Wednesday, March 19, 2003

In assessing the damage from their diplomatic train wreck, Dubya's crew seems mostly interested in focusing blame on France. With comic results. Witness New York Times diplomatic correspondant Steven Weisman's post mortem, based on interviews with a dozen or so senior US officials, which features a recap of events which effectively presents the matter as a tale of French perfidy. It only acknowledges towards the end that Russia had also promised to veto the second resolution (they have ties to the current Iraqi regime, and besides, "Pooty-poot" has apparently had enough of American high handedness, like Dubya's unilateral shredding of the ABM treaty). It mentions German opposition in one sentence in passing, never mind that the current German government ran on an explicitly anti-American platform in recent elections. And it barely drops a hint that veto-bearing China was also opposed. And with all that, it describes the problem up front as a disagreement with the "disingenuous" French.

And it somehow avoids explicitly mentioning the reason that the US ultimately withdrew the second resolution -- that the war party couldn't even scare up the nine security council votes which would have allowed Tony Blair to claim in Parliament that the vetoes (at least two) were "frivolous", a point that was not lost on the authors of this scathing editorial in Le Monde. It wasn't the failure of French support which doomed the second vote; it was that the United States could not even obtain the support of even Chile and Mexico. (Weisman does mention the Chile and Mexico votes, which makes it even stranger that he doesn't say why we still cared, with two vetoes assured).

Why beat up on the French? Because Chirac said he would not endorse war under any circumstances? But Chirac never said that. In fact, in the March 10 interview which caused all the fuss, he said:

[If the inspectors] come and tell the Security Council: "we are sorry but Iraq isn't cooperating, the progress isn't sufficient, we aren't in a position to achieve our goal, we won't be able to guarantee Iraq's disarmament". In that case it will be for the Security Council and it alone to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable.

... adding that because the inspectors were saying at that point that they anticipated being able to do their job within a few months, it wasn't inevitable at that point. (I'm quoting the official translation, with emphasis added).

So, what about the veto "regardless of the circumstances"? Did Chirac reverse himself within the interview? Not quite. What he actually said, at the end of a long discussion of Security Council vote counting, was (again, quoting the official translation with added emphasis):

My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote "no" because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, i.e. to disarm Iraq

Note again, that the French veto is conditioned on current conditions on the ground -- literally "this evening" -- and there is no inconsistency with the early statement that changed circumstances would justify war. In context, the reference is clearly to diplomatic circumstances surrounding the current resolution; it's just a declaration that France would veto an immediate war regardless of diplomatic circumstances, so long as the inspectors said they were still able to do their jobs.

You'll note that the French say they were trusting the inspectors' account of their activities and findings -- as opposed to, say, Colin Powell's. Chirac is too kind to point out that the administration's evidence had proven, to put it charitably, less than totally convincing, featuring, among numerous other problems, questionable technical evidence (El Baradei's last statement on the notorious aluminum tubes was that Iraq probably couldn't have made a centrifuge out of them if they wanted to), and at least one forged document. Chirac is too kind to mention this, even now. But he's surely aware of it.

So who was being disingenous? Here's a telling bit from Weisman:

If there was a turning point in this period, the French say, it occurred when Blix, the co-chief UN weapons inspector, began circulating a timetable for how he would proceed with his job in mid-January.

Because Resolution 1441, as passed by the Security Council, did not have a timetable, Blix and his team reverted to one from the 1990s calling for introducing inspectors step by step, setting up their infrastructure and then establishing "tasks" for Iraq to carry out by March 27, 2003.

Once the United States had a look at the plan, there were objections. Rice and others, including John Negroponte, the American ambassador to the UN, issued statements saying the United States could not wait until that date for the "tasks" to be listed.

Having voted for an inspection process, why exactly was the United States unwilling to give the inspectors even a couple of months to set up a credible inspection regime?

A troubling question. And not the only one -- Weisman mentions, for instance, that one reason we couldn't get many votes from even the "small powers" in the Security Council was that we were asking them to vote against the wishes of their populations -- populations so firmly opposed that, by Weisman's account, it made even dictators uncomfortable. What does that say about our commitment to democratic values? Another tough issue.

Moreover, it seems that unilateralism, lack of concern for world opinion, all these things that Dubya's boosters have pooh-poohed since he entered office, actually mattered here. Perhaps all that needs to be reconsidered? Surely not. Better, perhaps, to ignore it -- and to ignore as well the positions of Russia (peeved at American unilateralism), Germany (whose current government, once again, ran on an explicitly anti-American platform), our inability to gain support from even Latin America, for crying out loud, and blame it all on the perfidious French.

Note added in proof: I know that at this point, this seems like Monday morning quarterbacking; the way things have played out, I can only hope now, like everyone else, that the hawks are right about prospects for the war, that I'm wrong, and that our troops will have quick and unquestionable success in establishing a better regime in Baghdad. But I've seen the, shall we say, selective quotation of Chirac enough -- I've noted the fuller quotes in the comments section of at least two blogs -- to want to get it down in one place. Besides, it's annoying the hell out of me, and this blog is, first and foremost, a vehicle for my annoyance...

Update: last graf also reworked a bit in proof.


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