Holbrooke's Secret Plan

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I apologize for the extreme length of this post, but the determination of various people to mislead the public about their pre-war stances on Iraq seems to me to require Greenwald-esque post lengths to try to document. At any rate, it would be a lot easier for me to forgive the Democratic Party politicians and prominent operatives who helped sell the country on George W. Bush's disastrous war in Iraq if they would at least 'fess up and admit that they supported a war that they very clearly did succeed. Here, for example, is former UN Ambassador and top Hillary Clinton advisor telling an audience in New Hampshire that Clinton voted for the war as a way of preventing the war:

Hillary Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize President Bush to go to war in Iraq continues to dog her on the campaign trail. Speaking to Monitor editors and reporters yesterday, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke gave a lengthy defense of that vote, which centered on Clinton's hope that Bush would use the Senate's support to avoid war. A Monitor editor asked why Clinton wasn't naïve to hope that Bush would use the vote to avoid military conflict.

"Here's why I know she's telling the truth," said Holbrooke, who was in New Hampshire to stump for Clinton. "After I left the U.N., I remained in very close touch with Kofi Annan; he's a very close friend. And at exactly the same time, but after the Senate vote, we were at Kofi's residence, my wife and I, and (Colin) Powell had just been up there, and Powell was trying to get the 15 votes at the Security Council for Security Council Resolution [1441], which ultimately passed. And I said, 'What's going on?' And Kofi said, 'He's told us that if we get a unanimous vote, we can avoid war.'

Now let's flash back to the October 15, 2002 episode of the NewsHour featuring Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Holbrooke. This is just after the congress voted to authorize war, while negotiations were ongoing at the UN. Kirkpatrick said:

A couple things to say. You know the definition of university professors -- or "people who think otherwise," you know the French are sort of "people who think otherwise." They all like to have their own position, which is never quite the same, or rarely quite the same as anybody else's position, least of all the United States position. And I think there's a significant element just of this thinking otherwise, the French position.

I think they also have like to think of themselves as having a kind of special relationship with a number of the once formerly colonial, Arab areas in the Mediterranean and they think of themselves as understanding them better, and dealing more effectively with them. And they finally don't like really to, just, they don't like to follow the United States. If it was our idea, they'd rather do something different.

In short, according to Kirkpatrick, even the French weren't opposing the war because the war was a bad idea. They were just being ornery. In reply, Holbrooke said:

Well, I agree with everything that Jeane Kirkpatrick just said. It reminds me a little of that famous line from 'My Fair Lady,' where Professor Higgins says to Eliza Doolittle, "The French don't actually care what you say as long as you pronounce it correctly."

In short, at the time Holbrooke didn't see this as a way to avoid war. Indeed, Holbrooke claimed to believe that even the French didn't really oppose war. He went on:

Now, that is a decision that will not be made at the U.N.; that will be made by President Bush. Right now the Bush administration has said very clearly they want a single resolution. The French have said they want two. President Bush's comments yesterday suggested he was trying to work with the French. I know he's been in touch with President Chirac directly. If President Putin comes around and supports it, it's hard for me to see how the French can be the lone holdout against such a clear menace to world peace as Saddam Hussein.

There's Holbrooke -- who, remember, was the "from the left" panelist on this show -- helping with the wartime salesjob. Suggest that the Bush administration may be overstating the threat? No sir. As the episode went on, moreover, Holbrooke wanted to clarify that he didn't take this UN business too seriously and was happy to get behind a unilateral invasion:

My own view on this was very clear. It was highly desirable, but not essential that we get a new U.N. resolution. It was essential for President Bush to go to the U N, as it was for him to get that congressional approval. The American public and the international public want to see a international effort. But I stress, and here Jeane and I would agree, that if you don't get a new U.N. resolution, the Iraqi violation of the existing dozen resolutions is in fact quite sufficient to justify action against an international outlaw.

Asked specifically "can the administration now afford to essentially go without U.N. backing?" Holbrooke most certainly did not reply that his friend Kofi Annan had told him that the Senate's vote to authorize war made war unlikely. Nor did he reveal that, in secret, leading Democratic Party politicians had voted for the war as part of a nonsensical bankshot strategy to prevent war. Instead he said:

Let me be very clear. I think it's unlikely that we will have to act without the U.N. because the U.N., I believe, will, and let's be clear again, we're talking about Russia and France, I think the Security Council and the administration will reach an acceptable agreement.

But to go to your core question, which is absolutely critical, supposing that's wrong, and supposing Jeane and I mispredict and we can't get something acceptable. The administration and some of its allies including Great Britain and I believe Turkey and some of the Gulf states, will form a coalition anyway, and act under the simple fact that Saddam Hussein has violated 16 existing Security Council resolutions and is truly already an international outlaw. And to go back to the simple point, the Security Council resolution is desirable but not essential, it was essential to make the effort.

On some level, of course, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe when Hillary Clinton voted for the war, she was actually trying to stop it. Maybe she then didn't clarify during October that she thought invading would be a bad idea. SImilarly, during November she didn't clarify her view. Or during December. Or January. Or February. Or March. Maybe she kept her opposition to the invasion itself under wraps during the 2003 intra-party jihad against Howard Dean. Maybe she only felt comfortable revealing her secret plan to prevent war until after the war had become unpopular. Similarly, maybe Bill Clinton really did oppose the war, and only pretended to support it -- by, for example, urging blind faith in Tony Blair's decision-making just days before the invasion was launched -- as part of a clever plot to preserve the peace.

Similarly, maybe Holbrooke was relaying all these secret messages to Hillary and just lying to the public on national television. And Clinton's probably associated herself with other war supporters like Madeleine Albright, James Rubin, Michael O'Hanlon, Ken Pollack, etc. over the years as part of her clever ruse. Or maybe they were all pretending, too!

Later, during his February 10, 2003 appearance Holbrooke said:

As for the U. N., there doesn't need to be another Security Council resolution. 1441, one of the best resolutions ever crafted in the U. N. and hats off to Colin Powell and his colleagues for their diplomatic achievement, plus the preceding resolutions going back to 1991 are all the authority that's needed to take military action.

That, though, must also have been part of the secret plan. Or maybe Holbrooke intended to add "but just because we have that authority doesn't mean we should use it" and just forgot, throughout the duration of his Iraq-related TV appearance, to mention his deep misgivings about this war. On the other hand, secret opposition to the war would be hard to square with his "personal recommendation to them would be not to seek a second resolution, because 1441 and the previous resolutions going back to 1991 are all they need." Presumably, that's a recommendation to invade. Or as Holbrooke put it "act without the Security Council or don't act at all, and that's going to be the choice, the administration will have no alternative but to go forward. And the French are going to be trapped by the problem they themselves have created."

Note the brilliant sneer at the end: Silly French! Trapped by the problem of their own creation! I sure do pity them.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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