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I guess I might

I guess I might as well break the suspense: Hey there, TPM readers -- Spencer Ackerman here from The New Republic. As Josh wrote below, the proprietor of this fine blog has handed me the keys while he enjoys some hard-earned R&R. For the next few days, I'll be trying my best not to turn TPM into an online version of Weekend At Bernie's, though I can't promise that Josh will return to Washington and find his liquor cabinet untouched. I hope you'll keep checking out the blog despite the absence of the mighty Marshall.

So, with that out of the way, let's get right to it.

With the handover of Iraqi "sovereignty" just two weeks away, there's no shortage of open questions about what exactly our behind-the-scenes role in Iraq will be. One particularly pressing question has been whether the interagency knife-fight between the State and Defense Departments over Iraq will finally draw to a close. You'll remember that the Pentagon essentially junked about a year's worth of laborious preparatory work for the occupation prepared at Foggy Bottom, and famously told the first U.S. proconsul, Jay Garner, that he couldn't hire its architect, Tom Warrick. Failures and recriminations have compounded and intensified ever since -- sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has tried to present a united front going into the post-June 30 phase, when our political efforts will be housed in a new U.S. embassy, under the control of the Department of State. At a forum last month at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the leaders of the State and Defense transition teams, Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and retired General Mick Kicklighter, exchanged the sort of photogenic handshake usually reserved for when belligerents mark the formal end of hostilities.

But it looks more like the conflict is about to enter its guerilla phase. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has obtained a copy of the National Security Presidential Directive that governs the structure of our future presence in Iraq. (Warning: PDF.) Signed on May 11 by President Bush, it ensures that the Defense Department will have a significant foothold in the embassy. Sure, it specifies that

The Secretary of State shall be responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of all assistance for Iraq.


But "all" doesn't exactly mean "all." Leave aside the fact that

Commander, USCENTCOM, under the authority, direction and control of the Secretary of Defense, shall continue to be responsible for U.S. efforts with respect to security and military operations in Iraq. In all activities, the Chief of Mission and Commander, USCENTCOM shall ensure the closest cooperation and mutual support.


The Centcom-Embassy structural conflict is one we all expected, and, given our maintenance of over 138,000 troops in Iraq, can't really be avoided. A few paragraphs later in the NSPD, however, there's something else:

I also establish ... a temporary organization within the Department of Defense to be called the Project and Contracting Office (PCO) to provide acquisition and project management support with respect to activities in Iraq, as requested by the Secretary of State and heads of other Departments and agencies. The Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of State shall select a Director for PCO. PCO personnel in Iraq shall be permanently or temporarily assigned under Chief of Mission authority. PCO shall provide acquisition and project management support to the Chief of Mission. PCO's service may include engineering, auditing, and other contract-related authorities.


That's all the NSPD says about this new office. The PCO looks to be the successor organization to the Program Management Office, the Pentagon's contracting office within the Coalition Provisional Authority. Clearly the Pentagon will play a role in overseeing the implementation of contractor projects, and that's no trivial matter: the $18.4 billion we're spending in Iraq is supposed to be an important aspect of our post-June 30 influence. But this is surely about more than just the reconstruction contracts. Remember that there are "security"-related contracts issued for Iraq as well--just ask Virginia-based CACI International, who sent employee Steven A. Stefanowicz to Abu Ghraib. And that "other contract-related authorities" responsibility designated to the PCO seems sufficiently broad to allow the PCO chief--chosen by Donald Rumsfeld, with input from Colin Powell--to exercise it as he sees fit. There's not a whole lot that's clear here, but it certainly seems like the NSPD doesn't give the State and Defense Departments the same sheet of music to sing from. Plus ca change...

A Blog first Well

A Blog first? Well, probably not. But certainly a TPM first. I’m coming to you from some number of tens of thousands of feet over the Atlantic Ocean. And for those who know me well that is, well … something of a change of pace (a long story which we’ll return to at some later point). In any case, to the matters at hand. Even bloggers need vacations. And if they can’t figure that out for themselves --- which in my case seems to be the case --- their girlfriends eventually prevail on them to see the light of reason and do the right thing.

In any case, that brings me to my point. I’m going to be taking a breather from TPM for a few days. I’ll be away tucked away on some island somewhere far, far away. If something truly earth-shattering happens I may pop my head up. But I'm going to try mightily to resist (and you'll be in good hands while I'm away.)

A few points before signing off, though. You may have noticed a slight down-tick in the frequency of posts of late. And that’s for a few different reasons. But a principal one is that I and several colleagues have been working on a story that, if and when it comes to fruition --- and I’m confident it shall --- should shuffle the tectonic plates under that capital city where I normally hang my hat. So that’s something to look forward to in the not too distant future. And that’s taken some of my time away from TPM and prevented me from sharing with you some delectable tidbits which otherwise I would have loved to have done.

Second, TPM won’t be going dark during my brief absence. Iraq --- and the broad panoply of national security, war, and intelligence issues for which it has become the focal point --- remains the key issue in our public lives today. So I’m handing the TPM keyboard over to someone who has absolutely dynamite sources on all these issues and will be able to keep you up-to-date for the next several days and point you toward the key issues which perhaps won’t be getting the treatment they should in the Times, the Post and the rest of the bigs.

I’m going to let him introduce himself, probably a little later today. But he will definitely be able to give you the inside word.

Before you know it, I’ll be back, with batteries recharged, back to the normal feverish rate of posts, ready to slay dragons, break news, lacerate the puffed-up, poke fun at myself and others, post links, embarrass myself with typos and whatever other mumbojumbo I usually do in these virtual pages.

Jack Kennedy from 1960

Jack Kennedy from 1960 ...

“But l<$NoAd$>et me stress again,” he told the assembled ministers, “that these are my views — for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

“I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.

“Whatever issue may come before me as president, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”


As I wrote in my Hill column this evening, what a difference 45 years makes!

Then a Catholic senator from Massachusetts running for president was at pains to distinguish between his personal religious views and those he'd try to enact into policy as president. He chose a meeting of Southern Baptists in Texas to make the point.

Now we have a Texas born-again president trying to score political points by pressing certain elements of the Catholic hierarchy into disciplining another Catholic Senator and presidential candidate from Massachusetts for not imposing his personal views as public policy.

Straight out of gaggleville

Straight out of gag(gle)ville -- Geneva Conventions, Cheney on al Qaida, Plame, Dick Clarke, a movable feast -- from this morning ...

Q Why do you say you've made <$NoAd$>it clear on Geneva Conventions when it's -- obviously, they've been violated ever since we went into Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib?

Q And Guantanamo and everywhere else.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what specifically you're referring to, everywhere else.

Q I'm saying that you people have never said definitively that you are obeying the Geneva Conventions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, no, we made it very clear when it comes to Iraq that the Geneva Convention did apply.

Q Consistent with, you say, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not in Iraq. In Iraq we made it very clear the Geneva Convention applies.

Q Can I ask about Vice President Cheney, because yesterday he repeated what is a very controversial claim. He said that Saddam Hussein had long-established ties with al Qaeda. Does the President believe that Saddam Hussein had long-established ties with al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: We certainly talked about the ties with terrorism between the -- between the regime that was removed from power, and we talked about those ties prior to the decision to remove that regime from power. So that was well-documented. Secretary Powell went before the United Nations and talked about some of those ties to terrorism, as well. And Zarqawi is certainly a senior al Qaeda associate who was in Iraq prior to the decision to go in and remove the regime from power.

Q There's also al Qaeda in the United States. That does not mean the United States is cooperating with those members of al Qaeda. Just by the presence of someone does not mean there's a cooperation.

MR. McCLELLAN: But, remember, we're talking about an oppressive regime that was in power in Iraq that exercised control over that country. And go back and look at what we documented, Norah. We documented all this, and I think that's what the Vice President was referring to.

Q So today you're saying the President does agree there were long --

MR. McCLELLAN: We stand by what we've said previously, in terms of the regime's ties to terrorism, yes. And I think that's what the Vice President was referring to.

Q The President said there were no ties in the run up to the war.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, that's a mischaracterization. There were clear ties to terrorism between the regime --

Q He said there were no ties with al Qaeda.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- certainly supporting suicide bombers in the Middle East.

Q Are you repudiating what the President said?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you're talking about September 11th.

Q Has the President been asked to answer questions before the CIA leak investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update at this point. But those are the types of questions that you need to direct to the prosecutors who are overseeing that investigation. And I'll see if there's any further update beyond what we said previously.

Q Why can't you tell us? I mean, he's the President of the United States. You aren't going to tell us if he's been questioned in a criminal investigation>

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said I don't have any update from where he -- what he previously responded to, Terry.

Q Right, but we'd like it from you, please.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I'll see what else I can find out. But remember what we've made clear from the very beginning. There's an ongoing investigation right now. We want to do everything we can to help that investigation conclude successfully and get to the bottom of this. And in that spirit, that's why we've referred questions like that to the investigators, because if they feel it will help move their case forward, I'm sure that they will discuss that information with you. But I will -- but I'll go back and just check from our end to see what else I can find out.

Q It's an historic event. Not many Presidents --

MR. McCLELLAN: Understood. No, understood, but I have to balance that with the ongoing investigation that's underway.

Q Has he retained his lawyer yet, regarding this?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said. I don't have any update from what he previous said. Let me look into things.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, Richard Clarke says that in the wake of his book, NSC lawyers were used to do opposition research against him, that they contacted his former colleagues to -- quote -- "dig up dirt" on him. Is that accurate? And is it an inappropriate --

MR. McCLELLAN: Arash, I think we've been through this issue and I don't think there's anything to add to what we've previously said.


So many questions ...

Allow me a moment

Allow me a moment of suspicious speculation ...

Earlier today we noted reports that President Bush had told one of the Pope's chief advisors (actually Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state) that "Not all the American bishops are with me" on cultural issues and asked the Vatican to nudge the American bishops toward greater 'activisim'. The issues of Bush's concern were gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research.

Now, out of context it's not immediately clear what such 'activism' might mean. But perhaps here is some of the context.

The question of whether pro-choice politicians (particularly Democrats, it would seem, and particularly one named John Kerry) should be denied communion has been roiling the country's Catholic bishops. And starting today, June 14th, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather in Englewood, Colorado and one key item on their agenda will be to arrive at some guidelines or uniform decision on this issue of denying communion to Catholic politicians.

The archbishop heading the task force on this question is Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington. In public statements he has said that he is uncomfortable with the idea of denying communion to Catholic officeholders. And for this he's been the target of a high-priced ad campaign by a group calling itself the American Life League.

Finally, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said recently that he would like to meet with the Bishops on this question.

(For what it's worth, a recent poll of lay Catholics shows they lean strongly against denying communion to the likes of Kerry, and even a majority of weekly church-going Catholics opposes the idea. And even some of the more conservative cardinals at the Vatican have recommended caution.)

Now, a decision which leans in the direction of placing a sanction Kerry would of course be helpful to the president. But a decision which led to denying communion to various Catholic politicians who dissent from various Church-positions could quickly get out of hand. So one of Karl Rove's chief conservative Catholic allies, Deal W. Hudson -- with whom he has recently been strategizing -- has tried to simplify the issue.

Here's a clip from the Post ...

Karl Maurer, vice president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, a conservative grass-roots group, said he would add sodomy and gay marriage to that list. Some liberal grass-roots groups have said they believe the church's teachings against war and the death penalty are worthy of equal treatment.

"Once you open this door, what's going to come rolling through it?" asked Deal W. Hudson, editor of the magazine Crisis and a key Catholic ally of the Bush administration. "Pretty soon, no one would be taking Communion."

Hudson said he believes the denial of Communion should begin, and end, with Kerry. Even better, he said, would be if priests would read letters from the pulpit denouncing the senator from Massachusetts "whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic."


Hudson's and Rove's agenda here seems rather clear.

Now, put all this together. When the president tells Vatican officials that not "all the American bishops are with me" and then asks them to push the bishops to greater 'activism', what might he be getting at? Think about it.

Bush told Cardinal Angelo

"Bush [told Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state], 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism. Other sources in the meeting said that while they could not recall the president’s exact words, he did pledge aggressive efforts on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.

That's an excerpt from the National Catholic Reporter, picked up in a full-length article in The New York Times.

As you probably know, there has been a movement afoot in a number of Roman Catholic diocese to deny communion to Roman Catholic politicians who oppose certain Catholic moral teachings as matters of public policy, as opposed to ones of personal conscience. The key example is abortion.

One bishop, I believe, has even held out the option of denying communion to ordinary voters who don't vote a consistently pro-life line.

According to today's Times ...

In his recent trip to Rome, President Bush asked a top Vatican official to push American bishops to speak out more about political issues, including same-sex marriage, according to a report in the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper.

In a column posted Friday evening on the paper's Web site, John L. Allen Jr., its correspondent in Rome and the dean of Vatican journalists, wrote that Mr. Bush had made the request in a June 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state. Citing an unnamed Vatican official, Mr. Allen wrote: "Bush said, 'Not all the American bishops are with me' on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism." Mr. Allen wrote that others in the meeting confirmed that the president had pledged aggressive efforts "on the cultural front, especially the battle against gay marriage, and asked for the Vatican's help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken." Cardinal Sodano did not respond, Mr. Allen reported, citing the same unnamed people.


I guess on one level we can say we've come a long way since 1960 when John F. Kennedy had to foreswear that he'd follow the instructions of the Pope in his decisions of governance. Today we have a Protestant born-again who tries to enlist the Pope to intervene in an American election.

Now, let's look at this phrase 'more explicit activism'.

The key point of activism we've been hearing about is that of denying communion to pro-choice Catholic pols, or perhaps those who support gay marriage -- seemingly always Dems, pro-choice GOPers seem always to find a special dispensation, shall we say.

This creates at a minimum a political nuisance which affected Democrats must deal with.

Now, just what sort of activisim is it Bush is asking the Pontiff to press upon the bishops?

It seems a pretty small leap to think that pressing the denial of communion issue is one of them. And sources told the National Catholic Reporter that "while Bush was focusing primarily on the [gay] marriage question, he also had in mind other concerns such as abortion and stem cell research."

Presidents regularly meet with Popes. Certainly they talk about matters both political and moral, perhaps even theological. But is it the president's place to press the pope to sow religious divisions among American Catholics, a majority of whom seem uncomfortable with the efforts of some in the hierarchy to discipline pro-Choice Catholic politicians? And all that aside is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign? The articles noted above make it pretty clear these requests were made for electoral political purposes.

Remember the words ... "Not all the American bishops are with me"

A new article from

A new article from Newsweek reveals some interesting cleavages in the internal administration debate ...

The handling of al-Libi touched off a long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration. It is a struggle that continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April—and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won't go away—two months after gruesome photos were published worldwide—is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning.


Always the VP, always the VP.

The BBC reports that

The BBC reports that Muqtada al-Sadr delivered a conciliatory sermon on Friday: "Mr Sadr called upon the interim government to work to end the occupation according to a timetable set by Iraqi officials, reported a correspondent for Voice of Mujahidin radio present at the sermon. Mr Sadr added that the formation of the government was a good opportunity to bury past differences and 'forge ahead toward the building of a unified Iraq'."

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