Holbrooke's Secret Plan

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.

Presented by

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

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