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From the summary section

From the summary section of today's Nelson Report ...

When is everyone’s expectation still a surprise? When Colin Powell resigns months before HE thought was going. Who will succeed Powell? Senate sources say National Security Advisor Condi Rice. House sources say UN Ambassador John Danforth. As Powell learned last week, it’s President Bush who makes the decision. Best bet? Rice. If she takes over State, expect her deputy, Steve Hadley, to run the NSC. (Interesting “dark horse” for NSC? OMB’S Josh Bolton, with management skills which have eluded the NSC operation for some time.) Why not Wolfowitz for NSC? The President doesn’t know him all that well, and doesn’t like him all that much. Is Powell’s sudden departure part of a larger pattern? You bet. Pair this with the bloodbath ongoing at CIA. Porter Goss and his ex-Hill staff are carrying out a brutal purge of the career professionals seen as an impediment to carrying out political orders. If Rice is offered State, expect her to remove the entire top layer of Powell/Armitage career professionals. But didn’t Rice tell friends she didn’t want State? So what...see this as part of the complete national security overhaul which Powell told Bush was needed. Powell just didn’t think it would start with him. Implications for Iran? North Korea? Watch to see if John Bolton (not Josh) moves up to Deputy Secretary, or perhaps to Deputy NSC. As long as VP Cheney stays (note his heart flutter this weekend) so does Scooter Libby, otherwise a possible NSC chief. Bet bet? Hard line continues. No ray of hope today? Depends...some folks think Powell’s strong right arm, Deputy Secretary Rich Armitage, might be asked to take on the new National Intelligence Coordinator’s role. Other folks think this is delusional...stay tuned.

Watch Bolton <$NoAd$> indeed ...

A reporter just called

A reporter just called me to get some follow-up comments/quotes on my earlier post on Bill Safire's retirement and his recent 'mendacity'. So I thought I'd take a moment to elaborate here as well.

As I told this reporter, I've been reading Safire's column for upwards of twenty years. And I thought highly of him, even if I frequently disagreed with him and not-infrequently thought he too easily made arguments I didn't think he quite believed.

Yet the last year or eighteen months or so has seemed very different to me. And, specifically, here's why. Over the course of the last year Safire has written about several topics -- most centering on some aspect of Iraq and/or the bad intelligence meta-story -- which I knew in minute detail.

It won't surprise you to hear that he and I disagreed on most of these matters. That goes without saying. But again and again I saw him making specific factual claims or allegations that he only could have made if he were acting with negligent sloppiness (i.e., not knowing even the basic factual information on the topic at hand) or knowingly misleading his readers.

Safire to exit OpEd

Safire to exit OpEd page early next year.

It's not a day for criticism, I guess There were many good days in the past, no doubt. But in the last year the mendacity has just been overwhelming. There's no other way to put it.

Who will replace him?

Hopefully, someone smart and outside the box. If I had my druthers I'd pick Chris Caldwell. But perhaps there are others I'm not thinking of. Who has other suggestions?

[ed. note: A number of emailers don't seem to agree and/or realize this, though I could be wrong of course. But I'm assuming that Safire needs to be replaced by a conservative of some variety. A number of readers suggest Andrew Sullivan, which seems like an excellent idea. Still others suggest that I'm hopelessly behind the curve and that David Brooks is actually Safire's replacement.]

Briefly on the purge

Briefly, on the purge underway at the CIA ...

Given all that has happened over the last four years, it is easy for critics of the president to fall into the comforting but mistaken assumption that intelligence, foreign policy, or military 'professionals' always know more or are wiser than outsiders and political appointees. Go back and read a biography of Franklin Roosevelt or Winston Churchill to see how mistaken that assumption can be.

All bureaucracies -- whether designed to make widgets, issue drivers licenses, run spies, or drop bombs -- have tendencies toward risk aversion and group think.

But here we have a record.

There has been a running battle along these 'political appointees' versus 'the professionals' lines at the Pentagon, the CIA and, to a much lesser degree, the State Department for more than three years. And by and large the Bush administration's 'political appointees' have been wrong almost every time. There are a few exceptions at the Pentagon -- the early stages of the Afghan campaign being the best example. But at the CIA it's really been pretty much a shut-out. And a number of those screw-ups have been ones of catastrophic proportions.

Yes, some of the commissions and investigations have worked to muddle or obscure this fact. And that's not to say that the CIA has gotten everything right. But in the cases where they got things wrong, it was always the case the the White House and the rest of the administration was pushing for wrong+1 or more likely wrong-squared.

In our reporting on the Niger uranium fiasco, we tried to get very deep into what people at the State Department and the CIA were thinking about the Niger claims in the final months before the war. And the answer you hear in most cases when you ask why this or that problem with the evidence wasn't scrutinized more closely in those dwindling days, the answer you get, after you push past the rigamarole is that there wasn't much point. The die was cast. We were going to war one way or another, better to spend time preparing for it than churning over evidence the reliability or authenticity of which no one cared about anyway.

We will continue to cover and discuss the particulars. But the larger point is simple and clear. On every significant point of conflict between the Bush administration and the country's cadre of intelligence professionals, the Bush political appointees turned out to be wrong. Often very wrong, and with disastrous consequences. Sometimes the intel folks were wrong too; but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong.

This is not argumentative or hyperbole or even up for much serious dispute.

And the upshot of all that we've seen, the result of all those struggles over the last three years is that the 'appointees' are purging the 'professionals'. Another way to put it is that the folks who were always wrong and often catastrophically wrong are rooting out the folks who were often right and sometimes somewhat wrong. The answer to politicized intelligence, it turns out, is a more thorough politicization of intelligence and the elimination of those who resisted political pressure.

If you think this is just a Washington squabble or political debating point you'd be mistaken. Because your lives, and those of your families and friends, may very well be on the line.

Dignity loss watch from

Dignity loss watch (from AP/CNN)...

Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.

Frist, R-Tennessee, would not say if he backed Specter, R-Pennsylvania, for the job. Specter will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.

To be a fly on the wall ...

A letter from a

A letter from a reader in <$NoAd$>respose to yesterday's post about the Democrats' consultocracy. With the letter writer's permission, I've removed certain portions of the letter to maintain the person's anonymity ...

Excellent post on the state of the Democratic party, its operatives and its message. I think there are two separate points here, each of which is worthy of far further discussion. The idea of an aristocracy of Democratic consultants and operative has been a huge problem for a long time, and I will comment on that mostly in this post, since that is something with which I have experience.

[Here the letter writer explains that he is a mid-level political operative, roughly TPM's age, and notes the various positions he's held in the infrastructure of the Democratic party, its various committees and campaigns, over the last ten or fifteen years.]

I give you this background because I want to point out that many of us mid level political hacks who no one has ever heard off have been having these conversations for a long time. And the problem you identify has sent many of them to lucrative and non-political lives elsewhere.

Its is a depressing fact that for a candidate to become credible in Democratic politics, they have to hire from among a group of consultants who give them credibility with the fundraisers on K St.. The problem from my perspective? None of these firms are new. It’s the same group of consultants who have been running Dem. campaigns since the late 1980’s. If you look at the partners of the major media firms, for example, you can almost guarantee that they were players for someone in the 1988 campaign.

This creates a different problem. For those of my generation of political operatives, the searing election experience was 1994. And the animating ideas, strategy, and tactics of the Republican House majority still dominate the way the Republicans do their politics. Unfortunately, for most of the folks still at the top level of our party, the 1994 election was just one of many elections, and you win some and lose some. For example, it would have been impossible for anybody who lived through 1994 as their baptism into politics to assume that the Swift Boat Veterans attack was anything but harmful and required any reaction but a vicious and immediate counter attack. Yet, that is what the Kerry campaign did….inexplicable. But clearly a decision made by our “older” party hands…one that I believe proved decisive.

The further problem is that in order to succeed with careers in Dem politics – well, you got to join the big boys -- i.e., the young successes in Dem politics tend to hold the same ideas as the people in charge.

I have many, many more thoughts about this, as it’s been a ongoing conversation for some of my close colleagues and I for years. Hope this is helpful a little.

It's not about right or left. It's not an argument that things would have turned out differently if we'd only had better consultants and spin-meisters. But it's a conversation that Democrats should be having.