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August 21, 2007
Michael Cohen Responds Further
As an exciting bonus, I've responded myself at the end. It's worth reading if you're interested in this subject, but I would encourage you not to be. Look what happened to me.
From Michael Cohen:
It pains me to have to enter this debate again, but after reading the back and forth here (and as the man ultimately responsible for this entire debate) I feel the need to weigh in one last time.
Let me, as quickly as possible, try to clarify a few points. First and foremost, we must remember one salient fact about Iraq 's WMD programs after 1991 - the country had an affirmative responsibility to reveal to the UN the extent and history of their WMD programs. This is a crucial point. Iraq had to not only destroy what they had, but they were required to come clean about the programs they had developed in the past.
Again, this was an affirmative responsibility - well it was more than a responsibility, it was international law as signed through UN resolutions. Saddam HAD to comply and just to make sure he did, the Security Council authorized the use of force to ensure their enforcement.
And why did he have to comply – because he had invaded a sovereign nation, was defeated and was then forced to comply with said resolutions in order to achieve a cessation of hostilities. These are not minor points and it’s important to remember them. This entire crisis, from 1990 to the present day was indeed set in motion by Iraq ’s invasion of Kuwait in the Summer of 1990.
Now back to 1998. People can talk all they want about Saddam's motivation for not complying with inspectors. But it's largely irrelevant to the underlying issue. His responsibility was clear and as UN report after UN report makes clear, he evaded that responsibility.
Now, in my post I argued that UNSCOM reports, "make clear that the United Nations believed Iraq was not being honest about its WMD programs."
I can't even imagine why this is under debate. Read the reports. They lay out in great detail what UNSCOM believed. Jonathon Schwartz doesn't agree and uses a quote from Scott Ritter, another from a Canadian inspector and another from Rolf Ekeus, two years after the period in question. Astoundingly, he uses these quotes to attack my argument and in turn calls me misleading. This is breathtaking and I'm a little stunned that the folks at this site let him get away with it.
Let's be clear the basis for my argument is an OFFICIAL UN report. It has the imprimateur of the United Nations. Scott Ritter can say whatever he wants, but these reports make clear the OFFICIAL position of the United Nations regarding Saddam's WMD programs. To say that my evidence is a bit stronger than Jonathon’s is quite the understatement.
I agree with the folks here that the debate between kicked out and withdrawn is a distinction without a difference. But facts are facts and the reality is that Saddam prevented the inspectors from doing their job. Amazingly, this is point confirmed by none other than Mr. Schwartz who in his initial response to me concedes that Saddam was "blocking the inspections."
That is the crux of the issue. In the summer/fall of 1998 Saddam stopped complying with UN inspectors. I don’t think anyone disagrees with this point. Still don’t believe me, here’s the NYT from November 1998:
"In its most serious challenge to the United Nations in more than a year of intermittent crises, Iraq said today that it was ending all cooperation with international arms inspectors and would close their long-term monitoring operations immediately.
The action, announced in Baghdad after a meeting of President Saddam Hussein and his top advisers, goes beyond even the Iraqi ban on spot inspections imposed since August and in effect bars almost all surveillance of Iraq 's weapons programs."
It was from that act by Saddam that the crisis with the UN ensued and inspectors were eventually forced to leave. Now we can argue over why Saddam stopped complying. Jonathon’s notion that Saddam did so out of concern for his safety is, I believe, patently absurd. Was he concerned for his safety when he made every effort to prevent inspectors from doing their job in the previous seven years? Let us also remember that in 1998 Saddam didn’t plead that his life was at risk if he complied with UN inspections – he complained that inspections of his presidential palaces was an affront to Iraqi sovereignty. Since inspectors were allowed, under UN resolutions, to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted this was an absurd claim.
But really the motivation is meaningless. Saddam refused to comply. Under the resolutions he signed, he had no right to do so. He could have gone back to the Security Council, presented evidence that UNSCOM was infiltrated by US spies or claimed that his safety was at risk. I believe he did neither. Instead he stopped complying with inspectors, in effect forcing their withdrawal.
The entire crisis of 1998 was precipitated by Saddam’s actions.
For me to argue that Saddam prevented UN inspectors from doing their job is not misleading – it’s a fact.
Finally, the notion that the United Nations agreed “there was a “defensible case” for war in Iraq ” is dismissed as misleading – it is anything but.
Before I get into this point, let’s do a little but of history. In the Fall of 2002, the US went to the Security Council and demanded that Iraq comply with the UN resolutions they had been ignoring for the previous four years (I mistakenly wrote five in my initial post). The Security Council responded by passing Resolution 1441, which warned of “serious consequences” for Iraq if they failed to comply with the resolutions they had already signed.
Now some will argue that Security Council resolutions are rarely enforced, citing resolutions related to Israel as an example. Please find me a resolution that warns Israel of “serious consequences” if it fails to comply. Moreover, many of the harshest resolutions related to Israel are General Assembly resolutions, not Security Council resolutions.
However, whatever the case of earlier resolutions, “serious consequences” in the lexicon of UN verbiage is pretty tough language. In fact, it’s tougher than the language put forth in the cease fire resolution of 1991, which states rather tepidly that the Security Council, “Decides to remain seized of the matter and to take such further steps as may be required for the implementation of the present resolution and to secure peace and security in the area.” Let us not forget, it was these words, in part, that the US , backed by the UN, used to enforce compliance in the months and years after the end of the Gulf War.
It was not simply the Bush Administration, but there were others who believed that if Saddam had refused to comply, the US would have been under legal right to use military force to ensure compliance. Now, Jonathon cities the words of UN ambassadors from other nations saying that the resolution was not an automatic trigger to force – but those are political statements. From a legal standpoint, I would imagine that the US could have legally claimed that the “serious consequences” referenced in 1441 was enough legal cover to go to war – IF SADDAM REFUSED TO COMPLY.
Here’s the rub: the gambit worked. Saddam let the inspectors back in, which from my perspective invalidates the entire US basis for war. But to say that Security Council did not provide a defensible basis for war – well it’s a matter of conjecture, not “wetter than a drowned fish” and not misleading.
This gets me to the most frustrating element of this debate. I, for one, agree with Jonathon and other who argue that the war in Iraq was wrong. My only point of disagreement is whether there was a justifiable/defensible case for war.
On this point, the facts speak for themselves: Saddam was refusing to comply with UN inspectors, he had a track record of aggressive behavior against his neighbors; he had used WMD twice, once against Iran and once against the Kurds and most important, by the Fall of 2002, nearly everyone agreed – on both sides of the Atlantic and the political aisle – that Saddam had stockpiles of WMD. Here’s another crazy fact: his own generals thought he had them!
Congrats to Jonathon for being a correct skeptic, but the evidence was overwhelming that Saddam had something to hide and he hadn’t come clean. Moreover, as I said earlier, it was not the responsibility of the US and others to prove that Saddam had WMD – it was his responsibility to prove that he didn’t. Only after the UN Security Council voted 15-0 and threatened force did Saddam kind of, sort of come clean – yet even then he never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD. Why, is a question that only he could have answered. Maybe someday he’ll let Satan know.
In the end, the defensible case for war did not measure up to scrutiny. While the United States may have been justified in threatening war, I don’t believe for a second that war with Iraq made any rational sense. On this point, I think we all agree – and hopefully we can leave it at that.
I appreciate that Michael Cohen took the time to write this. However, as it stands, I think this is pretty much the end of the road for any useful discussion.
That's because of Cohen's focus here on international law. That would be fine, except...the United States has absolutely no interest in international law, beyond its usefulness in legitimizing what we want to do anyway. If the UN does what we tell it to, great. If they don't, but we can try to claim they did (as with Cohen's no-fly zone and 1441 examples), that's fine too. But if not, we're certainly not going to let something as preposterous as words on paper stop us.
That's not surprising, given our power and the fact our government is made up of human beings. But it is what it is. I'd guess Cohen is well aware of this, but perhaps he's not. I remember having an exchange on Iraq with Lee Feinstein sometime in 2002-3. He was making exactly the appeal to international law that Cohen is, how it must be obeyed at all times in every way to the exact letter and it's the only thing that ever matters, etc. I sent him a long list of gigantic violations of international law by the US and our allies and asked if he felt the same concern in those cases. He said something like: "Huh. I never thought of it that way." (Feinstein apparently just joined Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as her director for foreign policy and national security.)
Now, if Cohen will acknowledge this—that the US consistently, including when Cohen was at the UN, uses international law to wipe its international ass*—and thus our actions re Iraq obviously had nothing to do with law and everything to do with power, then we could move forward. Short of that, it's like having a long discussion about Phil Spector's horrible behavior toward women with O.J. Simpson.
Finally, here are a few specific objections—not everything by any means, but just what I had time to get to.
1. Jonathon’s notion that Saddam did so [blocked inspections] out of concern for his safety is, I believe, patently absurd.
(a) It's not my notion. It's the conclusion of the CIA.
Cohen writes as though what happened is some kind of unfathomable mystery. It's the exact opposite. We actually invaded Iraq, took it over, and captured its government documents and top officials. If people want to know what happened, the best evidence we have is in the CIA's report. It will tell you that—particularly after Hussein Kamel's defection—Iraq's actions were motivated by exactly what they claimed they were motivated by at the time. That was predominantly concerns over Saddam's safety, Iraqi national security, and a belief that there was no point to cooperation with UNSCOM because (as the Clinton administration itself said repeatedly) we would never allow sanctions to be lifted whether Iraq was disarmed or not. In addition to what I previously quoted, here's more:
The IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service], responsible for counterintelligence, was the lead organization charged with monitoring UN inspection activities and personnel...The IIS believed that all foreigners were spying on the security of Saddam Husayn or were seeking military or security information...
As soon as the UNSCOM mission began focusing on presidential sites, the SSO [Special Security Organization] became actively involved in the inspection process...
The SSO was primarily responsible for the security of the President and other key members of the Regime, security of Presidential palaces and facilities, and ensuring the loyalty of key military units, principally the RG and SRG...
[SSO officers] were also to hide any contingency war plans, anything dealing with Saddam’s family, SSO personnel rosters, or financial data which could have posed a risk to Iraq national security...The SSO officer on-site had authority to use whatever means was necessary to keep the team from entering the site before it was fully sanitized...
Saddam, Tariq ‘Aziz, and other senior Regime officials realized by August 1998 that Iraq would not be able to satisfy UNSCOM and the UN Security Council and have sanctions lifted.This led Saddam to suspend cooperation with UNSCOM...
Etc., etc., etc.
(b) Even if we knew nothing at all about the underlying reality, I'd find it weird for Cohen to characterize as "patently absurd" the idea that Saddam Hussein was motivated by his personal safety. Paranoid dictators as a class often are. Beyond that, two seconds after the UN resolutions on WMD were passed in 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration said it wanted to see Saddam overthrown whether Iraq disarmed or not. The Clinton administration repeatedly said it wanted Saddam overthrown. In 1998 Congress passed a law saying the policy of the US regarding Iraq was regime change. If Iran declared its policy toward the US was regime change, would Cohen find it absurd if the U.S. Secret Service sometimes blocked Iranian spies from wandering around the White House?
(c) Cohen also found it patently absurd to think Iraq didn't have any banned weapons. I think he might usefully consider whether he could learn something from that about his judgment on Iraq generally.
2. Let us also remember that in 1998 Saddam didn’t plead that his life was at risk if he complied with UN inspections
Here are some examples of what Iraqi officials said about the conflict between Iraq and UNSCOM. Note that Michael Cohen was chief speechwriter to Bill Richardson when Richardson was US Ambassador to the UN from 1997-98.
January 14, 1998
JIM LEHRER: The U.N. Security Council resolution passed today unanimously says Iraq's behavior is unacceptable. What's your reaction to that, sir?
NIZAR HAMDOON [Iraqi ambassador to the UN]: ...We are not saying that Iraq should dictate the composition of the team, but in the same time we cannot accept this unprecedented composition of this particular team, which has never happened before, to see a team that is heavily dominated by the Americans and the Brits.
JIM LEHRER: What's the problem with that?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, given the--policy of the United States, of the United Kingdom, Iraq thinks that such teams are only going to create more suspicions, going to create tensions, and problems...we all know about the plans the U.S. Government has for Iraq to overthrow the regime...For that reason we cannot accept.
November 11, 1997
The United States pressed other powers Monday to slap a travel ban on Iraq as Baghdad dug in its heels, refusing to allow US experts to take part in enforcing UN sanctions...
In talks earlier, Aziz reiterated Baghdad's position that the UN special commission on disarmament was dominated by Americans carrying out a plot by Washington to overthrow Saddam.
November 10, 1997
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday debriefed three envoys returning from a fruitless mission to Baghdad, and described the 10-day UN-Iraq crisis as "serious"...
But Saddam also signalled he was still open to compromise, and explained the actions against the US inspectors were "defensive." Iraq accuses them of spying for the US administration in hopes of ensuring Saddam's overthrow.
November 7, 1997
TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: This is not U.N. conduct. This is a confusion between United Nations objectives and the United States objectives against Iraq, and UNSCOM is being used as a means and a cover.
CNN: The Iraqis accuse American inspectors of behaving in a provocative way, spying on presidential security units and seeking to weaken and topple President Saddam Hussein.
Here's a little more on Iraq's stated concerns regarding UNSCOM. The other guest on Larry King Live that night was Cohen's boss Bill Richardson.
November 13, 1997
Larry King Live
AZIZ: Well, in the present circumstances, as you know very well, the American administration is planning a military attack on Iraq...When another country is planning a military attack on you and sends a spy plane, a spying plane under the cover of the United Nations, what does that mean? They want to update their information about our air defenses, about our military units, about our sensitive sites...and then use this updated information to have a precise -- precise targets.
Here's an US Air Force history of Desert Fox:
In response to Saddam’s intransigent behavior President Bill Clinton declared on December 16 that Hussein had “abused his last chance” and that he had directed US forces to strike military and regime security targets in Iraq...the President only hinted at a broader political goal, one beyond the immediate aims of crippling Iraq’s WMD programs. The best way to eliminate the threat Saddam posed to the security of the Middle East and the world, the President claimed, was “with a new Iraqi government"...
President Clinton’s reference to a “new Iraqi government” could certainly be seen as an implied objective of DESERT FOX...
[F]rom the large list of WMD-related targets, US and British aircraft would eventually strike only eleven during DESERT FOX and these were nearly all missile-related...
The final DESERT FOX target list contained roughly 100 sites or facilities, including the eleven noted above...American and British planners benefited from the wealth of information on Iraq’s WMD and security apparatus gathered over several years by UNSCOM.
3. Only after the UN Security Council voted 15-0 and threatened force did Saddam kind of, sort of come clean – yet even then he never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD.
Iraq's National Assembly passed a law banning WMD in early February, 2003.
Saddam Hussein said this in an interview with Dan Rather broadcast on February 26, 2003:
SADDAM: I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that's been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons...
RATHER: Will the new proposed United Nations resolution, the one that's just out this week--will this make any difference at all in your position?
SADDAM: The basic position, there is no change. We have not pursued any weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam also delivered a speech in Arabic on Iraqi national TV, described in Hans Blix's book:
Saddam did make a speech on his son's television channel...In it, he noted that Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction in the past, but that it had none now.
In conclusion: I am very, very tired.
* International ass joke borrowed from here and then modified under fair use conventions.Posted at August 21, 2007 06:01 PM | TrackBack