Saturday, January 12, 2019

New Cheney biopic Vice is a gift opportunity to clarify the Iraq issue for the public

Appeal to OIF supporters and other humanitarian liberal policy advocates:

Vice, the new biopic about Vice President Cheney by Adam McKay, features the false narrative stigmatizing the Iraq intervention, which makes the film a precious gift opportunity for you (and other like-minded persons) to clarify the Iraq issue for the public. For that purpose, the Operation Iraqi Freedom FAQ is ready to help you as a cheat sheet and study guide for the Iraq issue. I show my work, cite my sources, and remind that I'm not the authority: the sources are the authority.

Objectively on the law and facts, the American and British decision on Iraq was correct; the case against Saddam is substantiated. But if you feel that upholding the women and men, including President Bush and VP Cheney, who conscientiously rose to their duty with the vital ethical, principled, resolute, adaptive leadership that manifested with Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) isn't good enough reason for zealous advocacy, then consider that OIF stigma is the purposeful v2.0 strategic heir of Vietnam War stigma as the keystone premise in the politics subverting American leadership of the free world. Like the Vietnam War stigma, the OIF stigma won't go away until you've corrected it and discredited its proponents in the politics.

By refreshing the false narrative stigmatizing the Iraq intervention, McKay is practically inviting you (and other like-minded persons) to counteract the OIF stigma for our children's sake as an earlier generation should have counteracted the Vietnam War stigma for our sake. Your competitive advantage is the basic narrative of the OIF stigma is brazenly false and thus readily corrected by properly fixing the discourse with the incontrovertible plain law, policy, precedent, and facts that define the Iraq issue. On the other hand, if the Vice propaganda is conceded, then the metastatic OIF stigma will grow deeper.

I suggest my Rebuttal of Prime Minister Brown's memoir argument against Operation Iraqi Freedom to prep your mindset to exploit Vice — with the understanding that setting the record straight will demand more than that from my work and your expertise.

Please share this appeal with like-minded family, friends, and colleagues, most importantly those with the means to compete in the politics. Adam McKay's gift opportunity to clarify the Iraq issue for the public will be viable for only so long.



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Saturday, December 01, 2018

Rest in peace, President Bush

Another president from my childhood, President George HW Bush, has died. I wrote about his seminal role in the UNSCR 660-series Iraq intervention here.

Rest in peace, sir.



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Friday, July 13, 2018

Jeremy Lin traded by the Brooklyn Nets to the Atlanta Hawks

Jeremy Lin's frustratingly injury-filled, unfulfilled 2-year tenure with the Brooklyn Nets has come to an end. He's been traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Atlanta Hawks for the last year of his contract. Post at

After a rich NBA learning curve with the Warriors, Knicks, Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets, the situation with the Nets seemed tailor-made professionally and culturally for Lin to graduate to starting lead guard with his own team in his age-28 season. The fates decided it was not to be. Lin will be entering his age-30 season in 2018-2019, the same age that Steve Nash returned to the Suns in 2004-2005 and became a Hall-of-Fame guard, so maybe Lin will make the leap with the Hawks, instead. Hopefully, his injury-filled tenure with the Nets doesn't mean Lin will be chronically injured and/or limited to bench play for the rest of his NBA career.



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Monday, March 12, 2018

Criticism of Prime Minister Blair's response to the Chilcot report

PREFACE: I generally refrain from direct critical evaluation of the 06JUL16 Chilcot (UK Iraq Inquiry) report because I'm an American versed in the workings of the American domestic decision on Iraq who's not similarly versed in the workings of the British domestic decision on Iraq. However, the American and British decisions on Iraq share the predominant, international context of the enforcement of Iraq's compliance with the UNSCR 660-series, Gulf War ceasefire mandates. As such, I have on occasion critically evaluated UK-based commentary related to the Chilcot report on the mutual grounds of the US and UK decision on Iraq. For example, see my Rebuttal of Prime Minister Brown's memoir argument against Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In the same vein, here is a brief criticism of Prime Minister Blair's response to the Chilcot report.

A brief criticism of Prime Minister Blair's 06JUL16 response to the Chilcot report:

Prime Minister Blair's response to the Chilcot report attempts to justify the British decision on Iraq using an apology format, and indeed, a savvy political apology can be strategically affirmative while actually unapologetic. Otherwise, an apology normally is an implicit acceptance of the accuser's contextual frame and contrite admission of culpability and/or error. Blair's response to the Chilcot report is inclined to be strategically affirmative of the Iraq intervention, but it falls short of the intended political impact because Blair failed to clarify the operative contextual frame that's necessary to properly sort, order, and evaluate the data he listed.

Context is essential. Blair properly cited that UNSCR 1441 was "[d]etermined to ensure full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations" and afforded Iraq's "final opportunity to comply". However, Blair critically omitted the operative context of UNSCR 1441 that "recall[ed] that the resolutions of the Council constitute the governing standard of Iraqi compliance" and "[re]cogniz[ed] the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security". Review the OIF FAQ and my rebuttal of Prime Minister Brown and attend to their dialectical structure. Suffice to say, in contrast, Blair's omission of core load-bearing elements much explains his dooming failure to clarify the operative contextual frame of the Iraq issue.

Blair provides a workable list of relevant data points, which could and should have been quilted onto the operative contextual frame to present a persuasive response to the Chilcot report that clarified the Iraq issue. Instead, Prime Minister Blair's failure to correct Sir John Chilcot's distorted context carried over Chilcot's mis-ordered mis-evaluation of the data and lets lay the obfuscation that enables Chilcot's faulty premises. In other words, Blair presented to the public an incoherent pile of puzzle pieces instead of a coherently assembled, clarified narrative-picture of the Iraq issue that could dispel and replace the prevailing, Chilcot-abetted revisionist narrative-picture.

Compounding his fundamental failure to clarify the operative contextual frame, Prime Minister Blair misrepresented key fact findings, especially from the Iraq Survey Group, just like President Bush did in his 2010 memoir, which I correctively criticized here. Regarding Blair's comments on the post-war competition for Iraq, also see my commentary on the post-war planning, setbacks, and adjustments.

Blair's exhortation to "learn the right ... lessons from Iraq" is precluded by the Chilcot-abetted revisionist narrative that has deformed those lessons. The historical record and, by the same token, the broader politics of Iraq can't cure themselves. Which is to say, history doesn't "tell" — it's told. How it's told is course-setting: Past is prologue. Past is premise. Inasmuch Blair "says that history will tell in the end what was right" (Shehadi), he's passed the buck to other public expert authorities, leaders and pundits, to clarify the operative contextual frame that's necessary to pick up his relevant yet inarticulate pile of data points, and sort, order, and evaluate them properly to set the record straight on the Iraq intervention. In turn, a clarified narrative is necessary to lay the proper foundation to "learn the right ... lessons from Iraq".



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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Criticisms and suggestions for "International Law and the War in Iraq" (John Yoo, 2003)

PREFACE: The John Yoo is a professor at UC Berkeley law school. More significantly, "From 2001 to 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security and the separation of powers."

from: Eric
to: [John Yoo]
date: Sun, Dec 10, 2017 at 7:03 AM
subject: Edited v1.1: Criticisms and suggestions for "International Law and the War in Iraq" (July 2003) Re: President Bush's decision on Iraq was correct on the law and facts

Professor Yoo,

Due to the White House's recent derisive invocation of the Iraq intervention to put down President Bush's implied criticism of President Trump, followed the next day by Prime Minister Brown's accusation that the Bush administration lied about Saddam's WMD to trick the UK into war with Iraq (see my rebuttal), I'm moved to e-mail you my criticisms and suggestions for your monograph, International Law and the War in Iraq (2003), with the hope that they will encourage and help you to set the record straight on the Iraq issue in the public discourse. Public corrective on the Iraq issue is urgently needed.

First, before I begin the critical exercise, the compliance basis for the decision for Operation Iraqi Freedom was the proper one, and knowing what we know now, it has been well substantiated. The Bush administration should have hewed to the established compliance frame instead of tacking on an "independent" 2nd claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense. More on that below.

Your description of the UNSCR 687 WMD disarmament process misstates the procedure with "destroy its chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles and agree to on-site inspections" (Yoo). Your construction implies that Iraq was permitted to unilaterally destroy proscribed items and separately agree to inspections, when in fact, destruction was integrated with disclosure, verification, and supervision. Whereas unverified unsupervised unilateral destruction subverted the mandated accountability.

Following Operation Desert Fox, on January 25, 1999, UNSCOM executive chairman Richard Butler clarified the UNSCR 687 WMD disarmament procedure and summarized Iraq's strategy to undermine it:
3. For the conduct of this work [mandated by "Paragraphs 8 and 9, in section C of resolution 687 (1991)"], the resolutions of the Council established a three-step system: full disclosure by Iraq; verification of those disclosures by the Commission; destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of all proscribed weapons, materials and facilities.
4. From the inception of the relevant work, in 1991, Iraq's compliance has been limited. Iraq acknowledges that, in that year, it decided to limit its disclosures for the purpose of retaining substantial prohibited weapons and capabilities.
5. Actions by Iraq in three main respects have had a significant negative impact upon the Commission's disarmament work:
Iraq's disclosure statements have never been complete;
contrary to the requirement that destruction be conducted under international supervision, Iraq undertook extensive, unilateral and secret destruction of large quantities of proscribed weapons and items;
it also pursued a practice of concealment of proscribed items, including weapons, and a cover up of its activities in contravention of Council resolutions.
It's important to be a stickler about clarifying the disclosure, verification, and supervision elements of the UNSCR 687 "three-step system" (Butler) because anti-OIF propagandists tout Iraq's unverified unsupervised unilateral destruction of proscribed items as proof of false accusation by President Bush and exoneration of Saddam, when in fact, unverified unsupervised unilateral destruction was a critical ceasefire breach.

Pair President Bush's "axis of evil" quote from the 2002 State of the Union with matching quote from President Clinton's 17FEB98 remarks at the Pentagon regarding the Iraqi threat. For example:
In the next century, the community of nations may see more and more the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers, or organized criminals, who travel the world among us unnoticed.
Update the statement, "At the time of this writing, coalition forces in Iraq continue to search for WMD sites; while no weapons have yet been discovered, it may take months if not years to learn the fate of Iraq’s WMD stockpile" (Yoo).

It should be clarified to the public that the Iraq Survey Group's findings are rife with UNSCR 687-proscribed items and activities. The operative definition of WMD violation per UNSCR 687 included more proscribed items and activities than battlefield-ready stockpile. ISG confirmed Saddam was reconstituting his WMD program via the IIS. The Iraqi Perspectives Project also confirmed Saddam's UNSCRs 687 and 688-violating IIS-run domestic, "regional and global terrorism" was vastly underestimated before OIF.

At the same time, it should be clarified to the public that we don't actually know the fate of Iraq's WMD stockpile. The ISG non-findings, which are prevalently portrayed in the politics as unequivocal evidence of absence, are in fact heavily qualified with evidentiary gaps and other practical limitations to the ISG investigation. The ISG report is properly read as a floor, not a complete account of Saddam's WMD. Although David Kay, Charles Duelfer, et al. did their best, the highly adverse conditions they encountered on the ground in Iraq meant the ISG survey of Saddam's WMD was not a thorough investigation. Duelfer's assessment of the fate of Saddam's missing weapons is really a heavily qualified best guess, not a proven disposition.

For more detail, see my criticism of President Bush's memoir for its misrepresentation of the ISG findings as a "thorough search of Iraq".

You take much care to rebut the opposing view that the decision for OIF was illegal, eg, "Some have argued, however, that, Resolution 678’s authorization had expired. Representatives from France, Germany, and Russia, for example, seemed to take the position that because the current members of the Security Council would not agree to the use of force in the spring of 2003, the 1991 resolution’s broad authorization was somehow extinguished."

I suggest working in the credibility factor that the UNSC members, including and especially Russia, France, and Germany, that led the international opposition to OIF were implicated in the Oil For Food scandal and complicit with Saddam breaking the UNSCR 687 arms embargo.

For example, ISG found that even as the UNSCR 1441 inspections were ramping up in late 2002, France was selling UNSCR 687-proscribed anti-aircraft technology to Iraq. If OIF hadn't happened in March 2003 and the illegal French sale had gone through, then the US and UK presumably would have continued to enforce the UNSCR 688 humanitarian no-fly zones versus newly purchased UNSCR 687-proscribed French anti-aircraft technology.

Clarifying that the casus bellli [belli] was Iraq's evidential noncompliance, and not the pre-war intelligence estimates, sets the stage to highlight the fault of Saddam's accomplices on the UNSC who increased Saddam's threat, exacerbated his harm, and helped cause OIF by encouraging and enabling Saddam's intransigent choice to breach rather than comply and disarm in his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441). More on that below.

UNSCR 678 was adopted in 1990, not 1991.

The choice of frame that "International law permitted the use of force against Iraq on two independent grounds" was a compounding political error. I agree with Jeanne [Jeane] Kirkpatrick that the Bush administration should have hewed to the well established compliance basis for enforcement with Iraq and should not have tacked on a claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense as an "independent" cause of action.

I appreciated your fine explication of the Caroline test and your well-reasoned argument that it should adjust for modern threats. But the novel character of the intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense argument for OIF, no matter how sensible, should have warned President Bush's legal advisors that it was unwise to claim it as an "independent" basis for OIF's casus belli.

It looks like Bush's legal advisers were getting ahead of themselves in trying to set a modern precedent for intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense. Instead of trying to set a precedent with "independent grounds" for OIF, you should have incorporated the component parts of anticipatory self-defense in the established compliance-based case against Saddam for future reference, while making sure to strictly frame the case against Saddam with the well established operative context of the UNSCR 660-series compliance enforcement.

In fact, the defense and compliance enforcement grounds were already related because Saddam's threat was defined as and measured by the "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions" (UNSCR 1441), ie, Iraq's ceasefire breach. Saddam's noncompliance was demonstrably evidential and thus indisputable, and it was plainly stated as the casus belli in the operative US law, policy, and precedent, and UNSCRs. Yet the Bush administration's "independent" 2nd claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense enabled anti-OIF propagandists to obfuscate in the politics that Saddam's evidential ceasefire breach was the casus belli.

Evidence of Bush's legal advisors getting ahead of themselves is exemplified in your statement, "In future cases, the possession of WMD and signs of hostile intent must be taken into account in deciding whether to use force preemptively. That decision will rely, in part, on intelligence about a rogue nation’s WMD programs, their ability to acquire components and technical knowledge, and their ability to assemble a weapon."

Instead of trying to litigate "future cases", you should have stayed focused on the task at hand of properly reiterating the long established case against Saddam, wherein the threat of Saddam's WMD was not primarily defined by and based on the intelligence. Rather, the threat of Saddam's WMD was primarily defined by the UNSCR 687 mandates and based on Iraq's evidential noncompliance in the operative context of Iraq's burden to prove it disarmed upon the UNSCOM/IAEA-established fact of Iraq's proscribed armament. The pre-war intelligence, if raised at all, should have been carefully presented only as supporting indicators of Iraq's noncompliance within the operative context of the "threat [of] Iraq's noncompliance" (UNSCR 1441) and Saddam's burden of proof, not as "evidence" for an "independent" cause of action that obfuscated the well established, operative grounds for enforcement.

The "independent" 2nd claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense opened the door for anti-OIF propagandists to shift the burden of proof and assert the legally inapposite but politically viral claim that the legitimacy of OIF rested on proving the predictive precision of pre-war estimates.

It was a dumbfounding mistake. The Clinton administration spoon-fed its successor a long developed mature compliance-based case for regime change against intransigently noncompliant Saddam. As you explained, President Bush properly carried forward the compliance-based case against Saddam. Yet Bush [officials] also chose to deviate from his predecessor by tacking on an [inapposite] "independent" 2nd claim that relied on misrepresenting speculative pre-war estimates of Saddam's secret holdings as "evidence" of specific armament. That's an obviously improper use of intelligence in general, and worse in the specific instance, the struggle of Western intelligence to assess Saddam's WMD versus rigorous Iraqi counter-intelligence was well known by the time that Bush entered office.

Worse still, the notion of finding WMD in Iraq to match the pre-war estimates was always unrealistic. The UNSCR 687 disarmament process, OIF invasion, and post-war occupation were not designed to seize, guard, and preserve evidence in order to later prove the predictive precision of the pre-war estimates. If the burden of proof was shifted to the US to prove the predictive precision of the pre-war estimates, then of course, OIF would be de-legitimated given that Saddam had a long, practically free hand to conceal, alter, and destroy evidence before and during the ex post ISG investigation.

See my rebuttal to Gordon Brown's new argument against OIF for a proper apposite presentation of the compliance-based case for regime change against Saddam.

Given that intelligence analysis is by nature inexact, then how does the leader of the free world sufficiently enforce against a rogue nation's WMD threat while also guarding against ex post accusations like Brown's conjectural accusation of conspiracy? The answer is rigorously upholding a UNSCR 687-type disarmament process which establishes and presumes the rogue nation's guilt of proscribed armament, and fixes the burden of proof on the rogue nation to comply and disarm in accordance with a comprehensive "governing standard". Clarify that noncompliance, rather than intelligence, establishes threat and triggers enforcement.

Evidential noncompliance with a robust disarmament process, such as the justification for Operation Desert Fox, not only the intelligence, can define (and with Operation Iraqi Freedom should have defined) the WMD threat to establish the justification for anticipatory self-defense.

The takeaway from the 2002-2003 enforcement with Sad[d]am for "future cases" should have been to fix up and strengthen the compliance-based UNSCR 687 model as the gold standard for disarming rogue nations. On the facts, according to the compliance-based operative law, policy, and precedent that actually defined the OIF decision, the case against Saddam was a slam dunk. Saddam's guilt of "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) was decided by UNSC and has been confirmed and corroborated as categorical. In the operative context, the OIF decision was correct.

But the Bush administration's ham-handed attempt to tack on an "independent" 2nd claim in order to set a modern precedent for intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense enabled anti-OIF propagandists to shift the burden of proof in the politics so that the legitimacy of OIF pivoted on proving the predictive precision of inherently inexact intelligence estimates despite that the disarmament process, invasion, and occupation were not designed to seize, guard, and preserve evidence for that kind of proof.

President Clinton, the Yale JD, was savvy enough to strictly hew to the operative compliance basis of the case against Saddam. The members of President Bush's team who convinced the Harvard MBA to tack on the "independent" 2nd claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense - when they should have incorporated the component parts into the well established compliance-based case against Saddam - are responsible [share responsibility] for the political, policy, and real harms that have drastically compounded from that deviant, inapposite, uncalled for, stupid error.

Regarding the national security priority to prevent rogue nations from committing terrorism with WMD or supplying terrorists with WMD, cite President Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive/NSC-39 (21JUN95) as a background reference.

Also see Decision Points suggests President Bush has not read key fact findings on Iraq carefully and Rebuke of and advice to Charles Duelfer.

For more exposition on the "independent" 2nd claim of intelligence-based anticipatory self-defense in addition to the John Yoo monograph linked in the e-mail, see The Legality of Using Force Against Iraq by Christopher Greenwood (2002), War, Responsibility, and the Age of Terrorism by John Yoo (2004), Less than Bargained for: The Use of Force and the Declining Relevance of the United Nations by John Yoo and Will Trachman (2005), Preventive War by Gary Becker (2004), and Preventive War by Richard Posner (2004).



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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Critique of Christopher Hitchens's answer to Jon Stewart

PREFACE: Columbia University and University of Texas law professor Philip Bobbitt thought I'd enjoy journalist Christopher Hitchens's argument for the Iraq intervention on the August 25, 2005 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. My critique of Hitchens's answer to Stewart is adapted from my response to Professor Bobbitt.

Christopher Hitchens's answer to Jon Stewart makes for a good teaching example because, one, it's popularly considered a model defense of the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) regime change, yet two, Hitchens's answer was critically flawed. Watch it, then read my critique:

Did I enjoy Hitchens's response? Well, I appreciate that Hitchens put forth the public effort that's needed from like-minded pundits to set the record straight on OIF.

However, I'm critical of the argument he made. If Hitchens were still alive, I'd convey my work to him to shore up his presentation. Hitchens's answer wasn't wrong per se, but his unanchored if scholarly take on the Iraq issue is better suited to an academic discussion in a collegial setting. Whereas the political forum in which Hitchens answered Stewart is more like the adversarial settings in which I've honed my legally based take on the Iraq issue.

The critical flaw in Hitchens's answer is he neglected to establish the contextual frame with the operative thread that's needed to properly evaluate his points and tie them together: namely, that President Bush's decision on Iraq fundamentally upheld the US-led, UN-mandated compliance enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire terms purpose-designed to resolve Iraq's Gulf War-established manifold threat.

To set the proper frame with the operative context, Hitchens should have opened his answer with 'Saddam breached the Gulf War ceasefire in his final opportunity to comply'. Once the operative context is established, then everything else can be placed in proper order and effectively brought to bear to clarify the Iraq issue.

For example, in the operative context:

Hitchens should have grounded his main argument for the Iraqi regime change by noting that his criterions for loss of sovereignty — i.e., genocide, harboring "gangsters"/terrorists, violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, and/or aggression — were in fact manifested in the Gulf War ceasefire mandates. UNSCRs 687, 688, and 949 explicitly covered Hitchens's criterions and were featured as such in Public Law 107-243.

If he had established the operative context properly, Hitchens could have proffered the same essential viewpoint but elevated his argument from a personally preferred policy theory referring to general international norms to the actual Iraq-specific enforcement procedure for the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) defined by the concrete law, policy, and precedent that President Bush carried forward from Presidents HW Bush and Clinton and faithfully upheld in his Office.

Hitchens should have corrected Stewart's mischaracterization in detail, e.g., contra Stewart, President Bush's decisions with Iraq tracked the US laws and UNSC resolutions that defined the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement.

Hitchens should have explained that the Gulf War ceasefire compliance enforcement assigned Saddam a probationary status and threat evaluation that distinguished Iraq from the other international bad actors that Stewart named. (Note that Stewart's "What about ..." is a typical anti-war rhetorical tactic.) The ceasefire mandates provided for a procedural measurement of Saddam's outstanding threat. Iraqi noncompliance equated to Iraqi threat, and it's confirmed that Saddam's threatening breach of the ceasefire terms was categorical.

Hitchens should have clarified that President HW Bush didn't simply leave Saddam in power in 1991. Rather, the Gulf War was suspended with a comprehensive set of reformative conditions that Iraq was obligated to fulfill in order to make the ceasefire permanent. In fact, by May 1991 at the latest, President HW Bush had an active regime change policy versus the noncompliant Saddam regime. The regime change policy was carried forward and progressed under President Clinton.

Hitchens should have shown that the interval between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom was not a flat delay. Rather, it involved a progression that exhausted the lesser compliance enforcement measures against Saddam's intransigence. Operation Desert Fox (ODF) in 1998 was the penultimate military enforcement action in the continuum. The stopgap, last measure before Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) was the post-ODF ad hoc 'containment', which Saddam and his accomplices had broken by 2000-2001. The ultimate military enforcement action, the OIF regime change that responded to Saddam's failed "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) in order to “bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations” (P.L. 105-235), was the coda of the progression.

Clarifying that OIF was the coda of a progression engages President Clinton's preceding enforcement with Iraq. If Hitchens had made the ceasefire enforcement connection, he could have cited Presidents Clinton and Bush together to correct Stewart's mischaracterization.

As it was, Hitchens should have corrected Stewart by at least clarifying President Bush's compliance-based case against Saddam, which carried forward President Clinton's compliance-based case against Saddam. Bush's case against Saddam was really Clinton's case against Saddam, updated from 9/11, and Bush's enforcement procedure for OIF carried forward Clinton's enforcement procedure for ODF. Clinton's decision for ODF completed the operative set of law, policy, and precedent that set the stage for OIF.

Hitchens should have clarified the OIF regime change was fundamentally a compliance enforcement measure. Public Law 105-338 legislated the regime change solution for the noncompliant-Saddam problem that was already a long active executive policy. The preamble for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 was about Saddam's noncompliance with the ceasefire mandates. P.L. 105-338 paired with P.L. 105-235, which mandated the President to bring Iraq into its mandated compliance.

The Gulf War ceasefire mandates included Iraq renouncing terrorism in view of Saddam's terrorist threat in the Gulf War. Citing to paragraph 32 of UNSCR 687 would have provided a stronger frame for Hitchens's description of Saddam's terrorism.

Consider the difference between opinion and correction, then compare the construction of Hitchens's argument to the dialectical structure of the OIF FAQ, and imagine the ways that setting a proper frame with the operative context would have helped Hitchens answer Stewart and clarify the Iraq issue for the public.

Related: Regarding pundits and David Brooks's "Saving the System".



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Monday, November 20, 2017

Rebuttal of Prime Minister Brown's memoir argument against Operation Iraqi Freedom

PREFACE: Gordon Brown served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010. My rebuttal criticizes Prime Minister Brown's claim of American conspiracy on Saddam's WMD, assertion the Iraq intervention was unjustified, and choice to end British peace operations with Iraq. A comment for liberal advocates regarding PM Brown's argument against OIF follows the rebuttal. Enjoy:

In his November 5, 2017 The Guardian article, Gordon Brown says Pentagon misled UK over case for Iraq invasion, Michael Savage relates "an explosive new claim from [former UK prime minister] Gordon Brown" that the "US defence department knew that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction but kept Britain in the dark".

The "explosive new claim" that the Pentagon secretly knew Saddam had no WMD and kept that knowledge from the UK is the premise for Prime Minister Brown's new memoir argument that Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was unjustified:
Brown states that had the evidence been shared, history could have been different. ... ["]If I am right that somewhere within the American system the truth about Iraq’s lack of weapons was known, then we were not just misinformed but misled on the critical issue of WMDs.

“Given that Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy and was not about to attack the coalition, then two tests of a just war were not met: war could not be justified as a last resort and invasion cannot now be seen as a proportionate response.”

However, Brown's premise for his argument, the "US defence department knew that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction" (Savage), is flawed.

First, on its face, the evidence cited by Brown does not support the notion that the Pentagon knew the status of Saddam's WMD. Rather, the The Guardian article describes a Pentagon report that assessed pre-war intelligence estimates as "analysis of imprecise intelligence. These assessments, the report said, relied ‘heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence.[']" (Brown).

In other words, as described in the article, the cited Pentagon report made no statement on the status of Saddam's WMD. Rather, it amounted to a 2nd-derivative assessment of pre-war intelligence estimates. Equivalent 2nd-derivative assessments of British pre-war intelligence estimates, such as Dr. Brian Jones's dissent, are discussed in the UK 2004 Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction chaired by Lord Butler. Furthermore, the Butler review shows that British decision-makers relied on British intelligence estimates rather than American intelligence estimates. Brown neglects to explain why an American 2nd-derivative assessment would have swayed UK leaders above the British 2nd-derivative assessments that said practically the same thing.

The Butler review and its American counterpart, the Silberman-Robb Commission, explain that the extreme difficulty of gathering "hard evidence" about Saddam's WMD was familiar to British and American leaders tasked with the duty of enforcing Iraq's Gulf War ceasefire-mandated compliance. The operative role of the intelligence in the UNSCR 687 disarmament process was assisting the UN weapons inspections that tested Iraq's compliance with the UNSCR 687 disarmament mandates. As Iraqi counter-intelligence expertly adapted, intelligence analysts depended on data from the UN weapons inspections, which were also well opposed by Iraqi counter-intelligence. When the UN weapons inspections were cut off in 1998, so was the principal source of data on Saddam's WMD. As such, in the operative context of the decision for OIF, intelligence estimates based on "analysis of imprecise intelligence" were understood to be necessitated by Iraq's effective "denial and deception operations" (Iraq Survey Group), which in and of themselves violated UNSCR 687, not as evidence of Brown's conspiracy.

Second, Brown's premise that "Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction" contradicts the operative context of the OIF decision and the fact record.

In the operative context of the OIF decision, Iraq's guilt of proscribed armament was established fact by UNSCOM and IAEA in the UNSCR 687 disarmament process and presumed until Iraq proved it disarmed in accordance with the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441). The mandated question of Saddam's WMD was never for the US, UK, and UN to answer. Iraq was obligated to answer the question in accordance with UNSCR 687. The intelligence was weighed in the operative context of the established fact of Saddam's WMD with the burden on Iraq to prove the mandated compliance and disarmament.

As such, Brown's premise elides that the determination "Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction" was not for the Pentagon to make in the first place. The determination of disarmament could only be made by Iraq proving it had disarmed as mandated. Gauging Iraq's compliance with UNSCR 687 and related resolutions was the necessary measuring stick for Iraq's WMD-related threat due to Saddam's commitment to "concealment and deception activities" (ISG) throughout the Gulf War ceasefire, including the final UNSCR 1441 inspection period. Iraq's proscribed items and activities that could be demonstrated in hand were not the main WMD-related threat because the violations that could be demonstrated could be corrected as mandated. Rather, Iraq's main WMD-related threat was the proscribed items and activities that could not be accounted for due to Saddam's "denial and deception operations" (ISG). Answering the question of Iraq's proscribed items and activities was not guesswork. It was not even intelligence work, where Western intelligence was evidently outmatched by Iraqi counter-intelligence. Gauging Iraq's compliance with the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) was the mandated way to answer the question.

For Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441), Hans Blix and UNMOVIC asked Iraq to answer for Saddam's WMD as mandated, and Iraq answered that Saddam did not disarm as mandated, e.g., "With respect to stockpiles of bulk agent stated to have been destroyed, there is evidence to suggest that these was [sic] not destroyed as declared by Iraq." Iraq was obligated to prove "full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions" (UNSCR 1441) in order to switch off the capacitating threat of regime change, yet in 2003, the UNSCR 1441 UNMOVIC inspections found Iraq made no significant disarmament progress from the UNSCR 1205 UNSCOM inspections that had triggered Operation Desert Fox (ODF) in 1998. UNMOVIC's confirmation of Iraq's "continued violations of its obligations" in Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) thus triggered OIF. Following the regime change, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) corroborated Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441) of the UNSCR 687 mandates.

Brown's assertion "Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy" elides that Saddam did not account for his WMD stocks with the UNSCR 1441 inspections, and subsequently in his stead, ISG was unable to account for Saddam's WMD stocks as mandated, e.g., "ISG cannot determine the fate of Iraq’s stocks of bulk BW [biological weapon] agents ... There is a very limited chance that continuing investigation may provide evidence to resolve this issue." In fact, in many instances where ISG cited a lack of evidence, it meant the evidence required for a definite determination was missing or lost, not that absence of evidence was evidence of absence.

ISG's non-findings, which are prevalently interpreted in the politics as unequivocal evidence of absence, are in fact predominantly attributed to evidentiary gaps due to rigorous regime operations and information security practice that prevented evidence, "many of these [WMD-related] sites were sanitized by the Regime", and other "concealment and destruction efforts" before and during the ISG investigation. The UNSCR 687 disarmament process placed the burden of proof on Iraq and hence was not like a crime-scene forensic investigation that searched for evidence while guarding carefully against the contamination or loss of physical evidence in a controlled area. Carrying the burden to prove the mandated disarmament upon the established fact of Iraq's proscribed armament, Saddam was in effect allowed by the UN weapons inspections to hide, alter, or destroy evidence of proscribed armament. Iraq's "concealment and deception activities" (ISG) only hindered Iraq from proving it disarmed according to the “governing standard of Iraqi compliance” (UNSCR 1441). Therefore, despite its name, the ISG report should be read as a floor, not a complete survey of Saddam's WMD.

The notion of demonstrating that Saddam's WMD matched pre-war estimates was always unrealistic since, as a practical matter, the UNSCR 687 disarmament process, OIF invasion, and post-war occupation were not designed for that kind of proof. If legitimacy pivoted on ISG proving the pre-war intelligence estimates were predictively precise, rather than the operative context of Iraq proving it complied and disarmed as mandated, then of course the Iraq intervention likely would be de-legitimated given that Saddam's forces had a long, practically free hand to manipulate the evidence before and during the ex post investigation. And in fact, the ISG report is heavily qualified with caveats about significant limitations to its reach and scope, including that much evidence of Iraq's specific armament was missing or lost.

For example, although the chemical weapon (CW) munitions missed by ISG and confiscated under Operation Avarice are often devalued as older stocks, they nonetheless were still dangerous, were proscribed under UNSCR 687 and further corroborated Iraq's "material breach" (UNSCR 1441), and bore out ISG's caveat "ISG cannot discount the possibility that a few large caches of munitions remain to be discovered within Iraq."

Brown's premise that "Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction" also contradicts that the ISG findings are rife with violations across the board of the UNSCR 687 mandates. Comparison of the ISG report to the pre-war intelligence and 2nd-derivative assessment described by Brown shows that much of the "analysis of imprecise intelligence" has been substantiated and areas where Saddam's WMD-related activity was underestimated. Despite evidentiary gaps and other practical limitations, ISG was able to confirm Saddam's rearmament intent and Iraq had in fact been undertaking WMD-related activity for years, including a clandestine active program run by the Iraqi intelligence services (IIS) with a "large covert procurement program" and a secret chemical and biological laboratory network that "provided an ideal, compartmented platform from which to continue CW agent R&D or small-scale production efforts" (ISG), chemical and biological "dual-use" capabilities (including an obviously suspect "BW agent simulants" capability) that were readily convertible for larger production, illicit missile and nuclear development, and "fragmentary and circumstantial" evidence of greater WMD-related activity, including indications of BW production.

In short, Brown's argument is premised on evidence, i.e., a 2nd-derivative assessment, that fails on its face to substantiate his conspiracy theory. Further, Brown's notion the Pentagon "knew that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction" contradicts the operative context of the UNSCR 687 disarmament process, the UNSCOM-established fact of Saddam's WMD, the UNMOVIC-established fact that Saddam did not disarm his WMD, other nations' intelligence on Iraq, and the ISG findings of Saddam's WMD intent and capabilities. Brown's assertion "Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy" also elides that Iraq failed to account for Saddam's WMD with UNMOVIC and ISG's non-findings are heavily qualified.

If for the sake of argument one accepts the unproven notion that Iraq secretly unilaterally eliminated all its "militarily significant WMD stocks" (ISG) outside of the Gulf War ceasefire-mandated disarmament process before the pre-war intelligence estimates were formulated, that still leaves intact the primary threat assessment of noncompliant Saddam's unaccounted for armament and Iraq in breach of the ceasefire. Practically speaking, too, there is thin threat margin between battlefield-ready WMD stockpile and Saddam's confirmed WMD intent and capabilities. Iraq's WMD threat was measured by the UNSCR 687 mandates, which proscribed more items and activities than battlefield-ready WMD stockpile, notwithstanding that Brown's arbitrary standard for Saddam's WMD is considerably more permissive than the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441).

The thin threat margin shrinks further with the IIS's previously undetected WMD and terrorism capabilities that were found by the Iraq Survey Group and Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) investigations. The post-war assessments of Saddam's IIS substantiate President Bush's warning in the 2003 State of the Union, "Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained." The criteria for "usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it [Iraq] could deploy" (Brown), such as the CW munitions confiscated under Operation Avarice, are different for military and terrorist methods. The IIS's "ideal, compartmentalized platform from which to continue ... small-scale production efforts" (ISG) may not have been scaled for production on the military level, but it was scaled for production on the terrorism level. Counter-terrorism is intrinsically preventive because terrorist threat is not detected and tracked as readily as military threat, yet Brown's judgement "two tests of a just war were not met" ignores Saddam's vastly underestimated IIS-run "regional and global terrorism" (IPP), which included "considerable operational overlap" (IPP) with the al Qaeda network and "the top ten graduates of each Fedayeen Saddam class were specifically chosen for assignment to London, from there to be ready to conduct operations anywhere in Europe" (IPP). Of course, Saddam's "regional and global terrorism" (IPP) and deployment of terrorists to London violated the aggression and terrorism-related terms of the Gulf War ceasefire to add on to the justification for OIF.

Alongside his flawed conception of the WMD aspect of the Iraq issue, Prime Minister Brown also evinces a flawed conception of "just war" and "proportionate response" in the context of the OIF regime change that successfully brought Iraq into its mandated compliance after Saddam declined his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441):
“I am convinced that if resolutions of the United Nations are approved unanimously and repeatedly they have to be upheld if we are to have a safe and stable world order,” he writes. “On this basis, Saddam Hussein’s continuing failure to comply with them justified international action against him.

“The question is whether it required war in March 2003. ...

“Given that Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy and was not about to attack the coalition, then two tests of a just war were not met: war could not be justified as a last resort and invasion cannot now be seen as a proportionate response.”

The basic premise of the manifold ceasefire terms was "the need to be assured of Iraq's peaceful intentions in the light of its unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait" (UNSCR 687). Brown elides that the de jure and essential threat was the noncompliant Saddam regime, not the WMD in and of itself. Brown's arbitrary standard for his judgement "two tests of a just war were not met" obfuscates the operative context of the OIF decision wherein UNSCR 1441 "Recogniz[ed] the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security". The set condition meant Saddam's threat, including his WMD-related threat, was measured by Iraq's evidential noncompliance with the ceasefire terms purpose-designed to resolve Saddam's Gulf War-established manifold threat, not by Brown's misrepresented 2nd-derivative assessment. The US, UK, and UN were not obligated to predict and demonstrate any of Saddam's WMD to justify enforcement. At the decision point, the WMD-related "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance" (UNSCR 1441) was confirmed by Hans Blix and UNMOVIC's measurement of "about 100 unresolved disarmament issues".

WMD was not the only "critical issue" (Brown) that weighed on the OIF decision. "Saddam Hussein's continuing failure to comply with them" (Brown) equated to the continuing "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions" (UNSCR 1441) related to aggression (UNSCR 949), WMD and conventional armament (UNSCR 687), terrorism (UNSCR 687), and repression (UNSCR 688). Today, with corroboration of Iraq's noncompliance piled high from the UNSCR 1441 inspections and post-war ISG, IPP, IIC, and UNCHR investigations — e.g., "[i]n addition to preserved capability, we have clear evidence of his [Saddam's] intent to resume WMD" (ISG), "the Saddam regime regarded inspiring, sponsoring, directing, and executing acts of terrorism as an element of state power" (IPP), and "[t]he new evidence, particularly that of eyewitnesses, added another dimension to the systematic crimes of the former regime, revealing unparalleled cruelty" (UNCHR) — Iraq's threatening breach of the Gulf War ceasefire can now be seen as categorical.

At the same time, the modern theory of just war is not limited to defensive action. Modern just war theory also encompasses the "use [of] all necessary means" (UNSCR 678) for the international compliance enforcement of the UNSCR 660 series and humanitarian intervention per UNSCRs 688 and 1483 that defined OIF. Brown's judgement "two tests of a just war were not met" is inapposite on its face since his arbitrary standard mismatches the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441). According to the operative enforcement procedure for the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441), the OIF decision was triggered by Hans Blix and UNMOVIC's confirmation of Iraq's "continued violations of its obligations" in Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441), which confirmed the UNSC decision "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687" (UNSCR 1441). Saddam failed his "final" compliance test well short of the mandated "full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions" (UNSCR 1441). Iraq's UNMOVIC-confirmed UNSC-decided breach of the Gulf War ceasefire was casus belli.

Therefore, in the operative context of the OIF decision, proportionate response to the "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions" (UNSCR 1441) was marked by the measures needed to "bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations" (Public Law 105-235). In that regard, Brown's assertion, according to Savage, that “peaceful options for disarmament” had not been exhausted contradicts that Saddam had exhausted the non-military and lesser military enforcement measures over a decade-plus of intransigent noncompliance with the UNSCR 660 series, conclusively failed his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) with the UNSCR 1441 inspections, and ISG confirmed Saddam "never intended" to comply and disarm as mandated. By 1998, President Clinton and Congress had concluded regime change was the only realistic way to bring Iraq into its mandated compliance. In fact, the UNSCR 1441 "final opportunity to comply" in 2002-2003 marked Saddam's second final chance after Clinton had pronounced "Iraq has abused its final chance" when Saddam triggered ODF in 1998.

Blair officials, unlike Bush officials, were on duty for the 1998 penultimate compliance push with UNSCRs 1154, 1194, and 1205 that ran aground with ODF and the aftermath of Saddam's increased intransigence. As the veteran ceasefire enforcers on Blair's team would (or should) have understood better than the newer Bush team, by the point of ODF in 1998, military threat of regime change was requisite to induce even a deficient degree of Saddam's mandated cooperation because he was already well on his way to breaking the sanctions. After Saddam successfully called the ceasefire enforcers' bluff with ODF and then nullified the ceasefire, including (and especially) UNSCR 687, in Iraqi law, the bar was raised for mustering the credible threat of regime change that was prerequisite for restoring the UN inspections-centered compliance process.

Saddam established from the outset of the UNSCR 660 series that the negotiatory "spiral" model of defusing conflict only encouraged his malfeasance. Drawing out even deficient cooperation from Saddam required leveraging with credible threat according to the "deterrence" model. Yet the ODF bombing campaign used up the penultimate military enforcement measure in 1998 and the non-military threat of sanctions was de facto neutralized by 2000-2001. "As UN sanctions eroded there was a concomitant expansion of activities that could support full WMD reactivation" (ISG) even before UNSCOM failed in 1998 with "military reconstitution efforts starting in 1997" (ISG). The post-ODF ad hoc 'containment' relied chiefly on the constraint of sanctions and thus was collapsed by 2000-2001, if it ever worked at all. Saddam was on the verge of victory and knew it because he had earned it. ISG found "The Regime’s strategy was successful to the point where sitting members of the Security Council were actively violating the resolutions passed by the Security Council." UNSC members that opposed OIF were implicated in the Oil For Food scandal and complicit with Saddam breaking the UNSCR 687 arms embargo.

For British and American leaders confronting the festering "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance" (UNSCR 1441) in 2002, there were no other expedients left to apply leverage with Saddam except the ultimate measure of unsuspending the Gulf War in response to Iraq's breach of ceasefire. The UNSCR 678 mandate to "use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area" did not obligate the US, UK, and UN to exhaust the lesser enforcement measures over a decade-plus in the face of noncompliant Saddam's escalating intransigence, threat, and harm until the UNSCR 660-series compliance enforcement was on the verge of defeat. But that's what they did. Ultimately, in Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" with "full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions with its obligations under resolution 687 (1991) and other relevant resolutions" (UNSCR 1441), Saddam recycled his "tactics of delay and deception" (Clinton) in concert with his accomplices on the Security Council to undermine the capacitating threat and foreclose reliance on further diplomatic efforts to enforce all relevant UNSC resolutions regarding Iraq.

Given the real alternatives at the decision point, Brown's view that OIF "could not be justified as a last resort and invasion cannot now be seen as a proportionate response" contradicts his simultaneous view that the Gulf War ceasefire "resolutions ... ha[d] to be upheld if we are to have a safe and stable world order". The decision point for Bush and Blair was in effect a binary choice: regime change to bring Iraq into its mandated compliance or else give in to Saddam's intransigent noncompliance. Once the despot responded to Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) by again calling the ceasefire enforcers' bluff, the effective real alternative to OIF was compromising the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) and discrediting the last remaining leverage to let noncompliant and unreconstructed, ambitious and aggressive, practically uncontained and rearming, sectarian terrorist and tyrant Saddam slough off Iraq's international obligations.

The real alternative to OIF at the decision point was not available to President Bush under the operative US law and policy to "ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq" (Public Law 107-243). Accommodation with the "threat [of] Iraq's non-compliance" (UNSCR 1441) was not an option. I assume the same is true in the UK mandate for Prime Minister Blair who had helped President Clinton build the operative enforcement procedure that President Bush faithfully carried forward to enforce Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441).

Finally, Prime Minister Brown should be taken to task for his admission that "the moment he [Brown] took office in 2007, he planned to pull British troops out of Iraq well before the Americans" (Savage). It's striking that Brown concocted his abandonment of the Iraqi people in the same historical moment, i.e., the heart of the counterinsurgency "surge" and Sahwa "awakening", that the coalition's peace operations were the most needed by the Iraqi people and doing the most good versus the vicious illiberal forces attacking post-Saddam Iraq. Brown fingers himself as the British leader responsible for the profoundly inhumane mistake that paved the way for current Middle East crises: the premature withdrawal of the necessary peace operations from Iraq. Incredibly, Brown comes off as self-righteous about his course-setting error:
“At this time I made another decision: not to use our future departure from Iraq as an occasion to draw a contrast with Tony or score points against him either,” he writes.

That being said, it's possible that President Obama was committed regardless of British input to his disastrous radical course deviation of contravening the Strategic Framework Agreement and removing the essential US peace operations from Iraq, and dropping President Bush's Freedom Agenda and reneging Obama's own pledge to the Arab Spring activists. Nonetheless, we can speculate what difference it might have made had Brown strategically positioned the UK where it could have at least tried to stop the US from Obama's deviation.

As it happened, Brown led the way in taking the wrong turn with Iraq. He has the least excuse because Brown, unlike Obama, was on duty for the heart of the counterinsurgency "surge" and Sahwa "awakening", so Brown should have understood what was at stake. Yet Brown still chose to make the profoundly inhumane, course-setting error of prematurely withdrawing UK peace operations from Iraq, which at least encouraged and possibly enabled Obama's subsequent US error with Iraq. Which, along with the defamation of the Iraq intervention, set the path for the feckless Western response to the illiberal actors who hijacked the Arab Spring by avidly exploiting the vacuum created first by Brown and followed by Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama.

Prime Minister Brown should have stayed the course. Instead, his inhumane commitment to abandoning the Iraqi people "well before the Americans" empowered illiberal actors to generate a destructive ripple effect in and outside Iraq. Brown ought to be held to account for his fundamental error of prematurely withdrawing UK peace operations from Iraq to which he has added a fundamental misrepresentation of the Iraq issue to rationalize his mistake.

The OIF decision demonstrably was correct on the law and facts. The actual case against Saddam is validated. Prime Minister Blair and President Bush were right on Iraq; not perfect, which would have been abnormal for leadership in a world-changing contest of war and peace, but they were strategically wise, ethically humane, and competitively resolute. Operation Iraqi Freedom was justified.

By-line: [Eric] is a graduate of Columbia University and Rutgers School of Law, and clarifies and relitigates the Iraq issue at Operation Iraqi Freedom FAQ.


The Guardian's article about Prime Minister Brown's argument against OIF was jarring. On the substance, his argument is readily rebuttable. Which makes it jarring that a UK PM that close to OIF — indeed, the UK PM on duty for the heart of the Surge and Sahwa — would proffer that kind of argument in the 1st place. It shows the problem growing worse. Keeping in mind the OIF stigma is the purposeful strategic heir to the still powerfully influential Vietnam War stigma, it's not going to scab over and heal on its own. The revisionist stigmatization of the Iraq intervention is a progressive cancer that's spreading at the premise level of politics and policy with no immune response fighting it. Brown's argument is bad enough within the Iraq issue, but it also broadly implicates the Pentagon, the US, the US-UK relationship, and the effectual reach of liberal international enforcement.

His premature withdrawal of UK peace operations from Iraq was profoundly inhumane and harmfully course-setting, yet incredibly, Brown appears to be perversely proud of his error. His new memoir position on the Iraq issue ought to be setting off alarm bells for IR liberals everywhere, let alone the US and UK. It ought to function as a call to action for concerted, resolute, sufficient corrective on the Iraq issue in the politics — now.

Related: Criticism of Prime Minister Blair's response to the Chilcot report.



. . . tell me more.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

La La Land's bittersweet ending: 2 reactions

I enjoyed La La Land (2016). It's well-crafted entertainment, a love letter to Los Angeles, and an homage to the classic Hollywood dream. The music is like comfort food that sticks to your ribs and tastes just as good on seconds and thirds.

Sebastian and Mia's love story touched my romantic idealist heart. But the depiction of their dyadic love as true and empowering yet fragile instead of resilient troubles me. If their love was true, Sebastian and Mia should not have broken up for the reasons shown.

La La Land reminded me some of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, which is also a musical, with its bittersweet love story about talented, poor, ambitious artists in love who are denied a happily ever after. Where the jaded courtesan Satine introduces herself to Christian in Moulin Rouge with a comically bawdy come-on, lithe, winsome, sassy Mia introduces herself to Sebastian in an utterly charming way. I couldn't resist that and Sebastian doesn't. The lyrics of "I Ran (So Far Away)" describes Sebastian's hypnotized view of Mia and foreshadows Mia capturing and then breaking his heart. Mia doesn't die like Satine, but like she lip syncs the lyrics, she does run so far away. And Sebastian couldn't get away. He's still in love with her in the epilogue.

The opening scene (described here as an overture, ground rules, and primer) forewarns right away they don't make it with the foreshadowing by the girl on the freeway who sings about leaving her first love west of Santa Fe at the Greyhound station when they were 17, though "it was true" ("it" was her love? his love? their love?), because she chose to pursue stardom in Hollywood, instead. That's like Mia; on the other hand, the song can refer to Sebastian. He succeeds in his jazz club ambition and his song to Mia in the epilogue expresses sorrow, and possibly remorse, for not following Mia and instead pursuing his dream on his own.

The bittersweet ending bothers me because the movie tells me their love was true and they inspired each other in their respective jazz and Hollywood pursuits. If their love was both strong and empowering, then why was it so fragile? Why wasn't it more resilient? Couples have doubts, misunderstandings, and conflicts, and argue about them sometimes. That's normal. If their love was as true and empowering as the movie says, then none of the depicted doubts, misunderstandings, and conflicts should have been big enough to break their relationship. Their love should have been resilient.

The premise of the movie's denouement is they had to choose between love and ambition,
and their break-up sets up the epilogue. The problem is it doesn't make sense because the movie establishes a particular relationship for Sebastian and Mia that contradicts the love versus ambition premise. The lovers bonded over their artistic ambitions. They understood, encouraged, and zealously defended each other's jazz and Hollywood dreams, which should have been a cornerstone of their relationship. They improved each other. Mia adopted a measure of Sebastian's conscientiousness, which led directly to her big break, while Sebastian learned to be more flexible from Mia.

In other words, Sebastian and Mia's ambition is the last thing that should have caused their love to fail. Their jazz and Hollywood dreams should have been a core strength for their love, not the thing that tore apart their relationship. The proof of the benefit of their love to their ambition was plain in front of them their last time together - Mia's big break had just materialized due to Sebastian's career advice and tenacious support. Before Sebastian fought to save Mia's dream when she had given up on it, Mia had pushed back hard against Sebastian compromising his artistic standards, even for her sake. The bittersweet ending asks the audience to accept that their strongest battle-tested bond - their dreams - is the same thing that broke up their relationship, which makes their break-up look like an arbitrary decision by the characters or an unearned plot device by the director.

Although the movie shows Sebastian and Mia's fight precipitated their break-up, on the face of the story, their argument should not have separated them permanently. Neither of them cheated. Heck, their fight was over Sebastian staying true to his dream, and Sebastian essentially admitted his error when he refused to allow Mia to accept his notion of settling. Sebastian, dismayed by her criticism of his compromise for her sake, accused Mia of only valuing him for his suffering for his dream to assuage her suffering for her dream. But that's not right. The movie shows Mia sincerely wanted Sebastian to succeed. The priority was their dreams, not their struggle.

Sebastian and Mia shared a special chemistry that should have enabled them to clear up the misunderstanding in short order. They spoke their minds to each other from the start. He was extra-sensitively tuned to her. Sebastian remembered everything Mia said and she heeded everything he said. It seems out of character that they couldn't talk out their differences in the 4+ hours driving from Boulder City to Los Angeles or in the days that followed her audition. Sebastian could have easily explained overhearing Mia's phone conversation with her mom and reaffirmed to her he was saving his band earnings to open his own jazz club. To resolve their argument over Sebastian becoming sidetracked from his jazz club ambition, Mia should have only needed to reassure him that she wanted him to succeed, which is what she wanted, and she appreciated his compromise with Keith's band for her sake, while Sebastian should have only needed to reassure her his dream was intact and Keith's band was a means to an end. In fact, in their last time together, Sebastian responded to Mia's "What will you do" with "Get my own thing going", which is left ambiguous, but we can infer from the epilogue he meant his jazz club ambition.

Sebastian compounded the argument by missing Mia's one-woman play without apparently giving her a heads-up he might be late, but she was more upset about the show's seeming failure than his lateness. His act of love in pulling her back to LA for her audition with Amy Brandt, thus saving Mia's acting career, should have more than made up for his mistake and healed their breach. At that point, if their love was as true as they expressed, then their relationship should have been tempered and become stronger. She should have come home to him.

La La Land doesn't show a logistical obstacle that was insurmountable. While the time apart compelled by Sebastian's band commitments was a source of strain, it's normal for a young couple in love to miss each other while separated. Notably, Mia was happy for Sebastian's success with Keith's band until she realized he had compromised his artistic standards. Their argument was about Sebastian settling for Keith's band, not their physical separation as such. While they likely would have had a hard time being physically together for extended periods for, say, 2-3 years before turning the corner to their success shown at the 5-year mark, they should have been able to endure short, even medium-term work-related separations given their professed love and mutual support. Periodic and prolonged time apart due to work, school, etc, is unusual and difficult, but not altogether abnormal for a couple. Sebastian was already carving out time from his touring schedule to be with Mia. Until their careers settled in, they would have found days, weekends, or even weeks to be physically together.

With some patience and a little communication and planning, Sebastian and Mia could have achieved their career goals and stayed together. In the end scene with their careers stabilized, Mia and Sebastian still work and I assume live in the LA area at the 5-year mark. That's not unreasonable. If their love was as true and mutually supportive of their goals as the movie says, then they should have been able to endure some years of being separated a lot - not all the time - while they established their careers. It's not shown what David does for a living, but the movie hints that Mia and her husband aren't together all the time. Mia knew the work demands on Sebastian from Keith's band. If he was sidetracked from his goal of opening his own jazz club, then Mia should have reminded Sebastian to stay on course. Which she did. That was the subject of their argument.

In the vision of their life together that Sebastian shows to Mia in the epilogue, it's clear that Sebastian's path would have been different had they stayed together. It's less clear from the end scene that Mia's path would have changed had they stayed together. It's possible, if Sebastian had followed her to Paris, she would have been distracted by him there and flubbed her big break. But Mia became a movie star, married David, and had a daughter who appears to be 2-3 years old, not necessarily in that order, so it's apparent Mia did not need to be solely focused on acting for her career to take off. In contrast, Sebastian is shown living alone, so perhaps his parting advice to Mia really only applied to him, and he needed to be solely focused for his career to succeed. Or Sebastian was alone before Mia and alone after her because she was his one chance for dyadic love.

We can surmise Sebastian opened his jazz club with his band earnings. If Sebastian had followed Mia to Paris per the counter-factual vision, he likely would not have built up the capital needed to start his business. I assume the fame and reputation that Sebastian gained from Keith's band was also instrumental to his club's success from investors to attracting customers. He likely would have had neither the reputation nor capital to open his own jazz club if he had followed Mia to Paris. However, although the counter-factual vision implies Sebastian's decision not to follow Mia to Paris was pivotal, the physical separation by itself shouldn't have been fatal for their relationship had they stayed a couple, even if Sebastian didn't visit Mia in Paris at all. Mia only filmed a movie there, which usually takes a few weeks to maybe a few months; she wasn't moving to Paris permanently.

By my count, if their love was true, then the only convincing reason shown for Sebastian and Mia to break up is a realization by Sebastian that his love for Mia could replace - and perhaps was already replacing - his love of jazz. The counter-factual vision shows Sebastian understood that if he had followed Mia to Paris, his passion for her and their family together would have distracted him from his jazz club ambition, and he would have been happy and content as Mia's husband in David's place. If the issue was his overpowering love for Mia and not work-related physical separation, then it wouldn't have mattered whether Sebastian remained in LA or followed Mia to Paris. Sebastian had already made Mia his priority by taking the job with Keith for her sake and he's still deeply in love with her in the epilogue. It's plausible that Sebastian believed that if they stayed a couple, his love for Mia would have inevitably replaced his love of jazz, so before it was too late, Sebastian chose a life of jazz over a life with the girl he loves. That's not Mia's fault. She only encouraged Sebastian with his dream.

Wariness of his love for Mia could explain why Sebastian - the same Sebastian who snuck onto the Warner Brothers lot and found Mia in Boulder City - apparently broke off contact with her completely in spite of their amicable parting, if he knew he couldn't resist the power of his love for her with any contact. Five years later, the shock of seeing Mia in Seb's overwhelms Sebastian like Rick's reaction to Ilsa stumbling into Rick's in Casablanca. He loves her. Of course, Sebastian doesn't need to ask Sam - Sebastian can play it again himself. He plays their theme song to show Mia he loves her in the truest way he can.

From his parting advice that she needed to pour everything into her big break, it appears Sebastian believed he would have distracted Mia from her Hollywood dream like she was distracting him from his jazz club ambition. His song to her in the epilogue shows that had he followed her to Paris, Mia's love for him would have replaced her love of acting. Paris would have become the final act of both her Hollywood dream and his jazz club ambition. After they dance by the river Seine under the stars, they start a family and are blissfully happy and content, but there's no sign of Hollywood stardom for her or a jazz club for him.

I don't like that reason. I cried for Sebastian's loss. There shouldn't have been an either love or ambition dilemma for them. The girl in the opening scene foreshadowed, "I did what I had to do", but Sebastian shouldn't have had to choose for them. Sebastian initially settling for Keith's band for Mia's sake shouldn't mean he couldn't correct course and keep Mia. Their dyadic love if true should have been tempered, not split, by the events that ended their relationship. They unwaveringly believed in each other even when they doubted themselves. They understood, encouraged, and zealously defended each other's dreams. They should have been each other's artistic muse, not a distraction. Mia loves jazz now because of Sebastian and adamantly supported his jazz club ambition. Sebastian named his jazz club Seb's with the logo Mia designed for him, which shows she was his muse even after they broke up.

In their final spoken exchange at Griffith Park, Sebastian's answer, "I don't think we can do anything", to Mia's question, "What are we going to do", is blatantly wrong. He said that to Mia after drastically changing the course of her acting career and having just pulled her onto the path to stardom. After everything that had happened, the door wasn't closed on their love. He had saved it. In the fateful moment, they could have started a new chapter together. For Mia, she and he were still we. But Sebastian separated we into you and I. Sebastian should have answered Mia's "Where are we" with 'Here together' and her "What are we going to do" with 'Love each other'. Those were the answers he needed to give her for them to come home.

Sebastian and Mia should have fulfilled their love and art, both made stronger by the other, together. That's my romantic idealistic percept of La La Land's bittersweet love story.

Alternatively, Sebastian's song to Mia in the epilogue is not a what-if prediction. The sequence in his vision leading up to his following her to Paris is very different from their actual history. He's still deeply in love with her, but rather than a lament over an opportunity lost from regretful choices, the epilogue depicts a revisionist idealized fantasy of their relationship. Sebastian honored his love for Mia by saving her acting career, but it was a concluding act on his part, not a second chance for them. Their relationship was over by that point, ended when Mia broke faith with Sebastian by leaving him abruptly, lumped together with "all of this" of the disappointment of her Hollywood dream. She didn't even give him any way to contact her except inadvertently with her childhood story.

Mia leaving Sebastian like she did implies their love was, in fact, fragile.

The counter-factual vision shows a perfect sequence by Sebastian securing Mia's love. In it, Sebastian completely prioritizes Mia from the start, they have no friction between them, and there's no discouragement from her one-woman play to push her to run away from LA and him. But such perfection is unrealistic and shouldn't be necessary for dyadic love to establish; if anything, dyadic love is supposed to be the aspect of life that's the most resilient and the strongest bulwark against the trials of life. The discouraging audience for Mia's play was out of Sebastian's control altogether, and while he was late, he was there to pick her up. Sebastian wasn't perfect, but he did plenty enough to carry his part of their relationship.

Moreover, the movie showed that Sebastian and Mia didn't need to be perfect and walk on eggshells with each other. Their relationship was fortified with special chemistry. Sebastian was extra-sensitively tuned to Mia and remembered everything she said. She heeded everything he said. Their chemistry accommodated their foibles, such as Sebastian pressing his car horn to call for Mia as a rehabilitation of their first encounter on the freeway where he had angrily honked his horn at her and she had flipped him off.

Yet at a pressure point where Sebastian and Mia's pair bond should have been resilient, it collapsed under tension. Their love was passionate with special chemistry, but it also proved to be fundamentally defective. Her abandonment reminds me of the disillusionment of my romantic idealism when my straining efforts weren't reciprocated. It seemed the harder I tried, the more my leeway shrank and the path to dyadic love constricted to a dissolving tightrope, then dropped me into the void. Sebastian tried his hardest for Mia, even setting aside his jazz club ambition for her, yet he was given little leeway from her. After just an argument and a mistake, she abandoned him.

Sebastian and Mia were not on the same page in their relationship.

Notably in their argument, the discontent was one-sided from Mia. Sebastian was satisfied with loving her and had settled for Keith's band in order to care for her. Likely sensing she was unhappy, he had made the side trip home to be with her. But simply being with each other didn't satisfy her because, while she missed him, their physical separation wasn't the problem. Mia was happy for Sebastian's success with Keith's band until she realized Sebastian had compromised his artistic standards.

The fight revealed Mia didn't accept him as is. The argument blindsided him and Sebastian reacted angrily to her criticism of his compromise for her sake and interpreted it as Mia upset that he was no longer suffering for his art like her. But that's not right; Mia was upset that he was sidetracked from his dream.

Their fight was about ambition versus love more than a disagreement between two well-bonded lovers. On one hand, Mia was defending Sebastian's dream. On the other hand, upholding Sebastian's dream was as much about upholding her dream. Sebastian settled for Keith's band for her sake, yet Mia wouldn't leave LA to visit him on tour like he later didn't follow her to Paris. Whereas Sebastian prioritized their relationship, Mia cajoled Sebastian to refocus on his jazz club ambition because she chiefly valued - loved - him for his dream that mirrored her dream.

We're led to assume Sebastian callously neglected to give Mia a heads-up about the band's photoshoot and that precipitated her leaving him. But we don't know he didn't inform her that he might be late, and that kind of neglect towards Mia doesn't sound like Sebastian. He tried to make it to her play in time to at least be there when the lights came on, and he was there to pick her up. Whether or not he neglected to give Mia a heads-up that night, Sebastian made a mistake that he needed to make up to her. But it wasn't a mistake that should have caused them to break up. While hurtful, it was neither a betrayal nor an abandonment. His dedication to her never wavered. Mia didn't focus on his mistake when explaining her anger in any case. Rather, when Mia's dream was dashed with the seeming failure of her play, she left "all of this" behind in LA with no distinction between Sebastian's tie to her Hollywood dream and Sebastian for himself.

Sebastian wasn't right when he accused Mia of wanting to be with him only to assuage her suffering with his suffering, but her abrupt departure shows his insight wasn't far off the mark. She valued him only as far as she could identify his dream with her dream. When she gave up her dream, she gave him up in the same breath. There was no independent loyalty to Sebastian - Mia's angry rejection of "all of this" referring to her Hollywood dream was the same as her rejection of him.

In their interaction when Sebastian came out to Boulder City to pull her back to Los Angeles to meet with Amy Brandt, there was no sign from Mia that she felt hurt or regret for leaving him. It didn't seem like she missed him at all. It seemed like she had put him firmly behind her. She was cold to him, asking, "Why did you come here" and "How did you find me". Mia could have salvaged their relationship on the spot by reacting with love to Sebastian's act of love. Instead, she was displeased to see him, which forced him to justify his action with "Because I have good news" when the loving merit should have been implicit with no need for further explanation. Mia's tacit message to Sebastian in Boulder City was that his love was not welcome. She wouldn't even invite him into her home despite that he had traveled 4 or more hours to find her. (Where did Sebastian sleep that night in order to pick up Mia at 8 the next morning?)

It's a heart-wrenching feeling when you put your heart on your sleeve and go the extra (277.3) mile(s) for the girl you're in love with, like Sebastian did for Mia, only for her to respond to your impassioned effort with distaste. I know the feeling - it hurts.

When she asks him, "where are we", and he responds, "I don't know", in their last spoken exchange, the tone is not hopeful and passionate. Although their words seem to leave the door open for a reunion - "I'm always going to love you" (now that her dream is restored) and "I guess we're just going to have to wait and see" - the tone of their exchange is an ending. They've returned to the place they fell in love on a magical night, but in the stark light of day, they can see their pair bond is broken. They're not a couple anymore and there's no coming home for them.

Sebastian is extra-sensitively tuned to Mia, so his judgement, "I don't think we can do anything", should be regarded. The epilogue shows Sebastian still loves Mia deeply, and his song to her is a revelation for Mia that Sebastian had (and still) loved her for her, not just for her dream. But after their fight and the way she left him, Sebastian understood Mia had loved him chiefly for his function as a kindred dreamer, not him for him.

The fact is they did not reunite after that scene. More tellingly, they apparently severed relations completely after Mia left for Paris. Looking back from that fact, the friction that built up for Mia while Sebastian toured looks more like a sign that if Mia had left for Paris as Sebastian's girlfriend, the separation would have ended their relationship. If Sebastian had followed Mia to Paris instead of parting ways in LA, his insight from their fight that she valued him only as a fellow suffering artist might have been realized in a different way. If she evaluated their relationship according to the compatibility of their jazz and Hollywood dreams, then her dream changing shape with her success in Paris, while he continued to struggle with his dream, might have led her to break up with him. Or as Sebastian accused Mia in their argument, he might have resented her success. (I doubt it - Sebastian accepting Keith's job offer for Mia's sake and his song to her in the epilogue argue against the latter notion.)

A sign that the epilogue is an epitaph rather than a regretful what-might-have-been is that Mia's husband appears to be the same type as Greg, the boyfriend Mia left for Sebastian, the kind of nondescript steady provider Mia's mom wanted for her which had convinced Sebastian to agree to Keith's job offer. Moreover, Sebastian is similar to David as Mia's husband in the counter-factual vision, which implies that Sebastian as is was not Mia's type for a life partner, which further implies he was always a fleeting love affair for her. That piece of the counter-factual vision might also imply Sebastian was willing to become more like Greg or David for Mia's sake, like he had joined Keith's band for her sake - a change Mia might have accepted. Or not accepted, if Mia's love for Sebastian's dream did not synchronously evolve into the dyadic love depicted in his song.

Consistent with the movie's either/or premise, Mia leaving Sebastian taught him to re-prioritize his jazz club ambition. If their love for each other had been true, I still contend they should have achieved their dreams together. I don't uncritically accept the ambition versus love premise for their break-up; their love if true should have empowered their ambition with each other's muse and intimate support. The reason their relationship failed that I can identify with is that despite Sebastian's love for Mia was empowering and true, Mia's love for Sebastian was empowering but not true.

My cynical disillusioned percept is Sebastian's song in the epilogue is a beautiful dream of true dyadic love that was a fantasy only because Mia didn't love him for him. For Mia, Sebastian was not a love for all seasons but merely a passionate summer love affair between kindred dreamers striving and suffering for their art.

Well done, Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz. Harvard isn't usually considered an elite film and music school, but apparently it's that, too.

La La Land is a loving tribute to movie musical history, purposefully thick with references that are readily recognizable to film buffs and an invitation for casual movie watchers like me to look back at the classics.

There's some debate whether the counter-factual vision in the epilogue comes from Sebastian, Mia, both of them, or neither of them - which is to say, the audience but not the characters share the vision. According to Chazelle, a core concept of La La Land is film's potential to tell a story with sound and image as an expansive musical language, particularly with movie musicals, that's not limited to words. Along that theme, I believe the vision is conveyed from Sebastian to Mia with their theme song consistently with the notion established earlier in the movie that true soulful music is a language that communicates beyond words. Sebastian plays their theme song to Mia at Seb's to show his love for her in the truest way he can. (Stretch that notion further and a fantastical explanation for Sebastian's marked similarity to David at the end of the vision is that while the vision started from Sebastian, by the end of their theme song at Seb's, he and Mia are both communicating the vision across their soul connection that was first established with their theme song at Lipton's.)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have solid chemistry as an on-screen couple, which is the main qualification needed for the leads. Neither actor is conventionally handsome or pretty. Rather, they're both distinctive looking and attractive, which is a better combination. Their looks are relatable, and both actors know how to work their distinctive features for effect. In the triple-threat areas demanded by the musical format, Gosling and Stone acted well, as expected. Stone sang well enough to befit her lead role. Gosling more talk-sang than sing-talked. His singing slid along the border of pass/fail. They both danced competently and hit their marks like proficient actors who've been trained to dance for a role, technically adequate but markedly less than professional dancers. They're not worthy successors to Astaire and Rogers in that aspect, and La La Land would have been better if Gosling and Stone were expert singers and dancers, too. Nonetheless, the leads delivered well on the most important aspects, their acting and on-screen chemistry.

Like Ewan McGregor owned Christian in Moulin Rouge, it's hard to picture an actress other than Emma Stone as Mia. Ryan Gosling's performance is more akin to Nicole Kidman's Satine in that Gosling was capable as the other lead, but it's not hard to picture another actor playing Sebastian. Like McGregor sang much better than Kidman, Stone sang noticeably better than Gosling. To be fair, Gosling acted Sebastian better than Kidman acted Satine.

Will La La Land be a classic? Hard to say. Key parts of the movie, the opening scene and epilogue foremost, stand out as good and memorable enough for classic status. A core part of the movie's appeal, its purposeful call back to classic films, might also suppress its long-term status as a stand-alone film due to pegged comparative evaluation. If Gosling sang better and Gosling and Stone danced better, I'd compare La La Land's likely long-term status to Little Shop of Horrors. I'll compare La La land's long-term status to Moulin Rouge for now. I have to wait for some of its glitter to wear off and then watch La La Land again to test how well the movie holds up beyond its first impression.

Post-script notes from 2nd viewing:
- After Seb and Mia dance and she answers the call from Greg, Mia holds the fob to her chin again despite her earlier banter with Seb about it - she heeds him - and her car beeps.
- When Mia answers the call from Greg, the upward lilt in her voice evokes Mary's pitch and cadence answering Sam's phone call in It's a Wonderful Life. Both scenes depict the revelation of raw attraction between the central male and female characters.
- Mia had been seeing Greg for a month when Seb and Mia got together. She describes Greg as "sweet".
- The schedule for Mia's big break in Paris was rehearsal for 3 months and film shoot for 4 months.
- In the epilogue, Mia says she and David will see Natalie's "it" "back" in NYC and they "don't miss this" referring to the traffic jam, which implies Mia lives in NYC now. I guess she met her husband and daughter in a hotel (Chateau Marmont) room, not an apartment.
- The epilogue doesn't indicate at all what David does besides being a husband and father, but if they normally live in NYC, then he and their daughter traveled to LA with Mia, so maybe they are together all the time.
- La La Land's seasons are obviously a relationship arc metaphor. While we can guess-timate how much time passes from scene to scene, in terms of a timeframe, even besides the 5-year jump to the epilogue, the movie's sectional seasons are likely not close to 3-month seasonal blocks, except the beginning "winter" corresponds with the Christmas holiday season according to the decorations, play list, and dialogue at Lipton's. Otherwise, the weather, attire, background, and dialogue don't indicate annual seasonal changes in the rest of the movie.
- Mia definitely left Seb and Seb is definitely in love with her. Seb plays their song at the photo shoot. At the theater, he's desperate to catch up with her, tries to see her tomorrow at her place (presumably with her 3 roommates) when she says she's going home, and begs her to allow him to make it up to her for missing her one-woman show. Mia's "don't help me" seems to be blame for convincing her to put on her show, as opposed to anger at him over missing her show, their physical separation due to Keith's band, or their argument. She leaves him with "all of this" of her Hollywood dream.
-The subtext of their argument was he had modified his ambition to love her but she was unwilling to modify her ambition to love him, in that she wouldn't go away from her theater practice to visit him on the road. She bristled at his suggestion with the accusation he was compromising his dream, which he confirmed with an articulation of her fear. Going on the road with him represented compromising her dream, like he later didn't go with her to Paris.
-Why is Mia so nervous in the epilogue? In Casablanca, Ilsa's nervousness is understandable given how she left Rick in Paris. But Mia and Seb seemed to have an amicable parting at Griffith Park, so her Ilsa-like nervousness is unexplained. Seb's shaken reaction to seeing Mia in his club is understandable given he still loves her deeply.
-The movie seems more blocky in its story progression on a 2nd viewing with the multiple use of montages to move the plot from point to point. The portrayal of the deterioration of their relationship is more rushed and less developed than their attraction and coming together. The movie shows strain in their relationship, but not in a way that satisfactorily explains why they broke up. The soul connection of their song implies true love, but the portrayal of their break-up implies he loved her for her but she only loved him for his dream.
-Classic? My 2nd impression is no. I was less impressed with La La Land in my 2nd viewing. I still like the movie, but in contrast to, say, Grease, I don't feel enthused about seeing La La Land again. The opening scene is still impressive, but after that, the showpiece numbers are good, but they're not classic-level memorable. The pedestrian dancing of the two leads and Gosling's mediocre singing stood out more. The movie flags after Sebastian and Mia pair-bond at Griffith Observatory. The happy couple montage is charming, but the montage itself heralds the movie becoming more blocky with the story becoming more rushed and less developed the rest of the way.



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