'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Powell at Rest 

The UK Telegraph interviewed Colin Powell at his new home, a little office in the building of the Armed Forces Benefits Association, a long way from the halls of power. Powell comes off, as ever, as an affable voice of straight Clinton-esque supposedly moderate foreign policy -- playing nice with Europe, expanding NATO, etc. etc. -- but for all his supposed reasonableness Powell still has a troubling characteristic shared by the other boys in the club that just revoked his membership: he often says things that are false.

Take for example this excerpt from the Telegraph interview:

So, in Resolution 1441 at the United Nations, "we gave Saddam an entry-level test: give us a declaration that answers all the outstanding questions. He failed the test of the resolution. It became a question that he was hiding something, that he was going to drag this out until the international community lost interest.

"There's no doubt in our mind that it would have lost interest. After his false declaration in response to 1441, it seemed likely he could return to his old ways. That was a gamble that the President and Tony Blair were not prepared to take." Hence the attempt at the second resolution and Powell's famous presentation of the WMD evidence to the Security Council.

in which Powell directly characterizes the Hussein regime's 12,000 page declaration as false, without qualifications or caveats. The claim that the declaration was false is a misrepresentation of Hans Blix's early statements regarding the declaration that was immediately pumped into the media megaphone in December of 2002.

Blix's initial assessment of the declaration was that in his opinion it was incomplete and didn't offer anything not provided by similar statements made previously by Iraq. This assessment was quickly transformed by people like Negroponte into the popular belief that the 12,000 page document was a willful act of deception. Negroponte said at the time, for example, "It fails to address scores of questions pending since 1998, it seeks to deceive when it says Iraq has no ongoing weapons of mass destruction programs," even though Blix habitually pointed out that just because there were items that inspectors would like to have known more about, it didn't follow that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD's, as Blix told the Security Council, "If something is unaccounted for, it doesn't necessarily mean that they exist."

Iraqi officials responded to these allegations by noting that they had not declared anything new because they had nothing new to declare. Here's Amir al-Saadi, Hussein's chief science adviser

We're not worried ... It's the other party that's worried, because there's nothing to pin on us ... There is nothing they don't know about Iraq programs. They know everything.

-- a statement that in the clear vision of hindsight holds up pretty well, and, indeed, a statement which Blix eventually accepted. Here's a bit of an AFP piece from September of 2003:

Iraq may have been truthful when it told the UN Security Council in December that it did not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, a former chief UN weapons inspector said.

The declaration, submitted December 7 by the government of then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was quickly dismissed as false and incomplete by the United States and Britain, which accused Baghdad of failing to disarm as required by Security Council Resolution 1441.

These charges were later used by Washington and London to justify the invasion of the country in late March.

But more than four months after US President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said facts presented by Iraq in the 12,000-page document may have been accurate.

"With this long period, I'm inclined to think that the Iraqi statement that they destroyed all the biological and chemical weapons, which they had in the summer of 1991 may well be the truth," Blix told CNN television.

And, further, since the publication of the Duelfor report the position that Blix was "inclined to think" was the truth is now, I believe, the official position of the United States of America, but apparently no one informed Colin Powell...

Sometimes it's as though members of the Bush administration, or in this case former members, exist in a strange alternate reality in which time and history stopped in May of 2003 when Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech on that aircraft carrier...

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