Thursday, November 06, 2003

"At least they could have talked to them." As Bob Somerby might say, I have no idea how serious Iraq's last-minute attempt to avoid war really was. Nor do I have any idea how US officials were supposed to differentiate this one from the dozens of other back-channel communications they claim they were receiving.

But the account of this approach, by James Risen in today's New York Times, is depressing nevertheless. Because the one thing we do know is that Saddam's go-betweens were telling the truth when they claimed Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction.

Read these two paragraphs and weep. Hassan al-Obeidi was a top Iraqi intelligence official, and Imad Hage was a Lebanese-American businessman who met with him, and who tried to persuade the Americans to take the initiative seriously.

Mr. Obeidi told Mr. Hage that Iraq would make deals to avoid war, including helping in the Mideast peace process. "He said, if this is about oil, we will talk about U.S. oil concessions," Mr. Hage recalled. "If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction."

Mr. Obeidi said the "Americans could send 2,000 F.B.I. agents to look wherever they wanted," Mr. Hage recalled.

But no. All of this had to be ignored, because the White House had already decided that the invasion would take place.

Not to denigrate what has been accomplished. Though Saddam's WMD capability -- pumped up by Bush-administration lies -- has been disproven, can we all agree that we've learned the savagery of Saddam's government was even worse than we knew?

Still, we're in a mess, and we don't know how to get out of it. As if to emphasize the poignancy of the lost opportunity Risen describes, three more pieces in today's Times report that 43,000 reserves and National Guard troops are to be called up; that a soldier has been accused of cowardice -- not good if true, but you can't help but feel sympathetic for the guy; and on GIs wounded in last weekend's helicopter attack.

War is horrible even when necessary. It is an unspeakable crime when it can be avoided.

Cash and carry. Howard Dean is probably doing what's necessary if he walks away from the broken public-financing system. If he doesn't, and if he then wins the nomination, he's going to get creamed by George W. Bush.

That's why even pro-reform groups such as Common Cause appear ready to give Dean a pass, as Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall report in today's Washington Post.

Still, this is treacherous territory for Dean. How do you make the case that you're a different kind of Democrat, and then turn around and raise money like Bill Clinton? (Clinton, who did abide by public financing, raised zillions in soft money through a loophole that was closed by McCain-Feingold.)

An editorial in today's Albany Times-Union is indicative of what Dean can look forward to:

Going for broke also would further expose one of Mr. Dean's glaring weaknesses. It would be perhaps his most serious contradiction of a prior position yet. For Mr. Dean, the self-proclaimed advocate of campaign finance reform, running for president as a big money candidate would amount to hypocrisy.

For Democrats, the most appealing aspect of Dean's candidacy is that he appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to win. But he can't afford to look like a hypocrite.

New in this week's Phoenix. Meet Dr. Bill Siroty: physician, Dean supporter, and New Hampshire indispensable media activist.

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