The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Blix, Baradei, Cheney - and Rubin: who do you believe?

Despite being nominally a September/October issue piece, the screed by James Rubin, [1] Stumbling Into War, for Foreign Affairs seems to have been knocking around for a good long while.

Though I've yet to give it the attention it deserves, the general thrust seems to be that Bush could have got his war and toppled Saddam all gift-wrapped with the approval of the P5 and Saleable Six, and the blessing of Saint Kofi himself, had he only been prepared to exercise patience, with a degree of expertise and finesse, in wooing the nations concerned and dealing with the UN agencies in charge of the technicalities.

In particular, Hans Blix of UNMOVIC and Mohamed el-Baradei of the IAEA. The incredibly undiplomatic proceedings involving presentations by these gentlemen at the UN Security Council earlier this year provided quantities of amusing grist to this particular mill: Colin Powell's cringeworthy squelching by Blix can be traced back from this February 15 piece; his mauvais quart d'heure from Baradei in one from March 8.

According to Rubin, the private war between USG and Blix and Baradei was several degrees hotter:
The worst example of the administration's pressure tactics occurred when Blix and Muhammad ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met with Vice President Cheney. Cheney warned that if his administration found fault with Blix's judgments, "we will not hesitate to discredit you." In a separate meeting, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, ridiculed the inspectors' caution, telling them, "You do know they have weapons of mass destruction, don't you?"

Rubin editorialises, somewhat superfluously,
Such tactics were amateurish and unseemly.

Quite so. But where is the evidence these meetings actually took place? And that Cheney and Wolfowitz said what Rubin says they said?

Bizarrely for a piece in an academic journal, Rubin's carries not a single footnote. Annoyingly, for a piece online, it has no links.

He specifies no dates or locations for these putative meetings; or indeed supplies any material corroborative of their having happened. (There is a great deal of general stuff available online - of varying degrees of reliability - on the private war [2]: I'm referring to stuff corroborating these meetings in particular.)

Let's see what we can do. A Google search on Cheney's thunderous threat
we will not hesitate to discredit you
strangely throws up not a single item except Rubin's piece, or quotes from it. Ditto with the Wolfowitz quote - if it is one.

So, Rubin is paraphrasing, perhaps? [I've heard of that!] After all, one doubts whether he would have access to the minutes of any such meetings, even supposing minutes had been taken: he's working on some kind of leak. (Pause to wonder, who his source(s) might have been...)

Throwing the net a little wider, there are a good two or three dozen, at least, items referring to a meeting or meetings involving Blix, Baradei and Cheney - and also Bush (Wolfowitz is rarely mentioned - not deemed important enough, perhaps) on or about October 30 2002 [3]. Is this what Rubin is referring to? There's certainly no indication in anything I've seen of statements as harsh as those he mentions. But then, to adapt Mandy Rice-Davies, there wouldn't be, would there?

It doesn't really take one much further forward, even supposing that these were the meetings that Rubin refers to.

I can understand why the quotes (or paraphrases or gists or whatever they damned well are) that Rubin supplies would not have been passed on by individuals he could name. But he's not surely suggesting that he's the first to break the story: those same quotes will have appeared elsewhere - and Rubin could have given us the references [4]. That is, of course, assuming that he didn't just make them up.

As it is, we're left with a single source: Rubin. The plausibility is there in abundance: but, so far as I can see, on the specific allegations being made - nada.

  1. State Department head mouthpiece under the Great Fornicator - but in a good way...

  2. As, more or less at random, this Guardian piece from November 2002 on an alleged USG smear campaign against Blix. A New Republic piece from June 30 2003 (a reprint) refers to a 2002 WaPo piece suggesting that Wolfowitz asked the CIA to dig up dirt on Blix.

  3. For example this, this, this, and this.

  4. Because the quotes are paraphrases, that makes them a tad difficult to search for.


Matt Taibbi's New York Press piece (undated) on anonymous sources is worth a read. (And his piece on Bush's March 6 press conference, too: Google serendipity.)

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