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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, September 04, 2003



Call Out For Forensic Washington-ologists

Whose fingerprints are on the latest Bush Administration effort to involve the UN with the Iraqi occupation?

The Washington Post says it is Secretary of State Colin Powell, colluding with the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Josh Marshall, Dan Drezner, and Fred Kaplan, with varying degrees of skepticism, seem to agree.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I will extract this from Josh Marshall:

...this [Washington Post] article in Thursday's Post seems to say that an end-run is pretty close to what took place -- if not around Rumsfeld precisely, then the bulk of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon.

The key turning point seems to be August 26, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage floated the idea of UN involvement.

Reluctant as I am to arm-wrestle three wise men simultaneously, I wonder if they would care to comment on these remarks by Donald Rumsfeld, made on August 25:

Q: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm Major Dawn Stay (sp) from Wilford Hall Medical Center. Circumstances are necessitating an expanded role of coalition forces in the Middle East and throughout the globe. What is the likelihood that U.S. military troops would be fighting under the orders of the U.N. or other countries' commanders?

Rumsfeld: The -- I'd say two things. One, we do need coalition forces, and the Department of State and the Department of Defense, John Abizaid, the combatant commanders, and others, the Joint Staff, have been talking to something in excess of 60, 70 countries, about bringing assistance in. I think the number currently is somewhere around 40 countries are participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom in one way or another. We do need international support and assistance. It's a big help. Full stop.

Second question, what is the likelihood of our forces serving under a blue-hatted United Nations leadership? And I think that's not going to happen. (Applause.)


That seems to be the current US position - UN involvement, but US troops under US command. Mr. Rumsfeld also addressed the need for more non-US troops in a press avail that day:

Rumsfeld: My position is that we ought to have as many forces in the Middle East as is appropriate. And if we're going to make an error, we ought to have too many, rather than too few. And that is the position of the president. It's the position of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff completely, all of them, and the combatant commander. John Abizaid's the combatant commander. He has indicated that he has the level of forces there, U.S. forces, that he believes is appropriate at the present time --

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: -- for the tasks that he has.

He has also said that we need to increase the coalition forces. And we've been working to do that, and they're flowing in now, in larger numbers.



And a bit more on the end-run of the JCS around the civilian leadership. I excerpt Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before a Senate committee on July 29:

Mr. Chairman, in my written statement, I go on at some length about the question of how many troops we need. We can into that in questions.

But I would like to say something that's very important here, because the most -- we don't need more American troops. At least our commanders don't think we do. What we need most of all -- we need international troops, yes. We need actionable intelligence, yes. But what we need most of all are Iraqis fighting with us. The Iraqi people are part of this coalition, and they need to be armed and trained to participate.

...At this stage, it is impossible to estimate what recover action will cost. What we do know is the resources will come from a variety of resources and the costs of recovery in Iraq need to be shared widely. The international community has a vital interest in successful recovery in Iraq and should share responsibility for it.

The international community has recognized its responsibility to assist us in peacekeeping efforts. Nineteen nations are now providing more than 13,000 troops on the ground, and more are on the way, and we are in active discussions with a number of very important countries, including Turkey and Pakistan, about further possibilities.


Now, I am not pretending that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz led the charge for greater UN involvement. In fact, folks scoring at home are almost certainly correct in calling this a win for Powell. However, the idea of international troops seems to be something Rumsfeld supported, rather than opposed. Figuring out how to deliver the international troops is actually Powell's job at State - if he concludes a UN resolution is needed, well, so be it. But I'll bet the JCS would never push for a UN resolution that put US troops under UN control.

That is my current alternative view. The idea that the JCS and Powell executed an in-house coup against Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld with this UN effort does not seem to square with their public pronouncements.

UPDATE: A more nuanced interpretation from the NY Times:

The harsh reality of Iraq, where the American military proved easily able to win a war but cannot yet fashion peace, has all but overwhelmed other calculations, not only in the administration but in Congress. Lawmakers entering a campaign season returned from summer recess this week after hearing constituents' questions about the casualties and costs that have mounted since the war.

The doubts and questions in Congress have enhanced the stature of Mr. Powell. Even Pentagon skepticism about the international approach waned as the strain imposed on the American forces by the occupation of Iraq became increasingly evident to military commanders.

The secretary was said by other officials to have seized on a delicate and painful moment to convince Mr. Bush in recent weeks that American allies are essential to paying the military and economic cost of securing and rebuilding Iraq, not to mention bringing troops home next year.

While Mr. Powell's hand has been strengthened, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the hero of the successful invasion of Iraq in March and April, is now facing tough questions over why the United States seemed ill prepared for the postwar period.


Well, yes. But this is not quite the end-run the WaPo was so excited about.

We also note denials of the WaPo account from Powell and Gen. Meyers.


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