Not in Conformity with American Power

Might anyone care to hazard a guess why the Secretary-General today (though only in the voice of his spokesman, Fred Eckhard) felt impelled to reiterate that the “United Nations remains committed to assist the Iraqi people hold free, fair and credible elections by the end of next January” (Sept. 17), as called for both by Security Council Res. 1546 and, more important, by the occupying power?

And how many guesses would you like? As many as it takes? Or will one guess do just fine?

The Secretary-General’s sotto voce use Wednesday of the phrase “not in conformity with the UN Charter” along with his use of the single word “illegal” to describe the American invasion of Iraq—but he was “quite reluctant to use that word,” his spokesman countered the next day, and used it only “after repeated pressure from the interviewer” (Sept. 16)—hasn’t gone down too well with his some of his employers, chief among them the Howard, Blair, and Bush regimes, where Annan’s remarks “provoked swift reaction,” according to the Washington Post, and a “tempest of reaction,” in the New York Times‘s words, raising “questions in a number of capitals about why he had chosen that moment to adopt more muscular language about the war.”

As Eckhard worked the floor yesterday, trying to place an exclamation mark at the end of a round of questioning about all of this:

Question: Do you think Annan’s comments are a non-story?

Spokesman: We see nothing new in it.

Next question?

Still, it appears that people outside the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General managed to find something new in Annan’s comments. At least some people. They certainly did within Bush-Cheney campaign circles, for example. There, the most current Harris (Sept. 16) and Pew (Sept. 16) polls of potential American voters have been ringing their bells the past 48 hours, with Kerry reported ahead of Bush 48 to 47 percent among “likely” voters (Harris) and the race reported as dead-even at 46 percent among “registered” voters (Pew).

(Quick aside. For reasons that are too profound to contemplate, a poll released just this morning by the Gallup Organization (Sept. 17) reported Bush still ahead of Kerry 52 to 44 percent among “registered” voters. Don’t ask me to explain the reported differences among the three polls. Though I should add by way of full disclosure that I am not a fan of opinion polling, and believe this kind of election-rigging polls to be the political equivalent of forex speculation and hyper-capital-mobility—you can even buy get-rich-quick kits for this crap on late-night American television—and as little related to a healthy political culture as is playing dollars, yen, or euros to responsible investing—the “social object” of which, the old saying goes, “should be to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future,” rather than to “beat the gun,” to “outwit the crowd,” and to leave the bad, or depreciating, coin for the other poor slob. Besides, if you don’t like what Gallup reported this morning, you’re always free to click back to Harris’ “If Western Europeans Could Vote in U.S. Presidential Election, Kerry Would Lead Bush by 6-to-1 Majority” (Sept. 14). And for one by the Program on International Policy Attitudes from nine or ten days ago, check out “Poll of 35 Countries Finds 30 Prefer Kerry, 3 Bush” (Sept. 8).)

My favorite official response to Kofi Annan’s quite tame interview was emoted (or is the word ‘ughed’?) by the new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John C. Danforth. “If I had been his adviser,” the Ambassador said, “which I wasn’t, I would have advised him not to say it at all—and if he was going to say it at all not to say it now. But he did, and there’s a difference of opinion. In our view the enforcement of the 16 or 17 Security Council resolutions is clearly lawful. In fact, if Security Council resolution are not enforced, then it seems to me that there is a real shaking of the foundation of the rule of law.”

Translation: Fools! There is no legitimate instrument in the world that can touch the Americans. So why even bother with trivialities about the rule of law? For most anyone to raise the issue would be a nuisance. But for Kofi Annan to have raised it, a man of such high office? Shame on him. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, he ought to know better than to bother the Master of the House with news about the petty affairs of the Master’s fields and the barns.

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General,” September 16

Excerpts: Annan interview,” BBC News Online, September 16, 2004

UN Security Council Res. 1441, November 8, 2002
UN Security Council Res. 1546, June 8, 2004

Global Public Opinion on the US Presidential Election and Foreign Policy, Steven Kull et al., Program on International Policy Attitudes, September 8 (“Poll of 35 Countries Finds 30 Prefer Kerry, 3 Bush,” Media Release)

If Western Europeans Could Vote in U.S. Presidential Election, Kerry Would Lead Bush by 6-to-1 Majority“, HarrisInteractive, September 14.
Bush’s Convention Bounce Vanishes as Race Tightens,” HarrisInteractive #67, September 16
Kerry Support Rebounds, Race Again Even,” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, September 16
Bush Bounce Keeps On Going,” Gallup Organization, September 17

FYA (“For your archives”): Am depositing here an excerpt from Thursday’s news conference by the chief spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, Richard Boucher. Of course, the entirety of this news conference is archived by State online, in case anyone wants it. (See “Daily Press Briefing,” Sept. 16.) But the part I want to share with you here represents one of the better exchanges I’ve seen by a single persistent questioner (I’m told the gentleman was Eugene Bird of the Council for the National Interest) interacting with a U.S. Government media-type in memory. The questioner’s line of inquiry is never resolved, note well. But compared to the regular performances of the fat American news corps, this gentleman deserves some credit.

FDCH Political Transcripts [[EXCERPT]]
September 16, 2004 Thursday

QUESTION: Can I ask about what Kofi Annan was asked about the Iraq war? He is quoted by the BBC as saying, “From our point of view and the U.N. Charter point of view, it was illegal.”

BOUCHER: I think this is a subject we’ve discussed before. I think the secretary general’s view has been expressed by him before. While we respect his views, I think we’ve also made clear before that we don’t agree.

The war in Iraq had a sound legal basis of international law and U.N. resolutions. There were, as we’ve pointed out before, 17 resolutions, including Resolution 1441 that detailed Iraq’s obligations, its refusal to disarm and the consequences for non- compliance. So we think that was a very solid basis, legal basis, for the war. And that’s the basis on which we proceeded.

There was a fairly extensive article written on this by our legal adviser for a law journal last summer. And we have copies of that available for you in the press office, for people who want to go into it in more detail.

QUESTION: Correct me if I’m wrong, but 1441 didn’t say that if they failed to comply they would be invaded by U.S.-led coalition.

BOUCHER: It said there would be serious consequences.

QUESTION: Right, which were not spelled out.

BOUCHER: There were serious consequences.

QUESTION: Correct, but that there would be serious consequences does not — there are lots of things that can be serious consequences.

BOUCHER: Including war. And that was, I think, clear at the time.

QUESTION: When you say “basis in U.N. Security Council resolutions,” do you feel that any of the other 16 — would you care to try to make the argument that any of the other 16 resolutions provided a basis for an invasion?

BOUCHER: It goes back, really, to the beginning, to 678 that authorized all necessary means to get Iraq out of Kuwait. 687 reaffirmed that in imposing the cease-fire. It imposed conditions, including conditions related to cooperation on ending the programs of weapons of mass destruction.

There were many, many occasions on which, either in resolutions or in statements, the Security Council said that if Iraq doesn’t cooperate with this process, there will be serious consequences.

We went through that several times — many times before the war. I think you perhaps remember better than I do the exact details, but there were 11 or 12 different occasions when the council said that there would be serious consequences if Iraq didn’t cooperate, including in Resolution 1441.

QUESTION: You just mentioned the refusal to disarm as one of the reasons why, but WMDs are not found yet.

BOUCHER: There was a much broader process involved with the United Nations, involved to disarm, to rid Iraq, not only of any weapons of mass destruction that they had at the end of the war, but also the potential and capability and the intention of developing further weapons of mass destruction.

And while it’s true the stockpiles of weapons have not been found at this point, it is clear from the reporting that it’s available that those capabilities and intentions remained in Iraq and that Iraq did not cooperate with many of the specifics in those resolutions, including the requirements for disclosure and making people available.

The basic fundamental cooperation, we all know was lacking for many years, including the cooperation specifically called for in 1441.

QUESTION: Does it not strike you a unusual, or perhaps as something that hurts your argument, the fact that the head of the organization whose credibility you went to war to protect and defend is saying that what you did was not legal, along with the fact that a majority of members on the Security Council, who also should have a vested interest in seeing that their credibility is sustained, that they wouldn’t go along with it?

BOUCHER: First of all, it wasn’t a question of majority, it was a question of nine votes and vetoes on the second resolution.

QUESTION: Well, presumably if you thought you had…


QUESTION: … the support of the council…

BOUCHER: Second of all…

QUESTION: … you would have gone ahead with the second resolution? I think that’s pretty well known.


QUESTION: All right. But you weren’t going to get the support of the council, though?

BOUCHER: If we had nine votes and no veto, we would have gone forward.

QUESTION: But you didn’t?

BOUCHER: We didn’t.

QUESTION: Right. So?

BOUCHER: My turn?


BOUCHER: The second resolution was an opportunity for the council to express its views, to express its unity and political will. That, unfortunately, was lacking, but it was not necessary from a legal point of view.

As far as the question of the head of the organization, the Security Council made these resolutions. The question of Iraq as a danger to international peace and security is one that not only has been described by us, but been described by the Security Council over a long period of years.

But the fact is that we had a danger that had to be dealt with. We had a dangerous dictator that we and many other nations felt had to be removed, and he has been.

QUESTION: But don’t you see that argument as undermining the premise that what happened was to defend the credibility of the United Nations, rather than just the United States deciding on its own that it wanted — or along with a group of allies…

BOUCHER: Let me put it this way…

QUESTION: … that it wants to remove someone?

BOUCHER: … if we’re going to talk about the legal basis for the war, there is a legal basis in the U.N. resolutions that we think is very firm and very clear. And we’ve discussed that. We discuss it here, which is discussed in the article. I can give it to you, as well.

If we want to talk about the diplomatic, strategic and other reasons for the war, then it was a large — a substantial group of nations who agreed that this was a danger that had to be dealt with for many reason, as well. And that’s a solid basis for proceeding.

QUESTION: Let’s turn to Iran for a second.

QUESTION: Larry Franklin’s case……..

Leave a comment