JONATHAN CHAIT DECEMBER 28, 2010
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
Last week, I wrote an item criticizing Lanny Davis for representing the government of the Ivory Coast. That government has recently been accused of ignoring election results and clinging to power illegitimately. Davis sent TNR the following in response to my post:
I am responding to a factually inaccurate assertion in an opinion commentary posted by Isaac Chotiner on this blog last week.
Mr. Chotiner never called me to check the accuracy of his use of the word “shilling,” which is defined in dictionaries as “promoting” with “duplicity” or as a “decoy.” It is an embarrassing error by him, since I was available to him and everyone for calls. Had he called me, I could have directed him to the public (and posted on the Internet) statement from press conferences held December 20 and December 21, which directly contradicted the word “shilling.” That statement said, in part:
I have not been asked by the Ivorian government to try to prove to the world community who won the election in the Ivory Coast, or who is right or who is wrong.
My willingness to “present” the evidence to the media of voter fraud in the north of the Ivory Coast as perceived by the government of the Ivory Coast, without validating the truth of those assertions, does not contradict the above sentence, which I have repeated many times. This is precisely what I stated in the above statement.
In fact, other sections of my statement, as well as the rest of the quotes in the New York Times article of December 23, 2010 (Mr. Chotiner quoted one sentence from that article but not all the others), make clear that my major role is to assist in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis, avoiding human rights abuses and bloodshed. As I stated on December 20 and 21, 2010:
…I am counseling the Government in order to peacefully resolve the crisis in a spirit of reconciliation, transparency, and through mediation, recognizing the concerns of the international community.
…I have further advised the Government that they should seek the assistance of an outside mediator of acknowledged integrity and objectivity, such as former South African President Mbeki, who successfully mediated the accords that helped resolve conflict in the Ivory Coast in 2005, or some other similar world leader who is acceptable to all parties, so this crisis can be resolved without any further violence or instability.
As the Times quoted me saying on December 23 (again, a quote omitted by Mr. Chotiner and thus not read by the readers of his commentary): “[Mr. Davis] viewed himself not as an advocate but as a ‘conveyor belt’ to pass information about Mr. Gbagbo to the administration and the world.”
I also note President Gbagbo’s speech in the Ivory Coast that he will not tolerate violence and abuses and condemns them, that he has called for a full investigation by objective authorities into reports of abuses, and for anyone responsible to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
A commentator is entitled to his opinion, even when he engages in personal attacks and schoolyard name-calling (I must admit to being curious as to how he can accurately describe my role in defending President Clinton as a counsel and friend as that of a “Clinton-era hack”). But according to most editorial page editors I have consulted over the years, responsible journals do not permit personal attacks based on false or misleading assertions of fact.
I wish I could describe further what I have been doing night and day for the last week and with whom I have been working and talking throughout this period in order to try to bring a peaceful solution without further bloodshed. Maybe someday all the facts can be told concerning my role. But I can assure readers of TNR as well as all others that my role has been consistent with my terms of engagement with the Ivory Coast government and my statement of December 20 and 21—indeed, without my engagement by the government, I could not have been doing what I am now doing.
Davis says he does not intend to prove who won the election in the Ivory Coast, and yet in the original New York Times piece that I quoted, there appears the following:
Mr. Davis, who helped defend President Clinton against impeachment, registered with the Justice Department earlier this month as an agent for Ivory Coast who would be paid $100,000 a month to “present the facts and the law as to why there is substantial documentary evidence that President Laurent Gbagbo is the duly elected president as a result of the Nov. 28 elections.”
As far as I am aware, Davis has never directly disavowed this statement. Moreover, even if Davis is not saying “who is right or who is wrong,” that open-mindedness stands in contrast to the United Nations and numerous human rights groups who have declared President Gbagbo’s opponent the legitimate victor, and are asking Gbagbo to step down.
Davis is entitled to argue that he is merely acting as a peacemaker (albeit one taking a large fee), but I think the world can do better than a peacemaker who blindly accepts President Gbagbo’s absurd statement about refusing to tolerate violence, as Davis does in his response to me. As we speak, opposition activists are being detained, and there are credible reports of political murders.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is not Davis’s first time working for a government accused of serious human rights violations. Earlier this year, according to The New York Times, Davis accepted a contract of one million dollars from Equatorial Guinea’s government. The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has “served” for three decades, is also accused of serious violations of political and human rights. In that case as well, Davis presented himself as someone who was merely trying to improve the situation by counseling a government to do the right thing. In both Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast, I would question whether someone being paid by people accused of serious human rights violations is the best messenger for peace.