The PIs have lost their standard-bearer.
For those puzzled by this statement, a little background: Last week, French President Jacques Chirac saw no "preuves indiscatables" that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons, which are most emphatically forbidden by U.N. Resolution 1441. "Preuves indiscatables" was widely mistranslated as "undisputed proof" when it ought to have been translated as "indisputable proof," which expresses a harder line against going to war. Chatterbox promptly labeled adherents to this immaterialist view "PIs" and explained in some detail why, despite a brave attempt by Alexander Cockburn to dispute the evidence Colin Powell laid before the Security Council on Feb. 5, the totality of that evidence n'est pas, in the end, discutable.
One week later, Chirac has abandoned the PI position. It would be gratifying to attribute this to Chatterbox's airtight logic. Unfortunately, Chirac abandoned Je n'ai pas à ma connaissance de preuves indiscutables ("I do not have indisputable proof") forthe more-emphatic aucune preuve n'a été apportée ("no evidence has been given"). That's the language of stubborn avoidance in a new U.N. memorandum drafted by France, signed by Russia and Germany and apparently supported by China. To justify their resistance to war, these countries are drifting further from what their eyes and ears surely tell them about Powell's satellite photos and intercepted phone calls.
To be sure, France, Russia, and Germany are still willing to concede that they harbor suspicions that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. But it's a long way down from "not indisputable" evidence to "suspicions" and "no evidence." The demotion can be explained only by Chirac's cynical calculation that the anti-war side is gathering strength.
Some might argue that Chirac's view changed after he considered arguments like Cockburn's. Since writing his earlier item, Chatterbox has discovered a few similar attempts to knock down Powell's evidence. But these are no more persuasive than Cockburn's. This one, from a Web site called MiddleEastReference.org, contains some fanciful interpretations of the phone interceptions, which to Chatterbox's mind are the most damning evidence against Saddam. A recording in which a Republican Guard colonel instructs a captain to remove any reference to "nerve agents" from wireless instructions may, we are told, describe an entirely hypothetical situation. But why would the Republican Guard be so jumpy about any references to nerve agents if there were no actual nerve agents to refer to?
Several readers forwarded to Chatterbox a Feb. 20 CBS News piece reporting that U.N. inspectors in Iraq found much of the U.S. intelligence they've been given to be "garbage." (That's not a precise quote, apparently, because a "cruder" word was used.) But the "garbage" referred mainly to false leads the inspectors were asked to check out, not the more solid evidence that Powell presented at the United Nations (An exception was the aluminum tubes Powell says are for enriching uranium that could just as easily be used for making rockets—a gray area that Chatterbox never got into and that Powell didn't need to make his case.) Every reporter knows that most interesting tips don't pay off and that you can't tell the good ones from the bad ones without a little shoe leather.
Chatterbox was also forwarded a Feb. 5 piece in the Guardian in which U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix said he'd found no evidence of mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq and that two suspected labs turned out to be "food-testing trucks." But Powell never said in his U.N. presentation that such trucks had been found, and Blix's failure to find any hardly proves they don't exist. Still, Chatterbox was glad to receive the Guardian clip, because it was the likely basis for Cockburn's reference to a "supposed transporter of biotoxins that turned out to be a truck from the Baghdad health department." Previously, Chatterbox had no idea what Cockburn was talking about. Now that he knows, he'll withdraw his offer to give Cockburn the benefit of the doubt on this.