I won't allow Bush's crimes to disappear down the memory-hole ...
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As I reviewed some of the reports that the UN weapons inspectors submitted to the Security Council in early 2003, my thoughts turned to the Johns Hopkins-MIT study estimating that as many as 950,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion for nothing at all.
Yes, I am "re-hashing" old events and "re-litigating" the debate over the war. I have to because there are, today, liberal hawks (and hawks-hawks, of course) running around defending their support for this insanity because of their deluded notion that everything would have gone swimmingly if not for the bunglers in the White House.
That facile evasion -- the "incompetence dodge" -- must not stand. So humor me for a moment while I recall the most crucial junction, in my view, in the lead-up to the war.
It was March 7, 2003, when Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector, briefed the Security Council on the progress of the inspections regime:
In matters relating to process, notably prompt access to sites, we have faced relatively few difficulties and certainly much less than those that were faced by UNSCOM in the period 1991 to 1998. This may well be due to the strong outside pressure.
Some practical matters … have been resolved at meetings, which we have had in Baghdad. Initial difficulties raised by the Iraqi side about helicopters and aerial surveillance planes operating in the no-fly zones were overcome. This is not to say that the operation of inspections is free from frictions, but at this juncture we are able to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance. […]
It was a disappointment that Iraq's Declaration of 7 December did not bring new documentary evidence... When proscribed items are deemed unaccounted for it is above all credible accounts that is needed - or the proscribed items, if they exist.
Where authentic documents do not become available, interviews with persons, who may have relevant knowledge and experience, may be another way of obtaining evidence. UNMOVIC has names of such persons in its records and they are among the people whom we seek to interview. In the last month, Iraq has provided us with the names of many persons, who may be relevant sources of information, in particular, persons who took part in various phases of the unilateral destruction of biological and chemical weapons, and proscribed missiles in 1991. […]
… with relevant witnesses available it becomes even more important to be able to conduct interviews in modes and locations, which allow us to be confident that the testimony is given without outside influence. While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials (so-called minders) or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq. Interviews outside the country might provide such assurance. It is our intention to request such interviews shortly. Nevertheless, despite remaining shortcomings, interviews are useful.
… intelligence authorities have claimed that weapons of mass destruction are moved around Iraq by trucks and, in particular, that there are mobile production units for biological weapons. The Iraqi side states that such activities do not exist. Several inspections have taken place at declared and undeclared sites in relation to mobile production facilities. Food testing mobile laboratories and mobile workshops have been seen, as well as large containers with seed processing equipment. No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found…
On 14 February, I reported to the Council that the Iraqi side had become more active in taking and proposing steps, which potentially might shed new light on unresolved disarmament issues. Even a week ago, when the current quarterly report was finalized, there was still relatively little tangible progress to note. Hence, the cautious formulations in the report before you.
As of today, there is more…
He then listed a bunch of specifics about Al Samoud missiles having been destroyed and the Iraqis proposing methods of verifying whether Anthrax stocks had been neutralized as they claimed.
What are we to make of these activities? One can hardly avoid the impression that, after a period of somewhat reluctant cooperation, there has been an acceleration of initiatives from the Iraqi side since the end of January.
This is welcome, but the value of these measures must be soberly judged by how many question marks they actually succeed in straightening out. This is not yet clear. [...]
The Iraqi side has tried on occasion to attach conditions, as it did regarding helicopters and U-2 planes. Iraq has not, however, so far persisted in these or other conditions for the exercise of any of our inspection rights. If it did, we would report it.
It is obvious that, while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some long-standing open disarmament issues, can be seen as "active", or even "proactive", these initiatives 3-4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute "immediate" cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance. They are nevertheless welcome and UNMOVIC is responding to them in the hope of solving presently unresolved disarmament issues. […]
How much time would it take to resolve the key remaining disarmament tasks? While cooperation can and is to be immediate, disarmament and at any rate the verification of it cannot be instant. Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude, induced by continued outside pressure, it would still take some time to verify sites and items, analyse documents, interview relevant persons, and draw conclusions. It would not take years, nor weeks, but months.
It would not take years, nor weeks, but months.
Blix' counterpart at the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, also briefed that same day. He was more blunt than Blix. After thoroughly discounting Colin Powell's assertion that some aluminum tubes detected by surveillance were part of a nuclear centrifuge, he went on to destroy the charge that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program:
After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq… I should note that, in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its co-operation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that could contribute to the resolution of matters of IAEA concern.
The process of confirming the rest was well underway. The Iraqis, having dragged their feet at first, were staring at a couple of hundred thousand U.S. troops just over the border in Kuwait and were coming into full compliance -- the regime could, on March 7, "be seen as 'active', or even 'proactive,'" Blix said. Cooperation was, at that point, "immediate."
Those who lusted for blood and war and dead Arabs following 9/11 said at the time that we couldn't keep our troops in the desert -- in air-conditioned tents in Kuwait without IEDs going off around them every day -- for months longer waiting for the inspections to finish.
Ask the troops if they were right. Ask the mothers and fathers of the dead ones who can't answer for themselves.
Colin Powell offered the administration's response:
SECRETARY POWELL: We know what full compliance should look like and we know what it does not look like, and it does not look like full compliance now …
QUESTION: When you say you know --
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, I know.
QUESTION: We've just heard a different interpretation this morning about --
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, there are different interpretations. There are some people who simply, in my judgment, don't want to see the facts clearly.
Let that last sentence sink in. "There are some people who simply, in my judgment, don't want to see the facts clearly." Swirl it around in your head. Because he was right; Powell himself was taking the word of some brain-dead ideologues in Cheney's office over these professional inspectors returning from Iraq with first-hand knowledge of the progress being made.
I never accepted the premise that some old chemical or biological weapons left over from the 1980s and secreted away in some spider-hole were a legitimate cause for war (and certainly the idea that violating UN resolutions was itself a casus beli was silly on its face), but those who accepted those terms are guilty, too, for not opposing the invasion when it was clear that the threat of war alone was sufficient to confirm that Iraq had no proscribed weapons. Yes, it was strong-arm diplomacy at the barrel of a gun that made Iraq comply, but there was no reason to pull that trigger when they did.
Nine days later, the U.S. ordered all American personnel from the region. The day after that, the administration ordered the inspectors to stop working and leave Iraq. Two days after that, Shock and Awe began.
In these documents resides the world's greatest crime against humanity: waging a war of aggression. We can't forget that and, I'm sorry, I for one can't forgive those who went along for the ride. Far, far too many have died and too many more have had their lives ruined for that.
**Note: this post was inspired in part by watching video, here, of Jonathan Chait, L.A. Times columnist and an editor at an obscure political mag, defend his support of the war to Matt Yglesias.
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» The ignored and discounted dead Posted by: Michael Robin