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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As promised, Vice President Dick Cheney's Public Financial Disclosure Report for calendar year 2001. (Before downloading the pdf file, note that it's a big file -- almost 5 megs. But a high resolution is necessary to read certain parts accurately.)

Wanna see the journalistic equivalent of friendly fire? It ain't pretty. But here goes.

This week Howard Fineman leads his column on Wes Clark with an anecdote about how Clark allegedly tried to get into the Bush administration, got shot down by Karl Rove, and then in spite became a Democrat.

Fineman's evidence is the say-so of Colorado's Republican Governor Bill Owens and one of his appointees, Marc Holtzman.

"I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls," they say Clark told him.

Clark told Fineman he had just been kidding around. But Owens and Holtzman assured Fineman that Clark was dead serious.

Now, Owens is a Republican and he's close to Karl Rove and President Bush. So I don't think you've got to use your imagination too creatively to see what agenda Owens might be advancing -- especially since the story doesn't really add up on several other counts as well.

However that may be, this afternoon The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti chimes in with a quick bit of investigative reporting.

Says Continetti ...

Unfortunately for Clark, the White House has logged every incoming phone call since the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001. At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove. The general hadn't. What's more, Rove says he doesn't remember ever talking to Clark, either.


Continetti goes on to say that "this isn't the general's first whopper [and that] Clark's latest tale bears little resemblance to reality," trying, to true to form, to nail down the Clark as fabulist meme -- a la Al Gore and every other Democratic presidential candidate.

But wait a second. Do you see the problem here? Right. Clark isn't the one who's saying he put in calls to Karl Rove. Owens and Hotzman are saying it.

So to the extent this means anything -- and that's highly debatable -- it discredits them, not him.

In other words, the canard floated by one group of Rove's pals on day one gets shot down by another group of his friends on day two. Like I said, journalistic friendly fire on the right.

To my friends at the Standard I can only say that the next time you put something like this together on the fly you might want to hash it out with a Venn Diagram or a flow chart or something before you go to press.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum asks an awfully good question about how the White House suddenly became so forthcoming about phone record searches.

And look how they fall in line. Andrew Sullivan's response to the phone call idiocy ...

HOW LOOPY IS CLARK? The answer, I fear, is that he's Ross Perot without the emotional stability. So now his previous remark that he'd be a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his calls is just a metaphor, or a fabrication, or a dream, or something. Or maybe he called Rove on a cell-phone or an email. Will he respond to these discrepancies?


Ahhh the discrepancies. Someone else needs a flow chart.

Last week, in part one of TPM's interview with Ambassador Joe Wilson, we left off in our discussion of the investigation he conducted in Niger during his trip there in the spring of 2002. Here, we rejoin that discussion in part two of the interview ...

(TPM sat down with Wilson on Tuesday, September 16th ...)

TPM: Now, as you've described your report--and a number of administration figures latched onto this one comment--and my recollection is that in speaking to one of the former government ministers, this person discussed that there was an earlier time when there seemed to be a feeler from the Iraqis about restarting trade relations. And since this country doesn't have a lot of prized goods for international trade, that this may have been a feeler about a potential uranium sale. Now, I believe that Condi Rice and perhaps even Paul Wolfowitz mentioned this, and they took this to mean, "Look, even Joe Wilson says the Iraqis tried to get back in with Niger, and even possibly about uranium."

WILSON: I think it's important--and hopefully we'll get a chance to talk about the debate in the run-up to the war, the position I took on that--but I think that it's important to understand that having been in Iraq and having worked through the Gulf War with these guys--and I date the Gulf War from the invasion of Kuwait--I think that it's important not to lose sight that the first battle was the battle for Kuwait. Desert Storm was essentially the counterattack. Saddam would have loved for us to have all believed that the Gulf War was essentially the American attack to drive him from Kuwait, but the Gulf War was essentially when he invaded Kuwait--that's what precipitated the counterattack. Anyway, I've spent enough time there not to be so naive as to believe that the Iraqis were interested in Niger for its millet, sorghum production. The Iraqis had sent an emissary there, a guy by the name of Wisam al Zahawi, a fellow that I actually knew pretty well. American-educated, he was ambassador to the Vatican, he had been one of the under secretaries at the ministry of Foreign Affairs when I was in Baghdad, he had a long and distinguished career as a diplomat. He was also a world-class opera singer. He was at the end of his career. I'm quite sure that one of the reasons they sent him to Rome was so that he could avail himself of Italian opera as his last assignment. He was sent down there to Niger--

TPM: When was this? Roughly?

WILSON: It was either '98 or '99. Our former ambassador who was in place at that time told me that the embassy had fully reported that visit. That report was reported by the government in the press. There was nothing clandestine about his visit, nothing untoward. The people that I talked to in the government at that time, said that uranium had not yet come up in discussions, although they acknowledged that perhaps uranium would have been one of the things that would have interested Iraq in a future relationship--all of which is reasonable, none of which constitutes the explicit attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium at that time. There was one other report. One of my interlocutors said that on the fringes of an international conference he was attending, he was approached by a Niger businessman who asked him to meet with an Iraqi delegation. He said that because of alarm bells going off in his mind about UN sanctions and everything else, he declined to take the meeting, and then, rather pensively, he looked up--and sort of plumbing the depths of his mind--

TPM: This when he's talking to you?

WILSON: This is when he was talking to me. He said, "Gee, maybe he would have wanted to talk about uranium." Now, I reported all of that because it seemed to me that I'd been asked to report on everything I'd found out, and that this was just sort of one of these other little tidbits. It never constituted in my mind--it was even thinner gruel than what I had found out about how the process could work. The fact that there was a meeting or a visit in which uranium was not discussed does not translate into purchased a significant quantities of uranium. The fact that there was a meeting that was not taken, that was not held, but had it been held, one of the participants opines that perhaps uranium might have been one of the things that this guy might have wanted to discuss, does not suggest uranium sales or significant quantities of uranium from Niger to Iraq. So, those were both--I thought those were both really red herrings. Again, it comes down to, the question was, Could Iraq purchase significant quantities--a quantity, 500 tons--of uranium from Niger without anybody knowing about it? Was it feasible? I came back and said, the business side of it says no and the government side of it says, because people told me--not because people told me but because this is the way that the procedure is--the government side suggests that, if there was going to be a memorandum of sale, that document would have to have the Minister of Mines, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Prime Minister's signature on it. If that document did not have those signatures, then that document could not be authentic.

TPM: So this is--that's the report you bring back, you report to the CIA.

WILSON: Yeah, I report it. Look, before I left, when I went out there, I saw the ambassador before I did anything. First of all, I went over to see the State Department to make sure it was OK with them. Make sure that the ambassador was informed, the ambassador agreed. I went out there, I talked to the ambassador, and he said, "Look. I've heard this report, I thought that I had debunked it already, I've already talked to the President and with the government." And I said, "That's fine, my value added is I can talk to people who I know better than you know because they were in government, they were out of government before you got here. I can talk to the old government." I did it, I came back, I reported to her, she said--I said, "Well, this essentially confirms what you knew," and I also reported to somebody else on the mission staff, and then submitted--should have submitted--a separate report, or at least would have been aware of it.

TPM: That would have gone through the State Department channels, as opposed to--

WILSON: Everything that--everything in Niger goes through the State Department channels. Nonetheless, it gets bifurcated when it gets back, it goes to the--whoever the agency is who asked for the information. I returned. Within an hour of my setting down at Dulles, I was having Chinese food with the reports officer of the CIA, and I was giving him an oral briefing. I did not--I brought back notes, I did not bring back a complete report, because at the end of the day, reports officers are paid to turn briefings such as the one I'm giving you into something that's comprehensible for their particular consumer. That is the way it is done. That is the way it's always done. It also was done within an hour of my arriving back in Washington, DC, because I was leaving, actually, on a business trip the next day, and I did not have all my life to devote to this pro-bono activity.

TPM: From that point on, your firsthand knowledge of sort of where this channeled up through the ranks ends, if I understand right--

WILSON: That's true--

TPM: And you're going on your understanding of basically how the U.S. government and the nexus of the intelligence community and the executive branch works, and that tells you that since Cheney was the one who asked for the report, the report would have come back to him in some fashion or another.

WILSON: That's correct.

TPM: He may well not have known that you--

WILSON: He wouldn't have known. He would not have known that it was me. There's where there would be--

TPM: So, it's probably accurate, that assuming that this report made its way back to the vice president, that he wouldn't have know that it was you.

WILSON: No. In fact, on the contrary. The way that these things are done, particularly when it comes to U.S. citizens, is you're not identified by name. These reports essentially will give you a grade as to whether or not you're a credible reporter, and by extension, will give the report a grade. And, you know, I have some reason to believe that the grade that was given both to my credibility as well as to the report was something other than a "junk bond" grade. And, you know, it's important to remember that in addition to my report, you also had the ambassador's own report, and then you had--

TPM: The U.S. ambassador to Niger?

WILSON: The U.S. ambassador to Niger, and then you had a four-star Marine Corps general. Now, those two reports may have been in the same report because they may have been when she was taking him around on meetings, but nonetheless, these two very senior officials in our system of government of representation both were comfortable that this report of sales just simply could not have taken place. Those reports were also in files. So mine was not the only report. So when they say it was inconclusive because, you know, there was this meeting that did or did not take place at which uranium was not discussed but maybe they might have wanted to discuss uranium sometime in the future--they used that as an argument that my report was not conclusive. Well, in actual fact, there were at least two, and quite possibly three, separate reports, all of which said that this could not have taken place, this was not on. Despite that, in U.S. government files, the one report that they kept harping back to, the one that sort of allowed them to then cite, insist upon citing, the British white paper, was a report that didn't even pass muster with an Italian weekly tabloid, that never showed any hesitation about putting even bare breasts between its covers.

TPM: But on this narrow question of--and this comes up in the vice president's interview with Tim Russert--the narrow question, he's probably telling the truth when he says that he had no reason to know of your involvement with--

WILSON: Absolutely.

TPM: At the time. Before--obviously now he knows, but at the time.

WILSON: Absolutely, sure.

TPM: OK. Now, go forward a few weeks from when this all broke out, and another incident comes up. And, I'll sort of work from published accounts since I know that your ability to talk about this other controversy is circumscribed by--well, I'll just get into it. According to--Robert Novak published a column, where he said that two senior administration officials had told him that your wife works for the CIA, works under non-official cover--which basically, in sort of colloquial terms, means that she's an undercover agent--and that her relationship with you was, in some sense, what got you the job to go to Niger.

Now, there's a couple issues here. One is whether that had anything to do with why you went to Niger. The other question--to many, the more significant one--is that it is illegal for government officials to out, as it were, people working undercover for the CIA. And according to just the black-letter words of what Novak published, two senior administration officials did just that. Now, for people who work in Washington, that phrase "senior Administration official" isn't a vague term. That's a pretty small population of people. Now, this got a lot of attention. It sort of swirled around in the press. Now, I know that precisely because who works undercover for the CIA and who doesn't can't be talked about by people who know who people are, you can't--you have to sort of couch these things in hypotheticals. But, you have discussed publicly contacts that you have had with, I guess, the CIA and FBI about their potentially looking into how Novak came to have this information. What can you--do you know, is there an investigation ongoing? What do you know about that?

WilSON: First of all, the Novak allegation is very interesting. If I recall the article correctly, he flatly asserts my wife is a CIA operative. And then he quotes senior administration officials as saying that she was somehow responsible for sending me out there. Now, I think I mentioned to you earlier the context in which my trip was initially discussed, and I will tell you that at the meetings it was discussed, and at the meeting where it was proposed that I go out there, there was nobody at that meeting that I knew. There were a couple of people who came up and introduced themselves and said to me that they had been at other briefings I had given in the past on other issues, but I could not name any of them. I couldn't tell you who they are today--would pass them on the streets without recognizing them. So that's really--the decision-making process involved nobody that I knew.

The idea that--first of all, irrespective of whether my wife is or is not what Novak alleged, therefore, there was no personal involvement. I think it's important to understand about this allegation, a couple of things. One: when they're talking about "senior administration officials", they're talking about the White House. The CIA does not "out" its own. It just doesn't do that. Secondly, I think that it's important to understand that if, in fact, she is what was alleged, then it is a violation of the Intelligence Agents Identification Act of 1982, which is a felony, and the process of investigating it goes through, I believe, the CIA and then to Justice and to the FBI, and that's if she is, in fact, what they said.

If she's not, it's a real inconvenience for her to have to answer all these questions. For the purposes of the trip out there--irrespective of whether she is or she isn't--the decisions on the trip were made by people I didn't know, as I told you earlier. For those who would assert that somehow she was involved in this, it just defies logic. At the time, she was the mother of two-year-old twins. Therefore, sort of sending her husband off on an eight-day trip leaves her with full responsibility for taking care of two screaming two-year-olds without help, and anybody who is a parent would understand what that means. Anybody who is a mother would understand it even far better. Secondly, I mean, the notion somehow that this was some nepotism, that I was being sent on an eight-day, all-expense-paid--no salary, mind you--trip to the Sahara Desert. This is not Nassau we're talking about. This is not the Bahamas. It wasn't Maui. This was the Sahara Desert. And then, the only other thing that I can think of is the assertion that she wanted me out of the way for eight days because she, you know, had a lover or something, which is, you don't take lovers when you have two-year-old kids at home. So, there's no logic in it.

The Novak article itself, it does nothing to advance the story. The Novak article, I thought, was kind of a wash anyway. It just didn't make a lot of sense. But I would say this about it to those who sort of leaked this. And, I suspect that it was people who just didn't really understand how the process works. But, notwithstanding that, the fact is that this is an administration that came to office on a--

TPM: Now, when you say that, you mean the people who talked to Novak didn't understand sort of the legal seriousness of disclosing this information?

WILSON: Yeah. If the information is true. It could have been just a complete canard. Assuming for the sake of this that it's true, that they just simply didn't perhaps understand--I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they just didn't understand the seriousness with which this sort of thing is viewed. I say that because, at the end of the day, after it was pointed out to them, you've heard nothing more from them on it.

Now, irrespective, it's certainly for an administration that came to office promising to restore honor and dignity to the White House. The idea of involving my wife in this little spat that they're having with me because I was the bearer of bad tidings was neither honorable or dignified, quite apart from whether it was legal or illegal. It was really a low-life, slimeball thing to do. And again, as I say, it added nothing to the story.

TPM: Now let me ask you--because in a number of press reports this has been discussed--that I guess it's a month ago now. Jay Inslee, who's a congressman from Seattle or thereabouts, had a town hall forum with constituents. And he invited you out there and there was a big turnout and obviously the discussion were about all the questions related to Iraq--the uranium, the WMD, how it happened, all this kind of stuff. And this question of the Novak article came up. Now there's been sort of chatter in this town about "seems to be the White House" and that people can hypothesize who might be involved there. Now in one of the questions you were asked about this let me--I'll just read the quote, when you're talking about the potential investigations--

WILSON: Actually Amy Goodman cited the quote on Democracy Now--what I--so I don't need to hear the answer--

TPM: OK, well you mentioned the name of Karl Rove.

WILSON: Yeah, and Karl Rove, when I said that, is sort of a metaphor for the White House political operation. And I--what I was saying in that was that I would do everything I could not to impede the investigation and try and help advance the investigation. Because after all, if there was somebody to--that was guilty of violation of a crime--it would be better to have them--and then I quoted Rove's name as a kind of a metaphor for the White House--"frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs" rather than just a sort of sterile exchange of he-said she-said newspaper articles and attacks.

But I've had a number of respected journalists tell me that White House sources were the ones who were telling them that the real story here is not the 16 words, it's Wilson and his wife. Now this was after the Novak article, which was a good two weeks after the White House acknowledged that the 16 words didn't rise to the stature of being included in the State of the Union Address. So I don't understand the White House backfire that they tried to light on this. They acknowledged it--it took them a while to come to grips with it, but they did acknowledge that it didn't rise to the stature of the State of the Union. But they should have moved on rather than try and drag my family into this unfairly. [Crosstalk] But I do think that the reason they did--and I've said this quite publicly--is that they thought that by coming after me they would discourage others from coming forward. The point that they tried to make is that there are consequences if you dare to step forward. And there were any number of analysts who were speaking to the press about the pressure they felt when Cheney went over there. Now I have no way of judging whether that was real or imagined pressure, but you know if they were prepared to say it to the press anonymously they might well have been prepared to come up and say it to their congressman more publicly. Congress was saying, "We welcome people coming up." Not just Democrats, but also Republicans. John Warner said on a number of occasions--this was clearly a shot across the bow at these guys. This was a message to them, "Should you decide to come forward, you too could be looking at this."

TPM: And your comments at that meeting were based on things you've heard from journalists who've come to you and said, "We were hearing this from people at the White House."

WILSON: Right, sure. A journalist will call me and they will seek a comment on something. And in order to seek a comment or a reaction, they have to tell me what they're basing it on. So I can't react to something unless I know what the initial act was, so there have been attempts to elicit comments from me by saying, "White House sources have told me that..."

TPM: And some of these said White House sources were the ones who mentioned--who made this accusation that your wife was ...

WILSON: Yeah, the one quote is, "White House sources insist the real story here is not the 16 words, it's Wilson and his wife." The real question here is how did such a whopper get in the president's State of the Union Address. And you can--the vice president the other day went back to the British white paper--"technically accurate because we cited the British white paper." We spend billions of dollars on intelligence. Intelligence is not a matter of accepting blindly what a third country tells you. Intelligence is a matter of taking pieces of information and testing them against other pieces of information you have in the hopes that you come up with something resembling facts on the ground.

The British have said "We had specific intelligence we could not share with the White House because it came from a third-party source and we were prohibited from doing so by protocols of our agreement with the third country." So we were then taking on faith a third-party piece of intelligence--and we didn't know the contents of it, the substance of it that was relayed to us by the British. And yet we spend billions of dollars on intelligence every year. And so technically accurate or not, are we going to subcontract our intelligence function to the British? I don't think so.

TPM: Before we move on to the lead-up--the positions you took in the lead-up to the war--just to sew this last point up. What you know about this is based on what journalists have told you in conversations asking comment from you and point to White House sources. But that's as far as you know in terms of how this whole thing got started.

WILSON: Yeah. The Novak piece, which sort of cites senior administration sources. Actually, I actually, after I--and these are highly respectable journalists, these are guys who are at the top of their profession. This is not Hedda Hopper, these are serious political journalists--but I did take advantage of a conversation with another journalist on another subject to sort of go over with him what ethical grounding of respectable journalists and the extent to which they would dissemble or not dissemble in order to get a reaction--whether or not they would bait you by lying about who the sources was. And I understand that it is strictly against the journalistic practice--ethics practice. And so I have no reason to doubt that. But I'll tell you quite frankly that the political office of the White House has not called me up to tell me that they were going to smear me or they were going to attack my family. In fact, I've not had a call from the White House in a couple years.

TPM: You're no longer in good graces?

WILSON: Well I regret, actually, that the administration did not actively seek the views of those of us who'd actually spent time there in the run-up to the debate

TPM: Now, "time there" being in Iraq.

WILSON: Yeah, that those of us who had some sense of what the on-the-ground truth was. But that was their decision. They decided they knew better.

TPM: So, obviously when this first issue came up--the whole uranium story and then this kind of followed from that, this story about your wife--advocates of the president have portrayed you as basically someone who is an opponent of the president and an opponent of the war trying to keep up that opposition through a different guise with both of these different things. I guess that my first question would be--just generally, just as there is in the Army and the Foreign Service, there is the tradition of an apolitical stance, but people have politics--how would you, just in general, describe your own politics?

WILSON: Well, I guess the most interesting comment that's been made about me recently was when I walked into a meeting of Democrats, I was introduced as "The Bush I political appointee who's done the most damage to the Bush II administration." There is nothing I am prouder of in my career than having been George Bush Senior's, charge d'affairs in Baghdad, and having been part of the team that put together the coalition that led to Sadaam's defeat and expulsion from Kuwait. I'm equally proud of having served as Bill Clinton's senior director for African affairs, and having had the opportunity to take the president to Africa for eleven days, in what was an historic trip. So my career achievements have spanned administrations.

TPM: Am I right that you left the Foreign Service and then later took the job at the Clinton NSC?

WILSON: No, no, no--I was still--

TPM: OK.

WILSON: My own personal politics, I suppose, the best way to characterize them is that there have been very few times in my adult life that I have voted for a winner in a presidential election.

[Laughter]

TPM: OK, well, that gives people a certain lay of the land.

WILSOn: And I will say that, the older I get, the less conservative that I become, in my view. That I do think that government has a distinct role to play to level the playing field. I do believe that the Declaration of Independence creates essentially a meritocracy, and that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that all of its citizens have an opportunity to advance on merit. Where that puts you in the political spectrum is anybody's guess, but I am against the abolition of the estate tax.

[Laughter]

TPM: Well, let's go back to --

WILSON: I'm certainly not, I believe that the Republican party has been betrayed. Its core values have been betrayed by this coalition of cultural conservatives and neoconservatives that now run the party, and I think that what you see happening is a quintessential Republican-Republican problem that only the Republicans can solve, and they will either solve it while they're in office or eventually, they will be thrown out of office, and they can solve it there.

TPM: Okay. Let's go back to about a year and a half ago, a little before the time that you made this trip to Niger. And this was the point--

WILSON: Actually, after.

TPM: Well, I may have my--my addition's never been great. Let's say, January 2002. This was the point when war with Iraq was still a good ways off, but you could see it on the horizon. The predicate was being laid on various counts, and obviously, in this country, we had a debate--if you can call it that--that went roughly a year. How would you--what was your position? How would you describe your position?

WILSON: Well, I first articulated my position, quasi-publicly, at a conference hosted by the American Turkish Council. And I co-chaired a session with the former deputy commander in chief of the Turkish Armed Forces--the Turkish General Staff--Cevik Bir, who was an old friend of mine who had served in Somalia under the UN flag and with whom I'd worked a lot on Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Northern Watch. And in my opening remarks--and my remarks came after Richard Perle's keynote address that opened the conference, so he spoke in the morning, I spoke to this group--

TPM: Was this in Washington?

WILSON: This is in Washington. And I said, at that time, that I thought that those who had listened to Richard Perle in the morning, before they provided him with their full, unqualified support, ought to consider the possibility that a year from now, if we went in the direction that we were going, the land to the south of Turkey might well be a chemical, biological and nuclear wasteland. I always thought--and that was the first time I spoke out on it. I then refined my thoughts in a series of conversations on CNN and Fox and a series of other places. And I wrote an article later in the summer in which I tried to articulate a position which was that disarmament was a good objective. It was a legitimate national security objective and concern. And the problem was, that the enforcement mechanism for the UN security Council resolution covering disarmament was broken. In other words, the inspection regime--the policing operation--had fallen apart. The solution to this was to summon again the international will, to go back at disarmament in an aggressive way. And that in order to ensure that you got Saddam's attention and compliance, that you were going to have to approach the issue from a position of strength. In other words, that you were going to have to make it very, very clear to Saddam that you were prepared to use force in order to disarm him consistent with the UN Security Council resolution. And in order for that threat of force to be credible, you actually had to be prepared to use it. So it was what I would have called sort of "muscular disarmament."

But the one thing I always cautioned about was, that you did not want to back him into such a corner that there was no face-saving way to get out, because in that corner, he would lash out. And the things that I suggested he might do, were all the things he did in the first Gulf War--but including using every weapon in his arsenal. I said that based on what Tariq Aziz had told me when I was in Baghdad in 1989, and what Saddam Hussein himself had suggested in meetings that I had with him in August of 1990, that they were prepared to use every weapon in their arsenal.

So, I suggested that the way it ought to be put to him was much the way that Jim Baker put it to Tariq Aziz in his letter, delivered to the Geneva meeting in 1990. That is, "You will disarm, or we will disarm you. Should you resist our efforts to disarm you, either by attacking our forces--using weapons of mass destruction--or by attacking any neighbor in the region, that, then, is what triggers our destroying your regime."

Now, when Jim Baker said that to Tariq Aziz, they were talking about use of nuclear weapons against our troops when we were expelling them from Kuwait. That was the red line to him: you use weapons of mass destruction against our troops, we'll come all the way to Baghdad. Otherwise, we're going to expel you from Kuwait, whether you go peacefully or not.

TPM: Now, let me ask you a question as I guess it's four or five months now after the fall of the regime, and to date, no evidence of weapons of mass destruction have been found. You know, as the standard phrase goes, "Maybe it'll turn up" but it's looking less and less likely that our fundamental appraisal was right, that there was at least chemical--at least a kind of an ongoing chemical and biological capacity. Now, there's this whole debate in this country about whether the administration hyped the evidence or deceived the public. It certainly seems to me that there was a very broad consensus in this city, at least, that he, that Saddam Hussein, maintained some sort of biological, chemical and biological capacity, certainly might've been working on nuclear weapons, but very few people thought that he had gotten out of the chemical weapons business. What did you think before the war and how did that inform your--

WILSON: I always thought that he had chemical weapons because we knew that he'd obviously used them, we knew that he had an appetite for them. There was no reason to suspect that he wasn't continuing to manufacture chemical weapons as best he could. We knew that he had biological precursors; the question was always whether he had perfected the way of weaponizing the precursors--in other words, turning smallpox into a real weapon. And we were all surprised when, in 1995, we found out after Hussein Kamel's defection that his nuclear program was as far and vast as it was.

So all of those, I thought, were absolutely legitimate. Saddam Hussein had not complied, to the satisfaction of the international community, with 687, it was important to get his compliance. I thought it was important to establish beyond the compliance, long-term monitoring, just because it was clear that just as long as his regime was in power, you had a government that was prepared, not just to build weapons of mass destruction but also to use them--he had demonstrated that.

The fact that we haven't found weapons of mass destruction is surprising to me, based on that, but that doesn't negate the necessity of having a robust disarmament campaign against him. Now, for all the reasons that everybody's articulated, the problem that I always had, was the multiplicity of objectives that ended up being raised to get us over the top in getting public opinion for the war, which sort of served to confuse everybody and to perhaps mask the real reason we did this. And, more to the point, the necessity or the assumption that by taking the--what I considered to be the highest-risk, lowest-reward policy option as your best way of getting at disarmament, and/or preventing the transfer of weapons of mass destruction from Saddam to an international terrorist organization. Invasion, conquest, occupation, always seemed to me to be not the smartest way that we should go after the disarmament objective.

TPM: Given--let's fast-forward to late 2002, when we were in this kind of final skirmish, really, with our allies in Europe. We got into this back-and-forth with the Turks, it--a lot of people in this country, and I think that their assumption was largely vindicated--that sort of, the fix was in, that we didn't want this to end in a way short of the regime being taken out. To the extent that the administration made the judgment that we couldn't--that our national security interests were simply not compatible with his staying in power, how would you evaluate how they went about it? I mean, obviously, we didn't end up getting a large coalition. We fought the war in ways that now seem to have made it more difficult to win the peace. What about this question of how the diplomacy was handled?

WILSON: Well, I think that we short-circuited the international community, but I think that it was more than just the timing of it, more than just rushing up there trying to get a second resolution and not doing it. It was also through the multiplicity of objectives. One of the things that we found in the first Gulf War was that if you wished to do this multilaterally, you had to have objectives to which everybody could sign up. Otherwise, everybody would find reasons not to sign up, leaving you alone. So that meant that you had to narrow your objectives to something that was sustainable, both in the context of the coalition you're trying to build, and also in the context of international law and the UN Charter. And the genius of the first Gulf War was that everyone understood this as part of what the then-President Bush called the New World Order, which would be that over the next twenty or thirty years that we would have a lot of these small wars, which we would want to resolve through international coalitions and with the legal imprimatur of the United Nations.

This administration turned all of that on its head. They went with the multiplicity of objectives, none of which were in and of themselves necessarily sustainable, otherwise, they would not have gone with the other ones. And, as a consequence, they ended up doing it essentially with the British. And, you know, they can talk about their thirty-six other countries, but Tonga, frankly, does not count, when you talk about this. So, it was, for all intents and purposes, a unilateral activity. I think that the consequences of this have been enormous. I think that, first and foremost, you have seen that support for, and affection for the United States that we saw the outpouring of on September 12, 2001--that's all gone away. I cannot imagine what the newspapers' headlines would look like again after--if we got hit again by a massive terrorist attack, but I doubt seriously that you would see a lot of headlines saying, "We are all Americans now," as you did after September 11. Brzezinski, I think, has put it just right when he says that at a time when our military power's at its zenith, we find our political and moral authority at its lowest ebb ever.

Moreover, I think that, to a large extent, we've taken the whole doctrine of collective security, and we've turned it on its head. When you get Richard Perle gloating in newspaper articles that he writes in The Guardian that one of the side benefits of this is the death-knell of the United Nations, and yet, the only thing that they have to put on the table to replace it is Tommy Franks' Central Command--where we've seen already, less than a hundred days or a hundred days after the end of major combat operations, we've seen that Tommy Franks and CENTCOM cannot play the role of Globalcop. So, we've seen the limits to which we can actually replace the doctrine of collective security with aggressive unilateralism or illiberal imperialism--what Max Boot calls jodhpurs and pith helmet imperialism--which I frankly think is what you should call it.

If I could put a name on this, it would be the jodhpur and pith helmet imperialism. Thirdly, I think that from a strict perspective of the war on terrorism, we have created this new front by having attacked Iraq. This is not a front that was there, that we had to go into. It became the front because we made it the front. It is not, first and foremost, a terrorism battle. It is, first and foremost, a battle against an insurgency, nascent to be sure. And it is an insurgency that will draw in jihadists. Just like the Spanish Civil war drew in Ernest Hemingway and others, but first and foremost, it is an insurgency. But, more to the point, in the aftermath of 'Shock and Awe', which was viewed by a population of 1.2 billion through the eyes of Al-Jazeera as a humiliation, you have expanded the community of potential terrorists. I don't think that benefits us going forward in the war on terrorism, which is another legitimate national security objective, but one which cannot be won by fighting it as if you were playing Whack-a-Mole.

Other than that, I have no strong opinions.

End of Interview ...

Later this week the complete text of the interview with links will be posted in the TPM Document Collection

Are those same "senior administration officials" who blew Valerie Plame's cover to Bob Novak bending his ear again? You don't have to look too hard at the avalanche of mud being pushed against Wes Clark to get a very clear idea of who the White House doesn't want to run against next November.

In any case, back to Mr Novak, our cog in the machine. Novak's column today accuses Clark of hobnobbing with various and sundry war criminals. In particular he describes a meeting between Clark and Bosnian-Serb arch-war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic. They were in fact photographed wearing each others' caps.

Thus Novak ...

Clark was a three-star (lieutenant general) who directed strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. On Aug. 26, 1994, in the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka, he met and exchanged gifts with the notorious Bosnian Serb commander and indicted war criminal, Gen. Ratko Mladic. The meeting took place against the State Department's wishes and may have contributed to Clark's failure to be promoted until political pressure intervened. The shocking photo of Mladic and Clark wearing each other's military caps was distributed throughout Europe.

...

U.S. diplomats warned Clark not to go to Bosnian Serb military headquarters to meet Mladic, considered by U.S. intelligence as the mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim civilians (and still at large, sought by NATO peacekeeping forces). Besides the exchange of hats, they drank wine together, and Mladic gave Clark a bottle of brandy and a pistol.



Now, why would Clark meet with a man who'd masterminded the Srebrenica mass-killing? Perhaps because the event hadn't occured yet. Clark met with Mladic in late August 1994. The Srebrenica massacre happened in July 1995.

Now, we knew Mladic was bad news well before Srebrenica. So in itself this doesn't settle the matter. And this incident deserves to be looked at in the context of all of Clark's activities in the Balkans -- which stretch through much of the 1990s. But I put it forward as an example of the caliber of honesty and integrity in reporting that we're dealing with in this case.

Certainly we can expect more and more of this from the usual suspects.

Coming up later today, part two of TPM's interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson. And part one of the Cheney Files, the the full text of the Vice-President's most recent financial disclosure statement.

Once an adman, always an adman. When reading Bill Safire's columns I sometimes wonder when and how he distinguishes between things he actually believes to be true and those which he simply makes up in order to craft a cleaner argument.

Eventually you realize that it's not a distinction he makes.

Read his column today on Wes Clark, in which he unveils the grand-plan of the Clinton's to use Clark to knock Dean out of the race and weaken the other candidates to prepare the way for Hillary's eventual entrance into the race sometime in early 2004. Clark, says Safire, will then be rewarded with the #2 slot.

There are a lot of Clinton folks around Clark right now. And there are more than a couple Clinton insiders who don't realize, to my undying surprise, that she will never be president of the United States or, I think, even run.

Those details aside, you'd think Safire would steer clear of these double-bank-shot conspiracy theories after all the Clinton hokum he got caught peddling in the 1990s.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Those, of course, are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grieving. But the model applies to public policy as well. And sometimes, shall we say, more than others.

I had moments of imagining -- a forlorn hope, I grant you -- that the White House might have gotten up to the 'bargaining' stage in dealing with the demise of their 'plan A', as Fareed Zakaria recently described it, for Iraq.

I guess not.

They seem firmly wedged between denial and anger -- a betwixt and between state producing a sort of militant ridiculousness.

According to advance leaks coming from the White House, when President Bush addresses the UN next week, he will challenge the world body to pony up money and troops for Iraq or risk irrelevance. (Of course, these claims of the UN's irrelevance are rather belied by the president's hasty retreat to the same.) The UN must show, says Condi Rice, that it is "actually capable of acting, and really willing to act, and not just debating."

That should go over well.

"If that's the attitude, he's going to get the door slammed in his face," says Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton NSC staffer and now think-tanker. "Because no one regards it to be their duty or responsibility to clean up the mess that many people think has been created by the way we have handled the postwar period." (Daalder by the way has a really good new book out about Bush foreign policy, which I just reviewed, America Unbound.)

I'm going to reserve judgment and see if the tone and the message is actually as stupid as these reports imply. But if it is (and piece in Monday's Times seems to confirm that it is), you do have to wonder just the White House is trying to achieve.

I have no doubt that the administration really wants foreign money for this operation -- even more than foreign troops probably. Yet this is the kind of tack that makes you wonder how badly they really want it, or even if they want it.

A few days ago President Bush said he was issuing a "plea" for financial aid and troops for Iraq -- something his journalistic defenders have understandably ignored. But while that sort of begging isn't called for, insults aren't going to produce good results at this point. A bit of magnanimity perhaps? Trash talk works a lot better when holding a handful of aces than when you're holding no cards and the rest of the people at the table know it. (If they're worried about the French, this'll play right into their hands.)

I don't think there's a lot of analytic thought behind any of this. It's seems more reflex response. They're locked in a feedback loop, a tangled form of denial. They know they need help. But they can't get past their arrogance and ideological fixations to ask for it. They know they need to 'go to the UN.' But they go there and hit them with the same trash talk that worked so well last year.

They are, in a word, adrift. And unfortunately 'they' is 'we'.

A sampling from the mailbag ...

From: [suppressed]
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2003 14:54:04 EDT
Subject: destroying dean
To: talk@talkingpointsmemo.com
X-Mailer: 7.0 for Windows sub 10693



If you have time, wander over to Billmon and see what's being said about your attempts to torpedo Dean. I think it's sickening that you are determined to stamp out an exciting and potentially successful grass roots effort to choose our nominee. A lot of us are tired of the arrogance of the DNC, DLC and Josh Marshalls who are convinced that they know what is best for us. (Your track record isn't that impressive!) If you succeed in using dirty tricks to topple Dean, I will not be voting in 04, and I know a lot of other Democrats who will join me in sitting it out. Watch the hubris, it could be your undoing! Susan P.



My own feeling is that the only real Democrats are those who will support the party's eventual nominee, end of story. There is an awfully distressing tendency among a minority of Dean supporters to serve up no end of lacerating comments about other candidates and then to react with a sort of stunned and outraged shock when anyone criticizes their guy. It's the flip side of seeing the race in such heroic, if not messianic dimensions.

The primary is actually not concluded yet. And, pace John Calvin, I assume the outcome is not predetermined. So it is still permitted to criticize Mr. Dean and not be an enemy of democracy.

Part of Howard Dean's political draw today seems to be the fact that he didn't allow himself to be fooled by arguments about Iraq's WMD. Thus this line Thursday at a speech to the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire ...

The most important piece of foreign policy is judgment. The other four fellas who supported the (Iraq war) resolution all now say they were misled by the White House. If you were misled by the president and you were in Washington, what kind of experience is that if I could have figured it out in Vermont.


But what about what Dean said on Face The Nation a couple weeks before the war resolution vote, when asked what the president would have to do to prove that there was an immediate threat justifying war ...

I don't think he really has to prove anything. I think that most Americans, including myself, will take the president's word for it. But the president has never said that Saddam has the capability of striking the United States with atomic or biological weapons any time in the immediate future.


More important, what about this whole issue of conditional or contingent support for war?

A number of Dean's opponents in the Democratic primaries said at the time -- and still do now -- that they weren't opposed to war under all circumstances. Their position was that if it were going to be done it had to be done in a multilateral fashion, with allies, and so forth -- you know the drill. Dean is now getting credit on the campaign trail for avoiding that kind of shilly-shallying and just arguing that the war was a bad idea in any case.

On his website, for instance, Dean says: "I opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq from the beginning. While Saddam Hussein’s regime was clearly evil and needed to be disarmed, it did not present an immediate threat to U.S. security that would justify going to war, particularly going to war alone."

But on this point Dean's position has evolved too. In that same Face the Nation interview, when asked whether there were conditions under which he might favor war, Dean said ...

My question is not that we may not have to go into Iraq. We may very well have to go into Iraq. What is the rush? Why can't we take the time to get our allies on board? Why do we have to do everything in a unilateral way?

...

My problem is not whether we're going to end up in Iraq or not. Saddam Hussein appears to be doing everything he can to make sure we do go into Iraq. My problem is, it is important to bring in our allies.



Now, my point is not to say that Dean was some sort of war-hawk. Clearly, he was no friend of the president's policy. But then neither was John Kerry, and certainly not Wes Clark. So let's drop this idea that support for war under some circumstances and not others is some sort of waffling or dodge. Because if it is, then Dean isn't in the clear either.

From Ruy Teixeira's excellent blog, Donkey Rising, I found this link to a new CBS poll on President Bush and Iraq. The president's approval ratings are more or less in line with other recent public polls. But on his handling of Iraq, 47% now disapprove as opposed to %46 who approve. Only 22% think he "has developed a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq." See the full breakdown of the numbers here.

Bonus Poll Data Analysis: One number from the poll seems worth noting for humor purposes alone. "Do you think George W. Bush has been spending too much of his time on foreign policy problems, or too much of his time on problems here at home, or has he been spending his time about right?" Too much foreign: 44%, About right: 40%, Too much at Home: 1%. (Eventually I recovered from my laughter, got up off the ground, and climbed back into my chair.)

I'd like to identify that 1% so if I encounter them in public I can give them a wide berth.

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