Precious Moments in Diplomacy

Putin (paraphrased): "Iraq may be America's Afghanistan"1

Condi Rice: "We take his point. But, you will recall, Afghanistan was supposed to be our Afghanistan..."2

Rambling Commentary on the war

Of course there are problems and setbacks. The recent spate of increasingly sophisticated bombings worry me greatly. Lets start with the silver lining to these developments:
  • Each bombing in Iraq that is more than just a guy taking pot-shots with a gun or setting off a crude explosive device, represents terrorist resources (personnel, funds, etc.) that are tied up in Iraq and therefore not available for terrorizing Afghanistan, Europe, Asia, or North America.
  • Coalition forces per se are no longer the main targets. While the resistance still manages to knock off a coalition soldier here or there, the increasing presence of Iraqi police and civilians on the streets has resulted in the resistance targeting Iraqis themselves. While the overall casualties have increased recently, the coalition casualty rate has stayed basically constant. Worse, in order to really "score big", the resistance has had to go after even softer targets like the UN or the Red Cross compounds. Now in some guerilla war situations, this pattern might be simply because the occupying forces are holing up in their bunkers and have therefore lost the initiative. But I do not think this is happening; rather, coalition forces are being re-deployed into rapid-reaction and proactive missions, leaving patrol and guard duty to Iraqi forces.
  • This change in resistance tactics is consistent with their supposed goal of making the country ungovernable, but if they continue targeting soft targets, they will increasingly alienate the international community and the Iraqi people. It will be harder and harder to maintain the pretense that the resistance represents "the people" when the main increase in casualties is that of Iraqi citizens themselves. It will be increasingly harder to argue that the coalition should withdraw in favor of a neutral, UN force of some sort, when it's clear they will be as much a target as the coalition.
  • There is still no neighboring, nuclear superpower supporting the resistance, as there was in Vietnam. Nor has the resistance taken on a nation-wide character, as it did in Vietnam. The Shiite and Kurd regions remain relatively peaceful. To me this will be one of the main tests; if these regions become as bad as the Sunni triangle it will be a major setback.
  • Anti-war demonstrations, in the US at least, are weaker than ever. The recent demonstrations (co-sponsored mainly by International A.N.S.W.E.R, a pro-Saddam front for the Stalinist Workers World Party), were pitiful, as compared to the huge rallies just before the invasion began that were balanced by enthusiastic support from many legitimate organizations (e.g. the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker "front" :-).
    Organizers estimated that 100,000 people turned out for the {Washington, D.C.} demonstration, but police at the scene put the number much lower, from 10,000 to 20,000...Hundreds of anti-war protesters also took to sun-drenched streets in San Francisco {Merely hundreds on a sunny day?!? - e-hadj}
    In contrast, people stood up to 12 deep in Oceanside, Calif., to cheer more than 11,000 Marines and sailors who marched through downtown in the homecoming of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at nearby Camp Pendleton. Many held flags or signs that said "Thank You," and red, white and blue confetti filled the air.3
    Even Alan Maass, editor of the left-wing Socialist Worker newspaper, writing on, admitted,
    ...sponsors of the October 25th demonstrations agree that these protests won't approach the size of the ones before the war--when literally millions of people around the world took to the streets for one of the days of action on February 15. This has led to some "concern" among activists, in the words of Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of the women's peace group Code Pink.

    "I don't see the same level of energy out there," Benjamin says. "I think people are confused about whether things would be worse if U.S. troops leave. I think people are demoralized that the huge protests that we did organize didn't have the effect that we wanted. So I think those two things combined mean that our movement doesn't have the same momentum that it did before the war."
    The pacifist American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is supporting the October 25 protests as a member group in United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ, an umbrella coalition), but Michael McConnell, AFSC's regional director for Chicago, says that his office hasn't mobilized for the demonstrations beyond advertising them to members.

    To McConnell, the occupation is "a much more complex situation" than what existed before the war. "AFSC's position is that the UN should be overseeing the transition to a new government in Iraq," he said. "But obviously, that's a bit harder to mobilize around than stopping the war before it starts--or even ending an occupation. At least from our perspective, it's more complex at some level than just a slogan."4
  • Parenthetically, it's interesting how some anti-war activists complain endlessly about Bush's lies, and yet have no compunction about lying wildly about how many people attend their demonstrations!
Next, the ever-present grey clouds.

  • A single coalition or Iraqi casualty is too much.
  • The only area of spending in which Bush and the Republican Congress have been more spendthrift than Iraq is in the domestic pork budget. Even though the economy is recovering and tax revenues are exceeding expectations, this domestic spending has increased the deficit about as much as the war and occupation has. Bush appears likely to get the $87 billion for the current year, but I dread the funding debate next year unless the Iraq situation improves dramatically. The Republican's domestic spending spree has allowed the debate to be framed as "can we really afford this war" as opposed to "at this point in history, is it more important to spend money on defeating militant Islam, or on farm and steel subsidies and a massive new Medicare benefit for the richest generation of retirees the world has ever known". To be fair, I'd comment on the Democratic Party policies, but they change so quickly it's impossible to node them, even in a daylog.
  • The coalition's resolve is challenged, but still strong; however the UN and international relief organizations are running scared. It makes me despair, wondering what the UN would do if another Hitler were to arise, as might happen if the Islamist movement ever manages to find a decent economic and industrial base.
  • There are still few signs that we are mounting a successful propaganda campaign to counter the lies and distortions (no, we are not there because the Jews ordered us in; no, we do not routinely massacre civilians and journalists, etc.) of the Islamist "press". We had supposed that the good conduct of our soldiers, our rebuilding efforts, and generally just being nice would be all the "propaganda" we'd need, but it may not be enough. Radio Free Europe and embracing the human rights campaigns of dissident scientists like Andrei Sakharov were tremendously helpful in the past, we should be doing active measures like this again. Even satellite channels such as al jazeera, which are generally leery of the U.S., have a lot of hours to fill (just like US cable news channels who can't resist the latest courtroom vomit-fest or car chase) and would find it difficult to resist the lure of fresh, compelling footage; why isn't someone in the coalition provisional authority press office releasing video of the outrages Saddam committed during the war (human shield attacks by civilians whose families were held hostage, routine storage of ammo and quartering of soldiers in hospitals and schools, etc)?
  • We've done stuff on the local and regional level to promote democratic institutions, such as helping form professional associations, sports clubs, local mayors, and councils. But, we could be making more of a effort at the national level. We should have a referendum on the occupation. It's too soon for an election, because the structure of the government, who has what power, what powers are reserved for the occupation authority, etc, still hasn't been resolved. Also, Revanchist and Islamist factions may be better organized and funded, and so better able to field candidates and build coalitions. But a referendum would be about issues, not candidates. Based on Gallup and Zogby polls of Iraqis, the coalition enjoys strong majority approval (similar to the generic approval rating polls in the US). While a majority want the US to leave, a majority also don't want the US to leave too soon. A referendum on how long the occupation should continue, how soon a constitution should be adopted, etc. might deepen the consensus revealed by the polls and might help give Iraqis much-needed practice in the institutions of democracy and a much-needed sense that they have some control over their future. Any outcome other than one calling for immediate US withdrawal would be a vindication for the coalition, much as the recent, unanimous post-war UN resolutions (removing sanctions and blessing other countries troops and aid) were a huge vindication in that forum.


The preliminary report on weapons of mass destruction from the coalition weapons inspector is out, you can see it here: but it's kind of long. There is a good summary of the report from CNN at Be sure to check out the picture slideshow, you have to scroll down to the right-hand blue sidebar labeled "RELATED" and look for "Gallery: Images from Kay's report". The images are chilling, and clearly illustrate the absurdity of people such as Ted Kennedy who pick their words very carefully to leave the impression that Iraq never, ever had a serious WMD program, without actually saying it. Gee Ted, if there never was a program, why did Saddam go to such extremes to cover up a program that didn't exist? As the somewhat more honest critics gleefully point out, no, they haven't yet found massive stockpiles of ready-to-use weapons. For example, this NY Times editorial:
The preliminary report delivered on Thursday by the chief arms inspector in Iraq forces the Bush administration to come face to face with this reality: that Saddam Hussein's armory appears to have been stuffed with precursors, potential weapons and bluffs, but that nothing found so far backs up administration claims that Mr. Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world.5
However, the NY Times article fails to provide a single quote from the administration in which the word "imminent" is used. Here is what Bush & Co. actually said about Iraq, for example in the January 2003 State of the Union:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (Applause.)6
The media are trying to tell us Bush promised that the threat was imminent; this is more dramatic and apparently sells lots of newspapers. But Bush actually claimed exactly the opposite, that if we wait until it's imminent it will be too late.

Of course, major presidential policy positions are often elucidated or "spun" by senior advisors speaking in less formal contexts, such as a Sunday talk show. I suppose somewhere, someone could dig up a moment when, say, Condi Rice or Dick Cheney, said or implied the WMD threat was imminent. I've looked for this quote, and can't find it, but my search was not exhaustive. I would welcome a chance to update this writeup if someone can provide the fabled "imminence" quote in a context that suggests the quote is meant as a formal statement or modification of U.S. policy by an actual policy-maker, rather than, say, a personal opinion or speculation. The closest I've heard to this quote is a noder who argued that Bush, et. al. must have meant for us to think that the threat was imminent, otherwise they'd have no reason why we couldn't have waited to give the UN policies a chance to work. My response is, clearly the Bush administration believed that what (extremely!) limited progress the UN had achieved in the months before the invasion was not because of fresh UN diplomacy or Saddam turning over a new leaf, it was soley because of the presence of over 100,000 coalition troops, loaded for bear, sitting on his borders. That troop presence wasn't sustainable for a variety of moral and practical reasons. For a more detailed examination of this point, read The United States Is Already At War With Iraq.

Absent an imminence quote, the Bush administration's pre-invasion position seems clear: The important thing was not whether Iraq had massive stockpiles poised for launch, which the Bush policy (not to mention common sense) openly acknowledged to be unknowable absent unprecedented Iraqi cooperation or an invasion; it was whether Saddaam's intent was to keep a WMD capability intact for the future. Hence the Bush adminstration's pre-invation mantra, "Saddam Hussein must make a strategic decision to disarm". Note the clearly implied acknowledgement that Saddam may have already disarmed, but only in a tactical sense.

Looking at the preliminary report, it's hard to know if Saddam had massive stockpiles that he hid, destroyed, or exported shortly before the war started, or not. But it seems pretty clear the Saddam kept his weapons *programs* intact until the very last minute, possibly even while the invasion was under way.


1. "Russia's Putin Warns U.S. of Prolonged Iraq War", Reuters Staff, Oct. 6, 9:57 AM ET,

2. Condoleezza Rice interview on PBS's "Charlie Rose" show, aired October 30. See

3. Excerpted from "Thousands Rally to End Iraq Occupation", By Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press Writer, October 26, 2003, 9:20 AM ET.

4. "The Future of the Anti-War Movement" by Alan Maass, October 23, 2003,

5. Update: Febrary, 2004. To the best of my knowledge, this quote is from "THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: ASSESSMENT; A Reckoning: Iraq Arms Report Poses Test for Bush" by David E. Sanger, NY Times, October 3, 2003. Technically, this article is a 'News Analysis', which is the phrase the Times uses for Op-Ed content (i.e. content not subject to the Times so-called objectivity rules) that apparently is too important to languish on the actual editorial pages.

6. The 2003 State Of The Union speech is found at The best way to find past White House State of the Union speeches appears to be the official "State of the Union Portal Page" at or The White House web site gets reorganized with each new administration, and sometimes more often than that.