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• • •
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August 21, 2007

Michael Cohen Responds Further

Below are further thoughts from Michael Cohen, following on this (from me) and this (from him). He sent it to me after posting it as a comment at L'Homme de Poor.

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.

Lehrer Newshour
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

Wow! I'll BET you're tired! You have been performing the Labors Of Hercules here (or perhaps Sisyphus, it unfortunately must be said).

You deserve a rest, for sure. Cohen is a wanker, there's just no curing that. He is irreducibly programmed to parrot the Official Narrative. He will cling to it to his dying breath.

He can never admit that your REAL facts refute his truthy "facts", because to do so would be to surrender his worldview -- and he will never do that, his very identity is bound up in it.

In any case, HUZZAH! Well-fought! I would be honored to tie my scarf to your lance.

Posted by: rebecca at August 21, 2007 07:39 PM

you're a mensch Jon, and a more patient man than I. well played sir.

Posted by: ran at August 21, 2007 08:19 PM

And The Editors are worse than a million Hitlers.

Posted by: Nell at August 21, 2007 09:07 PM

For having made a false equivalency between you and the wanking Mr. Cohen.

Posted by: Nell at August 21, 2007 09:09 PM

I've taken up Mr. Cohen's charge to "Read the reports" that "lay out in great detail what UNSCOM believed". This, for example:

I'm struck by the contrast of interpretations which carried the correct political message (from the Clinton Administration point of view) and the actual apparent disarmament activities accomplished by UNSCOM.

Never was any issue allowed to be called satisfactorily resolved even though the report is rife with figures like "56,281 munitions...numerical discrepancy of several hundred munitions in the overall accounting can be attributed to minor deviations in the physical counting of large piles of weapons."

Iraq in fact DID provide inspectors with enormous amounts of accurate information. And the resulting disarmament was extremely thorough, no doubt to the detriment of whatever deterrent to invasion Iraq may have at one time possessed.

A huge missing piece of the puzzle in the UN reports, Mr. Cohen's discourse, and indeed the whole "case" for war is the extent to which the US and other Western nations assisted Iraq in its weapons buildup. Where did it get all those components and precursor agents anyway? Topic for another time...

Posted by: Eric at August 21, 2007 10:59 PM

Is there any difference between George Bush when he says, "And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in" and what Michael Cohen says? I'm not talking about the content but the state of mind.

Posted by: racrecir at August 21, 2007 11:16 PM

You know, maybe you should write a book on this stuff. Unless it cuts into your blogtime, of course. Priorities, you know.

Supposing you did write a book, I wonder if you could get it noticed by Serious People? Or if that would or should be a priority. Also, are books or blogs the best way to reach people if you want change? I have no idea.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 22, 2007 12:13 AM

Wow! Michael Cohen tells us he doesn't know what "serious consequences" means.

All he says is that in the lexicon of the UN, "serious consequences" is "pretty tough" language.

Is he kidding us? For someone who wrote speeches for our UN ambassador, this lack of knowledge is appalling.

I cannot believe that someone in Cohen's position would be so ignorant about UN-speak. The language that authorizes force is "with all necessary means." The words "serious consequences" mean that further material breach is to be reported to the UNSC before the use of "all necessary means" can be authorized.

Which implies that Bush violated international law.

Cohen writes:
>> "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."

There were others???? Oh yeah, who? Even Blair's AG, Lord Goldsmith told Blair it'd be illegal. International lawyers worldwide declared emphatically it would be illegal.

Even Richard Perle said the invasion was a breach of international law.

How ironic that Michael Cohen should side with John Yoo!

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 22, 2007 12:39 AM

Jon, this is a nice try, but it doesnt really deal with the heart of my comments. Moreover, in the two quotes you highlighted you have seriously mischaracterized my argument. As far as the Saddam quote that you feature he says "we have not pursued any WMD" which of course is a bald-faced lie. Why you put so much faith in the words and deeds of Saddam Hussein is beyond me.

However, I respect your efforts. You are passionate about what you believe and even though we don't agree I appreciate the rigor and respect with which you made your case. I wish some of your commentors were as respectful as you in disagreeing with me. But for now I'm done arguing this point. I'll let my last post be the final word. It's been fun!

Oh and I should say one more thing, I completely agree with you that Saddam stopped complying with inspections because Madeleine Albright gave a very silly speech in March 1997 strongly hinting that sanctions against Iraq would never be lifted. But I still don't think this justified or excused his actions. And on that note . . .

Posted by: Michael Cohen at August 22, 2007 12:56 AM

Excellent Johnathan.

Yes. Book Please.

Posted by: patience at August 22, 2007 01:00 AM

I have to say one last thing, Bernard I agree with you. Further material breach or lack or compliance was necessary to justify war. I believe I have made that point repeatedly. Once Saddam let inspectors in the legal case for war disappeared and as you suggest likely made the war illegal.

Posted by: Michael Cohen at August 22, 2007 01:04 AM

Why you put so much faith in the words and deeds of Saddam Hussein is beyond me.

Perhaps because when he said, "Iraq no longer has the weapons," he was demonstrably telling the truth. You say something like that, and then you wonder why people respond 'disrespectfully'.

Posted by: hf at August 22, 2007 01:29 AM

Ignatieff carries water for Empire and Cohen carries water for Ignatieff. Who will carry water for Cohen, or is he as far downstream as you can go? You gotta feel for him - Ignatieff is too rarefied to deal with the backwash of his own intellectual waste products, that's for schmos like Cohen, who must see this sort of thing as part of the price paid for a shot at the Beltway dress circle.

'For someone who wrote speeches for our UN ambassador, this lack of knowledge is appalling'

Oh I don't know. Noted speechwriters, off the top of my head: Peggy Noonan and David Frum. That bar is set pretty low.

What I want to know is this - why does Cohen think a case for war ('defensible' or otherwise) can be made out of Saddam's WMD (actual, potential or otherwise)? Would he be happy to have say a Soviet/Chinese bloc (now actual rather than potential) bomb the Christ out of his city, killing his family, because they had suspicions/were utterly sure (take your pick) that the rogue US of A had stockpiles of nukes waiting to be deployed against them? Why does the existence of weapons per se (or a weapons program, or intent to start a program) in certain selected locations (and not others) spell doom for sobriety, perspective and a sense of proportion?

As Bernard will know, the invaluable Tony Karon covers this territory better than most in his most recent post at Rootless Cosmopolitan. After limning a possible storyline had the forecast of stockpiles been correct, he says:

'Now, ask yourself, had the above scenario unfolded and the “case for war” (on the terms accepted by the media and the Democrats) been proven, would Iraq look any different today? Would it be any less of a bloodbath; any less of a quagmire for U.S. troops; any less of a geopolitical disaster; any less of a drain on U.S. blood and treasure? Would the U.S. mainland or U.S. interests and allies worldwide be any safer today? In short, would the Iraq invasion seem any less of a catastrophic strategic blunder had the U.S. discovered some caches of unconventional weapons in Iraq?

The answer to all of those questions is obviously no.

And it’s from that point that we must begin our discussion on Iran, and the media’s role in preparing the American public for another disastrous war of choice. The “necessity” in the American public mind to go to war in Iraq was established through the mass media — a failure for which there has been precious little accounting. But that failure runs far deeper than is typically acknowledged even by critics: It was not simply a case of the media failing to properly and critically interrogate the spurious claims by the Administration of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction capability. Sure, even the likes of France and Germany suspected that Saddam may, in fact, have still had a few piles of chemical munitions left over from the Iran-Iraq war. *The point, however, is that they did not see these as justifying a war* (my emphasis). They recognized from the outset that invading Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve.'

A war waged by a democracy cannot be 'defensible' - it must be absolutely unavoidable on the basis of self defence. The very fact a word like 'defensible' is used by a so-called liberal in the context of this disaster is an index for me of Mr Cohen's desire or intent (or both) to defend the people, or rather the class of people who enabled it and who consider it their right to intervene in the affairs of other nations. He's a part of that class and can't see beyond it's shibboleths; he therefore cannot, or will not critique it with anywhere near the perspicacity of his new friends in the blogosphere. The comment thread at Democracy Arsenal on his latest effort alone contains more wit and wisdom than his entire oeuvre, and Ignatieff's too.

There was never any threat to the USA, only to Israel and the profit margins of the Military/Industrial/Nat Sec/energy complex. It may be that from the standpoint of these actors, there was a 'defensible' case for attacking Iraq (which is why we're there), but I can't see Mr Cohen acknowledging it, let alone making it. As the Downing St memo tells us, the decision was made and the facts were tailored to fit in around it. But that job was botched so the liberal intellectuals (Ignatieff, Packer, Berman, Friedman, Walzer et al) were wheeled out to sprinkle stardust and treacle over the already rotting carcass of falsehoods and wish-fulfilment, to give it some semblance of moral and ethical cover.

That orchestrated hand-wringing held the line long enough to allow invasion, but looks decidedly shabby today. No matter, they have these waste disposal sites like Democracy Arsenal where your Cohens take out the trash for you and try to keep the porch swept clean.

It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.

Posted by: Glenn Condell at August 22, 2007 02:55 AM

"Why you put so much faith in the words and deeds of Saddam Hussein is beyond me.

However, I respect your efforts".

Shorter Cohen: You are a Saddam-lover, but a tenacious one.

Mr Cohen is a little, little man.

Posted by: IM at August 22, 2007 06:17 AM

"Jonathon’s notion that Saddam did so out of concern for his safety is, I believe, patently absurd."

Mr. Hussein had indeed nothing to fear for his safety at all. Like other practitioners of the art of foreign politics he is now in retirement, tending his roses, from time to time a speaking engagement...

Hold, what did you say? Dead, after delivered over to a lynch mob? Funny how that happened...

Posted by: IM at August 22, 2007 06:27 AM

"he had a track record of aggressive behavior against his neighbors;"

Neighbours, that would be Kuwait and.. Iran?
The Iraq-Iran war was wrong? Now they tell us!

Mr Cohen, why do love the mullah regime so much?
(See, two can play that game)

Posted by: IM at August 22, 2007 06:33 AM

Yeah, the "Saddam had a record of aggression against his neighbors" and the allusion to the genocidal campaign against the Kurds was a teensy bit ironic, given the US stance towards Iraq when those events took place. Actually, the Iran/Iraq war is an example of the US supporting both sides at one time or another. You can't get more depraved than that. It's funny how this question of moral consistency simply has no effect on Very Serious People. They take for granted their rhetorical right to use Saddam's crimes as a reason for waging war on him, and it just doesn't cross their minds to wonder if there's something wrong with a country supporting Saddam when he commits those crimes and then using those crimes as another reason to justify attacks on him. I've even heard people say our previous support means we have an obligation to take him out. Moral rules exist only to provide the US with a reason to do whatever it wants to do at the moment.

Glenn's comment was very good too. And yes, the main justification for "Democracy Arsenal" is that it gives sensible people in the comment threads a jumping off point for showing what's wrong with the thinking of our Serious People.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 22, 2007 08:55 AM

I completely agree with you that Saddam stopped complying with inspections because Madeleine Albright gave a very silly speech in March 1997 strongly hinting that sanctions against Iraq would never be lifted. But I still don't think this justified or excused his actions.

"You have no hope of improving your situation, but you should try anyway. Or else we'll hurt you even worse." Nope, can't see how this might engender a nihilistic throwing up of one's hands. I wonder if Saddam liked Kafka?

I wish some of your commentors were as respectful as you in disagreeing with me.

Poor Jon spent who knows how much time and energy typing a helluva lotta words trying to get through to you and got zilch for his efforts. I sat here miming a jerkoff motion at your posts and got the same thing. Much more cost-effective, if you ask me.

Posted by: at August 22, 2007 08:58 AM

The Iran-Iraq War? We were on his side, right? We sent him poison gas, right? And VP Bush finagled money through the Dept. of Ag, right? While we sent weapons to Iran in secret for hostages and heroin, right?

It's all so confusing.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at August 22, 2007 09:30 AM

I wish some of your commentors were as respectful as you in disagreeing with me.

Speaking sincerely as one Mike to another, fuck you.

Posted by: Mike at August 22, 2007 11:15 AM

The most disturbing aspect of Mr. Cohen's tenaciously held position is that he is triangulating a rhetorical space in which those responsible for Iraq must not be held accountable.

If I may paraphrase:

"Yes, I am sensible enough to profess my belief that the war was and is wrong. However, it is befitting one of my station to insist that the war's perpetrators not be held accountable for their crimes. My rhetoric about the war's 'defensibility' is little more than a diffuse veneer of sophistry offered to that end. We can bicker about the details (preferably in polite language that glosses over the apocalyptic death and suffering at the heart of the issue), but the bottom line is that We are Empire and We must not be held accountable."


Posted by: Church Secretary at August 22, 2007 11:38 AM

AS ANOTHER MIKE, fuck you. After all that has happened, you believe the TREASONOUS BASTARDS shouldn't be held accountable?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 22, 2007 12:34 PM

and it's so profound
and I like its rhythm
and I like its sound
it's by a very famous poet
no critic can criticise
and then I pause a moment
and I start to realize
he's tellin
lies lies lies

- Lies by Violent Femmes

Posted by: almostinfamous at August 22, 2007 12:50 PM

also if you're reading this, you should realize that you get no respect from the commenters because

a) we're the rabble
b) you do not regard the content of the statements, so why the eff do you care about the tone?
c) you insult a lot of their (very smart) intellects by taking up preposterous(on their very face) claims and offering them some appearance of legitimacy.

hope this helps


Posted by: almostinfamous at August 22, 2007 01:04 PM

Don't mean to belabor the point, but Michael C, you are wrong. Whether Saddam complied or not was irrelevant to the legality of the war. 1441 did not authorize war under any condition.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at August 22, 2007 08:32 PM

Hold on, BC, didn't Michael already acknowledge that? His argument is (AFAIUI) that non-compliance before 1441 provided reasonable grounds for suspicion and that this gives moral legitimacy to the action, and by the consent of the individual UN participants that there was a problem, legality.

IMO, this is a dubious argument even if the premises hold. But Jonathan is making the case that a) even those are flawed b) the argument is missing some crucial facts.

Posted by: me at August 23, 2007 04:14 AM

The problem, "me," the problem that has made Michael Cohen the object of much well-deserved vitriol and "name-calling," is that "reasonable grounds for suspicion" do not provide "moral legitimacy" to giving a toddler a timeout.

As I and others have pointed out using various levels of civility (none too low in this case), Mr. Cohen isn't offering rhetorical cover for the parents of a child who was given a harmless punishment. He is constructing a rhetorical foundation for excusing the genocidal culpability of a cabal of elected and appointed officials who lied our nation into a war and occupation that we all knew (or should have known) better to avoid.

There is a reason that Vietnam wasn't the illegal U.S.-led war of aggression to end all illegal U.S.-led wars of aggression. Tireless right-wing propagandists went largely unopposed in tarring liberal and anti-war activism as the scapegoats for failure in Vietnam (and completely recasting the history of that doomed enterprise into something analogous to the mythical Confederate "Lost Cause"). There was no such massive, organized effort directed at the architects and facilitators of the debacle in Southeast Asia. The 'respectable' media eventually gave unlimited and perennial access to pushers of the Dirty Fucking Hippie myths, while open criticisms of the likes of Kissinger, Johnson, Nixon, and McNamara were hard to find.

Here we are again, and the right-wing hawks are watching another illegal and ill-advised military adventure go south. I'm sure we can count on their propaganda organs-- led by Fox News, of course-- to begin screaming out their own Dolchstosslegende long before the helicopters are flying the last Marines and Iraqi hangers-on out of the Green Zone. How will the voices of reason be able to counter this? How will we be able to demand accountability for the real villains of this mess, and thus hope to avoid its future incarnations? It will be exceedingly difficult as long as we have the likes of Michael Cohen, with their respectable political pedigrees, providing cover for the miscreants.

Posted by: Church Secretary at August 23, 2007 09:05 AM

Wait, wait - how in the name of God, Michael Cohen, can you possibly argue that the UN resolution authorized force? NO ONE believed it did. Furthermore, members of the Security Council ACTIVELY OPPOSED THE INVASION. Bush and Blair had an emergency conference in the Azores after their case for war fell apart and decided that they didn't need another resolution BECAUSE THEY KNEW THEY COULDN'T GET AUTHORIZATION. Because the support simply was not there. Why are you such a huge liar?

Posted by: saurabh at August 23, 2007 01:07 PM

let's please remember that not only did hussein accuse the UNSCOM teams of being CIA covers - the clinton administration, which denied it at the time, later admitted this was correct! So one 'justification' for going to war was that hussein banned illegal cia plants from the unscom teams? Huh?

Ex-Inspector Cites Early Role of C.I.A. On U.N. Arms Team

February 23, 1999, Tuesday

By PHILIP SHENON (NYT); Foreign Desk

Late Edition - Final, Section A, Page 1, Column 6, 860 words

DISPLAYING ABSTRACT - Endgame, new book by Scott Ritter, former UN arms inspector, says Central Intelligence Agency placed American spies on UN weapons teams only a year after end of Persian Gulf war of 1991 and worked closely with agency to organize inspections; bolsters Iraqi allegations that teams were riddled with American spies from start; Ritter says coup attempt against Pres Saddam Hussein in June 1996 coincided with presence of inspection team that included nine CIA officials; is harshly critical of Clinton Administration and of Sec of State Madeleine K Albright in particular; accuses her of lobbying strenuously for his removal from leading arms inspection team because he was viewed as too aggressive in dealing with Iraqis

Posted by: daniel brezenoff at August 23, 2007 02:56 PM