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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 20 November 2003

Topic: Iraq
Iraq - Our war was legal (Bush)
I knew that (Blair)
It wasn't legal at all (Richard Perle of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld)

What's this all about? Our point man, our hawk of hawks, Richard Perle, Wednesday night at an event organized by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, discussing the invasion and take-over of Iraq said this: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing." French intransigence, he added, meant there had been "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein".

Perle of course had argued loudly for the toppling of the Saddam Hussein since the end of the 1991 Gulf war.

The problem? George Bush and his guys had consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq - and that was also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defense permitted by international law. The main argument of the United States has been that the invasion was justified under the UN charter, which guarantees the right of each state to self-defense, including pre-emptive self-defense. On the night bombing began, in March, Bush flat out quoted America's "sovereign authority to use force" to defeat the threat from Baghdad.

Now our point man says, well, not exactly. This is a big "oops."

"They're just not interested in international law, are they?" said Linda Hugl, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which launched a high court challenge to the war's legality last year. "It's only when the law suits them that they want to use it."

Well, the British folks never advanced the suggestion that they were entitled to act, or right to act, contrary to international law in relation to Iraq. Now what?

Talk about insulting your hosts!

You might recall Richard Perle resigned his chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board earlier this year but remained a member of the advisory board. I guess he's a bit of a loose cannon.

But most folks agree the most American voters don't give a rap. Michael Dorf, a law professor at Columbia University on the matter: "I suspect a majority of the American public would have supported the invasion almost exactly to the same degree that they in fact did, had the administration said that all along."

We've pulled out of a lot of treaties, like Kyoto and the International Tribunal thing, and we think everyone should agree to fair trade laws - except we reserve the right to put tariffs on steel even if the WTO says that's a treaty violation, and even if yesterday we put big tariffs on finished goods from China. International rules? International laws? Others should follow them.

Read all about this here: War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal ... Oliver Burkeman and Julian Borger - The Guardian (UK) - Thursday November 20, 2003

Posted by Alan at 16:28 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 14:52 PST home

Thursday, 20 November 2003 - 20:22 PST

Name: Rick Brown
Home Page:

I keep meaning to go back and check my memory of George Orwell's "Animal Farm," especially the part about the immutable truths written on the side of the barn that kept changing from day to day. Did those truths really change like that, or am I just remembering that whole story wrong? After all, I did read this in high school, and that was over forty years ago!

One nice thing about this Guardian article is that it reminds us that the pro-invasion arguments the Bush circle put forth at the time don't seem to be the ones they talk about today. Or am I remembering last winter wrong? After all, who can be expected to remember things someone said almost a whole year ago!

One good example is that prime legal pitch, "that the invasion was justified under the UN charter, which guarantees the right of each state to self-defense, including pre-emptive self-defense." Hindsight now seems to tell us, of course, there was no threat to defend against. What to do?

A revisit to the barn would now tell us that this wasn't the real reason we went to war at all! After all, it's now argued, what callous wimp could possibly argue that we didn't do a good thing by overthrowing this thug? Legal-schmegal, this was the right thing to do, right?

The big problem with Richard Perle's letting loose with that loose cannon he calls a brain is not necessarily that this will undermine the administration's position back home. And this is not to say there isn't more than enough discussion in this country right now about the White House screwing up the Iraq war, it's just that unless the Democrats come up with a candidate who can present a strong and resolute human face to the Bush opposition, it just may not matter all that much.

After all, "I think Perle's statement has the virtue of honesty," argues anti-war Columbia University professor Michael Dorf. "And, interestingly, I suspect a majority of the American public would have supported the invasion almost exactly to the same degree that they in fact did, had the administration said that all along."

Is this just another case of liberals swallowing themselves whole? Or is this guy just acknowledging that old immutable truth, that sometimes a collective bad memory comes in handy?

Perle's having not kept his mouth shut could have one major deleterious effect that comes to my mind, hinted at in that statement by Linda Hugl of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: "They're just not interested in international law, are they? It's only when the law suits them that they want to use it."

She's probably right! God forbid if this administration -- or, for that matter, some future U.S. administration, no matter of what political stripe -- finds at some point that international law actually DOES "suit them," but will have lost their ability to turn to it. The world will, by then, just possibly know that these Bush people had turned the United States into the international moral equivalent of the boy who cried wolf!

(And of all things, this crowd's supporters once claimed that Bill Clinton turned this country into the laughingstock of the world!)

Along these same lines, we see the Bush White House this week straining to show the world that they indeed DO take international opinion seriously, probably spurred on by the painful knowledge that so few nations have been willing to get with the program to rebuild Iraq.

But maybe they just might find those efforts stymied by having squandered their influence in pretending they can get away with altering, at will, the writing on the wall. In the long run, they can't.

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