than there is in the United States. Germany took stronger steps more quickly against the pipsqueak Baader-Meinhof terrorist group than it appears willing to with Al Qaeda investigations; the reason may be at least in part that German officials believe they and Germans in general are less directly threatened.

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With regrets: For war on Saddam

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th February 2003

I’m finally but reluctantly making up my mind about Iraq: war, if it comes, will be justified and necessary. Saddam’s regime deserved to be put on an extremely tight leash and told to heel; they have failed to do so, yet again.

I’ve come to this position more or less kicking and screaming. For a couple of recent waypoints, see my checklist of pro- and anti-war arguments from late last year, and a brief “On Iraq” item earlier this year. In the following, I’ll take up a number of arguments against the war.

Arguments dismissed
Arguments reconsidered: Al Qaeda
Arguments reconsidered: international institutions
Arguments reconsidered: containment
Arguments adopted: the Iraqi people
Questions unanswered
Respect, for some

In the early days of this debate, in late 2001 and spring of 2002, I frequently argued against a war on Iraq. I brought up a number of good reasons:

  • the war would detract from the one I cared about most, the one against Osama Bin Laden.
  • a unilateral push to carry out this war would harm institutions that have by and large served the United States’ interests well.
  • Saddam could be contained and deterred, just as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.

I’ll return to those arguments below. But first, I’ll dismiss a few I’ve never believed in.

Arguments dismissed
There are arguments I’ve never made. One is any variation on the themes “Bush is always wrong,” “The Executive Branch is always lying,” and so forth. As Greg Hlatky writes in his blog,

Well then, the short answer seems to be, “I hate Bush so much that I’d believe Saddam Hussein before I’d believe him.” And really, that’s what the “anti-war” movement is left with. No scrap of principle remains, just blind inflexible Bush hatred. Nothing, no proof, no event could ever convince these ideologues of the threat the Iraqi regime poses.

I don’t agree that the whole anti-war movement subscribes to this attitude, but I share Mr. Hlatky’s disdain for the argument. I did not vote for George W. Bush, but I am not so far gone down the road of blind partisanship or ideology to argue he and his office are incapable of being right or truthful — even if they are wrong all too often.

My feeling about the shifting arguments of the Bush administration is that they just don’t know that much for absolutely, court-of-law, 100% sure either. I don’t demand that of them in providing for the common defense, and I think no person who is honest with him or herself really does: this is not a trial of an individual, but a judgment about a secretive, dangerous regime. The events of 9/11 invited speculation about worse to come; while Al Qaeda, nuclear despots, and combinations thereof are possible, such speculation will and should face lower thresholds for consideration in the future than it did before the World Trade Center came down. Events as late as today, and at least as far back as the Glaspie-Saddam meeting before the Gulf War** make the idea very plausible, but such speculation isn’t needed to support a war eminently defensible on other grounds. I’ll have a word with Powell and Rumsfeld about it next time we speak.

Another argument I’ve never agreed with is that a war with Iraq will cause new terrorism. How will you know whether it wouldn’t have happened anyway? 9/11 didn’t happen because of anything but a hatred of America, and a desire by bloodthirsty criminals to hijack and tyrannize their Islamic co-believers into what they called a “jihad” against the West. They’ll do these things whether there’s a war with Iraq or not. Al Qaeda terrorism is independent of the issue of Iraq, just as it is largely free of any real connection to the Palestinian cause, no matter what they say. It will happen. Those so inclined will see it as a retribution. I will see it as more murder by deluded, evil, self-appointed hirabists.

While I haven’t ignored the argument, I feel similarly about the question of whether a war will “provoke what we intend to prevent,” a WMD attack. As I will argue below, I think avoiding a war now merely postpones this question to a later date, when either the answer or the premise is even less likely to be acceptable. Saddam is and will always be capable of WMD attacks, and he will always push crises to the point where he will need to entertain the idea of WMD use as a “last resort.”

Finally, I suppose a brief comment about a “war about oil” is necessary: were it true in the sense of conquest, the United States would never have left Iraq in 1991. I do agree that Saddam would be a far smaller danger without his country’s oil to finance his ambitions.

Arguments reconsidered: Al Qaeda
But what about my own main reasons? Some — detracting from the fight against Al Qaeda, or inviting a WMD attack — are simply less persuasive to me than they used to be. Another — working through international institutions — has been addressed by the Bush administration. And another — the possibility of containing Iraq — now seems demonstrably false to me.

Yes, the war against Saddam is likely to divert attention and manpower from the war against Osama Bin Laden. While that used to bother me a great deal, I think that was a function of my fury against Al Qaeda, and not a product of clear thinking. It is mathematically possible to have more than one deadly opponent at a time. Americans have faced that before, and even made a similar choice: the lion’s share of the war effort in World War II initially went to fight Nazi Germany, despite the “casus belli” being the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Like most, I’m unconvinced of direct Al Qaeda-Saddam links, but think it’s plausible we wouldn’t know about them. I can’t blame the Bush administration for trying — my guess is that it would be the one thing that would apparently bring around a big chunk of European public opinion. It doesn’t matter. The pragmatic case for forcible regime change in Iraq doesn’t require such linkage.

Arguments reconsidered: international institutions
The most important thing that the Bush administration did to gain my attention was its work securing the passage of Security Council Resolution 1441 (SCR 1441). In particular, Bush’s September 12, 2002 speech at the United Nations, in which he recounted the numerous Security Council resolutions defied by the Iraqi regime recast the problem in my mind. It wasn’t that the facts were new, it’s that the United States, to my relief, was presenting those facts. Rather than the United States seeming to be the potential aggressor, the potential wrecker of international institutions, it is in fact the guarantor of those resolutions compelling Iraq to give up weapons of mass destruction.*

It’s worth remembering that these resolutions, particularly Security Council Resolution 687 (SCR 687), were the result of U.S. adherence to international agreements at the end of the Gulf War. Had we gone “on to Baghdad” then, there would have been no need for resolutions requiring anything of Saddam. But the Security Council only authorized the liberation of Kuwait, so that road was not taken.

SCR 687 called for the unconditional destruction of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical and biological weapons, and all ballistic missiles, and the unconditional cessation of attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Either those articles were meant to be enforced, or they were not; most Americans, including myself, believed that they were. That belief has proved dangerously controversial, if not mistaken. Indeed, the United Nations all but discredited itself during the 1990s with countless such Potemkin resolutions, notably about the Bosnia crisis: resolutions that appeared to be, well, resolute, but were not. The U.N. appears to be close to finishing the job of destroying its credibility now. But the fault will not lie with the United States when it does. One way or the other, the Security Council must never again issue resolutions that seem to compel actions such as disarmament, yet effectively interpret them to not authorize enforcement of the disarmament thus “compelled.”

War, when it does come, will already be justified by common sense readings of a number of Security Council resolutions including SCR 687 and SCR 1441, and the aggregate impact of these and a number of intervening resolutions. It will not be pre-emptive, it will be punitive. It will finish a war interrupted in 1991, whose terms of cease-fire have been repeatedly violated by Iraq.

Security Council resolutions compelling Iraqi disarmament, incidentally, are among the most important differences between the Iraq and North Korean crises**: there are no such Security Council resolutions looming over North Korea. It may be that one of the key steps towards backing North Korea away from WMD production will (or would) be for the Security Council to meet the obligations it set itself for Iraq — and then take on North Korea as the next item on the agenda. A Security Council resolution promising “serious consequences” for North Korea would have a much more serious ring to it following a U.N. approved war on Iraq. It seems likely, of course, that we’ll never know.

Arguments reconsidered: the possibility of containment
I once believed that containment — sanctions, inspections, intelligence — was an effective and preferable alternative to war. As I once argued against a war in Iraq,

A far saner course of action would be what we did with the Soviet Union: maintain vigilance, apply pressure, avoid war, and wait for the totalitarians to collapse.

I’ve come to believe that is false. First, a closer look at Saddam’s history over the years convinces me there is little in common between today’s confrontation with Iraq and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. First, Saddam is utterly unconstrained by other institutions within his country, in a way that even the Brezhnevs and Kosygins of the Soviet Union could only dream of; between the Politburo, the Red Army, the Soviet Navy, and the Communist Party, there were layers upon layers of control over nuclear weapons that Saddam could not afford to emulate.

More importantly, Saddam’s track record is one of routine recklessness, including but not limited to***:

  • a conflict with Iran under Shah Reza Pahlavi, resulting in the loss of half of the valuable Shatt al-Arab waterway region.
  • the Iran-Iraq war itself, and actions during that war such as repeated missile attacks on Tehran — when Baghdad was closer to the border and could be subjected to far worse retaliation.
  • invading Kuwait, despite taking American opposition into account.
  • remaining in Kuwait, despite an immense, months-long buildup of Allied forces in Saudi Arabia.
  • possibly attempting to carry out a biological attack on allied forces, despite the threat of nuclear retaliation.
  • mobilizing forces to the Kuwait border in 1994, thereby threatening to repeat the 1991 invasion.

Most importantly, there are Saddam’s own words; according to an interview with Tariq Aziz (Pollack, p. 187), he claimed after the Gulf war that his biggest mistake was … not to have had nuclear weapons when he invaded Kuwait. It’s not that he’s crazy; it’s that he routinely doesn’t understand what he’s getting into. The same reign of terror that leaves him supreme over a quivering heap of underlings also leaves him supremely unquestioned and uninformed about the likely consequences of his actions. That being the case, Saddam is not deterrable in any conventional sense.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ken Pollack’s book “The Threatening Storm” has been instrumental in changing my mind about this issue. It was not just persuasive in detailing Saddam’s undeterrability. Pollack also marshalled a history that of what I call the “patient accumulation of failures” of U.N. sanctions on Iraq. Recall that until very lately, these peaceful but painful sanctions themselves were under attack by well-meaning but wrong-headed activists in the West: they were killing Iraqi babies, starving Iraqi children, ruining a country. In what I called a kind of moral jiu-jitsu, responsibility for these tribulations was shifted from Hussein to the Security Council and the United States.

Sanctions and containment must fail if the target country is intransigent, and important sanctioning countries, notably France, China, and Russia, secretly or openly undercut the very sanctions they’ve allowed to happen on the Security Council. If even economic sanctions were as politically smelly as they were allowed to become, there was little long term chance of them working, especially with an adversary demonstrably bent on procuring WMD.

If my new assessment of Hussein and Iraq is correct, then once he acquires nuclear weapons, it is only a matter of time before he tries to capitalize on them. He would attack Kuwait or Saudi Arabia again, gambling — and this time with more justification — that the United States would be loathe to start a nuclear war to stop him. We would then face a situation where either outcome is worse than a war with Iraq now would be: either Hussein enriches himself with additional oil fields, to finance additional weaponry with which to pursue new targets — Israel, to be precise — or, sooner or later, the United States opposes him in a far dirtier, deadlier, costlier war with nuclear weapons, either immediately or during the escalation of the conflict. This is my main reason for reluctantly supporting a war now to disarm and topple Hussein.

Arguments adopted: the plight of the Iraqi people
There’s another reason to do so, of course: the reign of terror Saddam has committed against his own people. I haven’t yet faced why this should have for so long been of less concern to me than it was with Bosnia or Kosovo, which routinely pulled me from apoplexy to weary disgust and back again.**** I’m afraid it was another case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

But when I get to fretting too much about the rights and wrongs and laws and politics of it all, I’ll be glad to focus on one thing: a reign of unspeakable evil will have come to an end, and that will be a fine, fine thing. Again, Ken Pollack (p. 123, The Threatening Storm):

This is a regime that will gouge out the eyes of children to force confessions from their parents and grandparents. This is a regime that will crush all of the bones in the feet of a two-year old girl to force her mother to divulge her father’s whereabouts. This is a regime that will hold a nursing baby at arm’s length from its mother and allow it to starve to death to force the mother to confess. This is a regime that will burn a person’s limbs off to force him to confess or comply. This is a regime that will slowly lower its victims into huge vats of acid, either to break their will or simply as a means of execution. This is a regime that applies electric shocks to the bodies of its victims, particularly their genitals, with great creativity. This is a regime that in 2000 decreed that the crime of criticizing the regime … would be punished by cutting out the offender’s tongue. This is a regime that practices systematic rape against its female victims. This is a regime that will drag in a man’s wife, daughter, or other female relative and repeatedly rape her in front of him. This is a regime that will force a white-hot metal rod into a person’s anus or other orifices. This is a regime that employs thalium poisoning, widely considered to be one the most excruciating ways to die. This is a regime that will behead a young mother in the street in front of her house and children because her husband was suspected of opposing the regime. This is a regime that used chemical warfare on its own Kurdish citizens — not just on the fifteen thousand killed and maimed at Halabja but on scores of other villages all across Kurdistan. This is a regime that tested chemical and biological warfare agents on Iranian prisoners of war, using the POWs in controlled experiments to determine the best ways to disperse the agents to inflict the greatest damage.

Who knows: maybe one or the other item in this list will turn out to be an exaggeration, a mistake, a lie. I’m guessing most won’t. Good god-damned riddance to you, Saddam.

Questions unanswered
For many questions I have no answers but: come what may. The goals of toppling Saddam and disarming his regime must be accomplished, it will take a war to accomplish those goals, and that will be ugly and awful. I don’t know how the war will go; it seems too much to hope that the war could go as well as those in 1991, in Kosovo, and in Afghanistan went. The relative ease of those wars is a source of both pride and unease; this is not something to get so good at. Given the likely urban warfare, it may not go so well. I’m uneasy about the “Shock and Awe” strategy I’ve read about, but to call it carpet bombing misses the mark if cruise missiles and guided bombs are involved. The question of the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq is of course paramount, it will be the whole point. It must happen, it must be planned for, it must be done right, it will be expensive, and there’s a lot that can go wrong: that’s all that I can say about it. But uncertainties about the post-war phase don’t have a bearing on whether the war itself is necessary.

Respect, for some
Perhaps illogically, in view of the above, I remain (in principle) respectful of some anti-war positions. My own position mainly comes from weighing one set of hard-to-quantify risks against another, and finding — given good faith and partly successful attempts to gain international approval — in favor of a relatively small war now compared to a possibly much larger war later. I can understand how others might not arrive at the same conclusion, or how their principles could prevent them from adopting the recourse of war even if they accept that conclusion.

The world is not what it should be; the right solution to the Iraqi crisis either demands the realism of a soldier or the idealism of a peace activist. Either choice brings danger and sorrow with it: peace means continued repression now, and may well mean a greater war later; war means death and destruction now, and untold unwanted consequences later. At this point, either choice may be plausibly claimed to accelerate WMD proliferation elsewhere in the world. I don’t see how anyone can be anything but regretful, anxious, and uncertain about what lies ahead.

That said, I think the French and Germans have misused their positions as friends and allies. Were they in imminent danger because of the war, that might be different, but they are not. Were they in a position to propose and implement a practical alternative on their own, that might different, but they are not. Instead, they block measures of self-defense for a country, Turkey, which is directly affected. They craft plans which appear to leave the United States holding the bag of a long-term military alert for tens of thousands of its troops, assigned to a long-distance defense of a relative handful of (likely) European UN troops assigned to guard a continuing farcical inspection which has already served its purpose: to display Iraqi non-cooperation. And they join self-satisfied fools like Donald Rumsfeld in tearing down a relationship between nations, and increasingly between peoples, that took decades to develop. The net result will be the opposite of what they want: Saddam — convinced he still has a chance — will hold out, and there will be war.

On the other hand, I oppose attempts to silence or shame American citizens (or citizens of any country) against the coming war, from tearing down a lawn sign, to failing to allow a protest march to take place, to tarring a rally’s participants with the immaterial views of the organizers who sign the permit papers. Americans should always “err” on the side of free expression and free speech; we should try to hear and respect eachother, and not try to find picayune reasons not to. That applies to the anti-war side as well, by the way.

Good luck to us all, particularly to the innocents among the Iraqi people, to the American and allied and even most Iraqi soldiers caught in the middle of the storm, and to all of us in this country who will be joining a “home front” whether we like it or not.

As inconsistency appears to be the hallmark of my creed, I’ll compound it: with a non-believer’s prayer for all of us, and all of them, to any god who will accept it.

* I emphatically part ways with some writers in that I continue to regard biological and chemical weapons as part and parcel of the WMD issue. As I wrote a while back, they’re quite massive enough for me. As has become clear during the inspections farce currently underway in Iraq, they also serve as a useful measuring stick: Iraq’s actions in hiding “mere” chemical or biological weapons does not augur well at all for its forthrightness about nuclear weapons development.
** The other difference, of course, is called “Seoul with 12,000 artillery pieces held to its head.”
*** Invasion of Kuwait: The Glaspie incident is cited by many as proof either that Saddam got a green light, or that we knew he was going to attack. Neither is the case. Many have seized on Glaspie’s statement that “…we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” But to not have an opinion on the precise location of a dotted line on a map was not to say that dotted line shouldn’t exist. Following her meeting with Saddam, Glaspie miscommunicated his position to Washington; the title of her July 25, 1990 cable to the State Department was “Saddam’s Message of Peace” (Pollack, p.34); Pollack and others read the opposite message between the lines of the interview, but Glaspie’s interpretation prevailed. Saddam attacked Kuwait on August 2nd. It’s clear Saddam expected to be opposed; he simply assumed the opposition would be token and that Americans would not stomach the casualties involved. Republican Guard units created beach defenses immediately after the invasion. Here is a PBS Frontline account of the buildup to the Gulf War. Incidentally, Saddam threatened the U.S. during the interview as follows: “We cannot come all the way to you in the United States, but individual Arabs may reach you.”
Bioweapons attack: An unconfirmed CIA report stated that an Iraqi plane with characteristic drop tanks, modified to spray biological weapons, was shot down along with its two escort planes before it could carry out the attack (Pollack, p.264). Pollack discounts the report as unconfirmed, but obviously thinks the possibility is worth mentioning. Saddam did move chemical weapons into the battlefield vicinity of Kuwait; he may simply have been prevented from using them by the rout that was Desert Storm.
Saddam statement: Pollack, p.187; according to the source Pollack cites, a LANL Center for National Security Studies report, Saddam also said he should have continued into Saudi Arabia.

**** In a long-ago “DC Blogfest“, the issue came up: Jim Henley, in the course of denouncing American policy about Iraq, threw in Kosovo for good measure, as he did again recently. Henley is a principled person, and I respect him for that, but to let your principles lock you into opposing the Kosovo intervention — after a near-decade of Serbian rapine and murder throughout the Balkans — is to be a slave to some principles while ignoring others I’m confident Henley shares. It is, frankly, a kind of blindness of its own to focus on mistakes, lies, whatever the 100,000 Kosovo dead report turns out to be, but ignore the larger truth that Milosevic and his Serbian thugocracy were guilty of mass murders and torments quite bad enough to justify the fear that more might well be in the offing. To Clinton’s enduring credit (and, yes, to Schroeder’s and Fischer’s less enduring credit as well), the larger truth the transatlantic community spoke in Kosovo was that even 1 or 10 or 100 more was finally, finally, finally enough.

UPDATE, 11/5/2004: By the summer of 2004, the absence of WMD and the poorly waged occupation forced me to re-evaluate. Many arguments above remain forceful to me, given that I didn’t know then what I know now. But some do not. I haven’t fully worked out how I’d respond to this item now, but some starts are here:
A reassessment — This was simply a ‘full disclosure’ item; I’ll update it if I post fuller reevaluations than these:

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Once again… heeeere’s Josef Joffe!

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th February 2002

My favorite German columnist weighs in on the topic of the hour — the Europe-America divide over Iraq — in his latest Die Zeit article Atlantic dyspepsia.*

Each side owes the other the most important answers. How, please, will Bush topple the arch-enemy, without setting the region or at least the oil fields aflame? Without allies inside Iraq, (almost) without them outside Iraq as well? Bombs alone won’t do; without a Northern Alliance, without Russian military aid for its troops the Taliban might still be in power. What comes after the fall? Still more world policing by the “hyperpower,” while the EU and the UN can take care of cleanup?

The Europeans owe other answers. They bet on the UN, on the return of weapons inspectors — just the hopes that Saddam has been dashing derisively since 1998. Doesn’t the iron fist of the military need to be beneath the velvet glove of diplomacy, to give some emphasis to political gestures? That’s how it was in Bosnia, that’s how it was in Kosovo, that’s how it was in Afghanistan. It’s especially those who don’t want war, who must credibly show they’re ready for one.

That last part actually puts Joffe more in the “game theory”, “just bluffing” school than I am, but my point is that there is (slightly) more political overlap between Europe and the U.S., even now, than, say, Andrew Sullivan and Victor Davis Hanson might lead you to believe.

Your weekly Newsrack helping of contrarian thoughts on Iraq

Which leads me to that weekly or so event: thoughts on Iraq. For those of you scoring at home: I think (1) the U.S. could easily topple Saddam by ourselves; (2) any burning oil fields would be put out all over again. (3) I share Joffe’s concern about still more world policing, and the cleanup or even reparations question — unlike Afghanistan — is serious: why would anyone else would want to fix a country we attacked? Yet it would have to be repaired, or we’d have a much worse problem than mud-hut Afghanistan to worry about for the next 50 years. (4) Returning weapons inspectors would probably get the run-around all over again too, unless they have a couple or ten U.S Army regiments behind them, or a dead Saddam and Republican Guard in front of them. And (5) — if Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), I can’t think why he wouldn’t use them on us or on Israel when cornered in some Battle of Baghdad endgame.

My position remains that war #1 has still not been won, and that if we’re indeed dead set on war #2, we need to think about what comes after, and whether we can live with the likely consequences. Instead, “debate” has come to where normally sober people like Gregg Easterbrook are apparently so entranced by the hardware of it all they can hardly think of anything else. Easterbrook ends his New Republic piece (“Smart bomb”) thusly:

On September 11 we learned there is a moral obligation to act in advance against those who plan to do mass murder.

That looks good on paper, but unfortunately none of us are any more psychic today than we were on September 10, and even possession of WMD is not evidence of planning to use them (…I hope; after all, we have a fair amount of the stuff ourselves). I do know who did 9/11, and I am 100% for smashing Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and anyone who gets in the way.

It’s a good idea for the United States to promote, not tear down, the notion that starting wars isn’t right unless the world (that is, the U.N. Security Council), agrees it’s in self-defense. Someday, rather than run an empire, we’ll want to count on world cooperation and a system of foreign relations. It’s not a good idea for us to blow up the one we have — terrorists and rogue states will do even better amid world disorder than they’re doing now.

That’s why, unlike Matt Welch, I support sanctions against Iraq: the alternative is a war that could destroy the international frameworks built since World War II. While, as Matt puts it, sanctions are “the first attempt to disarm a country against its will”, they are at least not an armed and shooting pre-emptive attempt to do so. You can estimate how many Iraqis are dying until you’re blue in the face: the point remains that it’s Hussein who’s killing them, by not honoring the conditions of a cease-fire and attendant U.N. resolutions he agreed to, and by putting his palaces and weapons programs ahead of his people. Unless you see Saddam’s regime as some kind of immutable force of nature incapable of choice, the Iraqi government bears responsibility for everything that’s happened to Iraqis for the last 20 years.

I would rather see us focus on destroying the loose rats than corner and kill a trapped one (and possibly provoke the bites we seek to avoid). If Hussein wishes us ill, he’s done nothing effective about it since the Gulf War, pace Laura Mylroie; if he has WMD, so far what he’s shown is that he won’t use them willy-nilly (on us).* If he doesn’t, then a big cause for going after him vanishes.

It’s true, as Steve Den Beste has pointed out, that leaves a 3rd scenario, in which he’s working as hard as he can to get something he may want to hurt us with. But we lived with that with the Soviet Union for 50 years. Why not try containing a far smaller country? We just might be able to pull it off, our track record isn’t half bad.


*Not positive about dyspepsia, but I think it’s right. The German word is “Aufwallungen”, lit. “upwellings”.

Update 2/28: important proviso — “(on us)” — added above. As is well known, Hussein attacked Kurdish civilians and Iranian soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war with chemical weapons. The attack on Kurdish civilians is, of course, the principal reason Hussein should be loathed and feared in this respect, but it does not prove his willingness to attack Americans in the same way.

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Casus belli

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th February 2002

I received a long reader response (with the above title) to the Imbalance of bluster piece below. The reader requested anonymity, but the points s/he makes deserve response:

The only reason why Israel isn’t fighting a high intensity war right now is that its neighbours (rightly) don’t think they’d win. If they had better armies, they would invade in an instant (see 48, 67, 76), but their history has told them that invading Israel is a bad idea. Similarly, China hasn’t invaded Taiwan because it doesn’t think it will win (especially if the US joins in). […]

While I understand your legalistic desire for a set code of conduct, the establishment of such a code presupposes good faith actors. As is seen in national court systems, people play cute with the rules to get away with actions that violates the intent of the law but not its wording. This is acceptable in society, as the dangers are relatively small (usually less than 50 casualties at the extreme, some economic damage). In international relations, the stakes are too high to risk that (casualties from 10^3 to 10^9, total economic collapse).

I may surprise and please this reader by saying “Basically, I agree with your first point.” However, I may annoy him/her all over again by saying “But that misses my point.” I’m not so daft as to think that international law by itself keeps nations in line. Israel’s and Taiwan’s armed forces, and those of their likely ally the United States, are ultimately what preserve their security.

I do believe that the conventions and treaties of international relations matter, though. The emphasis on “ultimately” suggests there are penultimate and earlier phases in which international opinion and law have real roles to play. Lines in the sand are drawn, nations take sides, threats and promises are made, coalitions are formed, painful actions short of war are explored and carried out. Among the principal groups are the “play by the rules” nations and the “don’t give a hoot” nations (a.k.a “rogue”, a.k.a. “axis of evil” nations). The Gulf War coalition had many members and few overt opponents — just one really — because it was (arguably) a “play by the rules” coalition that even Russia and China didn’t want to oppose. There will always be those who “play cute with the rules”; that’s not an argument against having the rules. And having rules is no good if you don’t follow them.

Let’s remember, the idea (at least for most of us) is to get what you want without actually going to war. The argument I have with “More Than Zero” (MTZ, who agrees with this) is whether threatening to start wars, and thus abrogate our own adherence to international law, is a credible threat or not. If it is just a threat, then MTZ and, to a degree, Matt Welch today*, undermine the threat itself by assuring one and all that’s all it is. And if it’s just a threat, then the risk you run is that the bluff gets called. I argue, and I think perfectly patriotically, that it’s not a good idea for the U.S. to get its bluffs called.

But if it’s not just a threat, if we’re really just a replenished supply of JDAM munitions and cruise missiles away from going after Iraq, then we’re headed into a new era of international relations. As I suggested in “Imbalance of bluster,” it may require essentially withdrawing from the United Nations and the Security Council. The era may be a more honest one, but it will also basically be a “might makes right” one. That seemingly works to the United States advantage now, but that may not always be the case. I argue — and again, I think, perfectly patriotically — that we don’t want to become the world’s policeman and judge and jury; that spreading some of the responsibility for world order around makes good sense; that international institutions — many, like the United Nations, of our own design — have generally served us well for many years. We see the foul-ups, like in the Balkans or Somalia; we ignore the successes, like in the Gulf War or the Cold War.

Where I also agree with my reader is that the stakes are very high, indeed; I’m certainly no more interested in waiting for a terrorist or Iran/Iraq/North Korea weapon to suddenly blow up an American city than s/he is. That’s why I’m looking for a way out of the dilemma posed by the UN convention against pre-emptive war — a UN convention we’ve signed up for — and suggested the perhaps fanciful notion of a new doctrine that spells out consequences for nations acquiring WMD or supporting terrorism (which then must be defined, after all). To my mind, time’s a-wasting in spelling out that doctrine clearly, and beginning the diplomatic heavy lifting that would go into making it a U.N. doctrine. Or time’s a-wasting in figuring out how we want a US-not-in-the-UN world to work — and apprising the American public of the possibility. That just might put a bit of a dent in those Bush approval ratings.

But maybe we’re just bluffing. Good?


* Welch argues that Hussein will give us all a way out by offering weapons inspections, and that’s all Bush wanted. MTZ notes Welch’s point with satisfaction — but then essentially says Saddam will merely pretend compliance with weapons inspections. That sounds like a called bluff to me.

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U.N. to assist Al Qaeda in Kunduz?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th November 2001

From today’s Washington Post (Defectors Flee as Negotiations Resume):

“To avoid bloody battle inside Kunduz we will give them chance after chance to solve this through negotiation,” [Northern Alliance General Khan] Daoud said in an interview with Western reporters. He said alliance officials have contacted a U.N. representative and are discussing whether other countries might accept the foreign fighters as refugees. While the alliance wants to see the Taliban punished, he said, “we have no problem if another country accepts them.”

The story quotes a defector’s estimate of about 6,000 Afghan Taliban and about 10,000 “foreign militants” — another word for Al Qaeda forces. Another defector said:

“…we saw with our own eyes how the number of terrorists are increasing. We saw the bodies of 60 local Taliban killed by the foreign Taliban. They are not Taliban. They are foreign terrorists.

(emphasis added). By now our best allies in Kunduz may be the Al Qaeda troops themselves: they vow they’ll never surrender, and are shooting their Afghan “allies” on the (entirely justified) suspicion that they’re giving up. (As Bush promised, “we will turn them one against another.”)

Proposed game plan: (1) stepped-up bombing of Taliban positions in and around Kunduz; (2) read the riot act to Mr. Daoud et al: “no sheltering terrorists” goes for you, too, bub, if you get our drift (3) tell Kofi Annan he had better not lift a finger to save Al Qaeda terrorists in Kunduz, or he should expect massive angry demonstrations in New York City, encouraged by the White House; also, that we do not at all guarantee the safety of anyone escorting “foreign Taliban” out of Kunduz (4) leaflet the area with promises of cash rewards to Afghans who turn on foreigners inside Kunduz, and with specific instructions about how to help U.S. aircraft focus attacks on foreigners (5) ready overwhelming American ground forces to intervene in Kunduz, with the purpose of annihilating Al Qaeda forces there.

Update: Times of India: Three-day ultimatum to Taliban in Kunduz issued by the Northern Alliance.

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Another very good speech by George W. Bush

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th November 2001

President Bush Speaks to United Nations

I agree with Matt Welch: this was a fine speech. Bush keeps it simple, as he or anyone should. In addition to the parts Welch excerpted, good for Bush for slapping the UN for putting Syria on the Human Rights Commission, while voting the U.S. off it.

I’m not getting too admiring:

  • Ashcroft
  • Thompson: the Cipro price jawboning, if truly on the basis of a patent threat, invites a health policy disaster at the current WTO meeting in Qatar, and one that is especially weird for a Republican administration to help conjure up.
  • the election
  • no post 9/11 shakeup: Tenet should have been fired, and the riot act read to the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
  • the Supreme Court generations a’comin’
  • missile defense: a boondoggle and reckless endangerment of nuclear deterrence. It wasn’t broke, so let’s not fix it.
  • pre 9/11″bipartisanship”, and a post 9/11 situation that’s beginning to look similar: see especially airline safety legislation
  • tax cuts then, tax cuts now, tax cuts forever.

But Bush does have the virtue of sticking to a good vs. evil view of things when things really are good vs.evil. It’s like that Isaiah Berlin line: the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. Both can have their day, but in these times, on topic A, hedgehog-style “one big thing” thinking is good. If only Bush knew that crushing the terrorists and their supporters is really the only big thing, and tax cuts etc. aren’t and are nowhere close.

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Iraqi famine: not just Hussein’s fault?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th October 2001

OTN explores Iraq under sanctions: why are children dying?

In contrast to the article mentioned here a few days ago (The only starving Iraqis…), this article alleges that the food and medicine shortages in Hussein’s Iraq are not self-inflicted. The article’s principal contentions are:

  • the oil-for-food/medicine does not permit Iraq sufficient funds to feed itself: The oil-for-food programme approved in April 1995 allowed Iraq to export $2 billion worth of oil every six months, of which $1.3 billion could be spent on food and medicine, $600,000 would be put into a compensation fund to pay for claims against Iraq for war damages, and $80,000 would go towards UN expenses. But the UN estimates that Iraq needs to spend $2.1 billion on food and medicine every six months …
  • food/medicine contracts are being held up: 49 of 879 (5.5%) are delayed for reasons that are unclear.

The first point is important, if true (both in interpreting what the UN says, and in assuming the UN analysis is correct). The second point seems relatively trivial. Other points made in the same web site seem to imply that the oil-for-food program is the only possible way Iraqis can get food. Surely they have their own agriculture? Nevertheless, the argument that the allotted food shipments are insufficient per se is troubling.

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