Here’s the question I’m wrestling with. How do you rebut or refute the White House’s defense against the accusations that they knowingly peddled bogus intelligence when they put the Niger-uranium claims into the president’s State of the Union speech?
Oh, wait a second. I forgot. They have no defense!
And I don’t mean they have no defense, as in the evidence is too overwhelming. I mean, they have no defense — as in, to the best of my knowledge, no administration figure has even tried to respond to — let alone deny — the allegations. They haven’t even discussed the issue.
Have you noticed that?
Back a bit less than three weeks ago, on June 8th, Condi Rice said that none of the top level administration leaders knew the Niger documents were bogus at the time they put them in the president’s speech. But that was before we knew most of the information we know now — before Nick Kristof’s June 13th column, before the Ackerman/Judis article in The New Republic, before Tom Gjelten’s NPR report. (I discuss each in my column in The Hill this week.)
Without going into all the nitty-gritty details, Rice gave her loose denial when there was very little in the public record to contradict her. Now there’s a lot to contradict her. And all I can hear is silence.
It’s a pretty serious charge. And it’s been leveled (in the three pieces I mentioned above) by some of the country’s most respected political journalists. What does it say about the DC press corps that they can’t or won’t get the principals — Rice, Cheney or any of their top aides — to dignify the accusations with as much as a denial?
Who’s on the show this weekend, Tim?
Who can’t love the Brits? I do. I’m an Anglophile. I admit it. They’ve all got such polished educations, at least the ones they send over here. And they turn arguments on a dime. They get it from those debates they have at that big university over there. (What’s it called?) And, let’s admit it, their accents just sound cool. Even the working class cockney ones sound refined to us — that’s how pathetic we are. (Michael Caine, Duke of London.)
Hitchens says that this amounts to Kerry saying he’s easily duped. So how can he be a credible presidential candidate? And many on the left, says Hitchens, believe the president isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed so his campaign mantra amounts to “Kerry. Duped by a Dope.” Actually, it’s worse, says Hitchens, because the evidence that the president or his advisors were lying has been there for a long time! So he’s not only easily duped. But he can’t have been duped. Actually, no. He was twice duped! Because if he now believes there were no WMD then he’s signing on to the unlikely proposition “that the Saddam regime had no plan to preserve or restart its long-standing WMD scheme, though the evidence for this may involve some complex study and not take a ‘gotcha’ or ‘smoking gun’ form.” And why didn’t Kerry do his own investigation if the president was lying to him? Who is this John Kerry joker? You still following all of this? Good. What a mess Kerry has gotten himself in, what with being fooled and a fool and also a liar and then doubly a fool. “We have learned,” says Hitchens, “that Sen. Kerry considers himself to be gullible both ways, which ought to mean that he is ineligible for the nomination, let alone the presidency.” Hitch is just running circles around the guy. I’ve gotta tell you this reminds me of those late night chats Hitch and Dorothy Parker and I used to have at the Algonquin Table back in the day.
Actually, now that I think about it, that wasn’t me. Must have been a flashback from some under-the-influence moment back in college. But anyway, I think the whole spectacle, or rather the whole article, is an example of what we might call the diminishing importance of being earnest.
What exactly does any of this verbal rope-a-dope mean? If the folks at DOD or OVP knowingly passed on intell garbage, and Kerry accepted it as legit, is he really a rube? Isn’t that more a knock on the president? Or if the charge isn’t true, isn’t it a knock on Kerry for leveling a reckless and irresponsible charge for political gain?
Kerry, it would seem, would like to base part of his presidential bid on the integrity of the material the Bush administration used to lead the country into war. That angle stands or falls on its merits, I would imagine. That is to say, whether or not it’s true.
But Hitchens’ article, Slate’s front page story, seems less concerned with this point than spinning out so many logical conundrums and rhetorical culs-de-sac that the befuddled and presumably over-brained Mr. Kerry just scratches his head confusedly, decides mounting the charge is just too complicated, and gives up trying.
Oh Boy! Through the grapevine I’m hearing the next line from the precincts of DOD’s civilian officialdom: FDR did it (lend-lease); Abraham Lincoln did it (Clement Vallandigham); even Clinton did it (the Sudanese medicine plant). Why are we getting so much grief? People make stuff up for the greater good. It comes with the territory!
I kid you not. That’s the line now in the trial balloon stages. Let’s call it the Franklin & Abe excuse (FAE).
Stuff like this reminds you what they meant when they came up with the metaphor of the $#@& hitting the fan.
It’s really messy. It splatters everywhere. And you really don’t want to be anywhere near it when it happens.
I was all set to write up a whole piece about how CNN got suckered into overplaying this story about the nuclear weapons scientist — Mahdi Obeidi — who had the parts and documents hidden under a rose bush in his back yard. But sometimes brevity and concision matter most.
Look closely: What was buried were components for a uranium centrifuge and a sheaf of documents detailing how to construct, or rather reconstruct, a uranium enrichment program. These were from the pre-1991 program. The CNN story says that regime leaders ordered him to hide them in expectation of the day when the inspectors would leave and the nuclear program could be restarted. But the CNN story says the call never came — even though inspectors did in fact leave the country in 1998 and were absent for almost four years.
Former weapons inspector David Albright told CNN: “In a sense, the program was in hibernation. He was the key to the restart of this centrifuge program, and he never got the order. So in that sense it doesn’t show at all that Iraq had a nuclear program. And Obeidi told me that he never worked on a nuclear program after 1991.”
We knew the Iraqis had a pre-1991 nuclear weapons program. We knew there were probably parts from it hidden around the country in various stages of preservation or disrepair. If anything this finding seems to present some positive evidence that no effort to reconstitute the program was ever made — though one would definitely want a lot more evidence to arrive at any conclusive judgment.
This is an important story, but as far as the bottom line on the big question of the state of Iraq’s WMD programs in early 2003 it really changes nothing.
I have a column this morning in The Hill on the ever-tightening web of circumstantial evidence that several of the president’s top advisors, if not the president himself, knew the Niger uranium story was almost certainly bogus well before they included it in the president’s January 2003 State of the Union speech. Many of you have probably already read the Ackerman/Judis article in The New Republic, which adds a number of important details to the story. And I discuss those points. But I also draw attention to a Tom Gjelten piece on NPR, in which a senior intelligence source told Gjelten that intelligence officials explicitly warned the administration off the Niger/uranium story while the White House was putting the speech together. The White House disputes the account. But I’m surprised this kernel hasn’t drawn more attention. In any case, see my piece in The Hill for the details.
Along a related line, I want to discuss a post that Andrew Sullivan has up on his website today on the WMD/deception issue.
First, I want to give Sullivan credit — and that’s not meant facetiously. Though I strenuously disagree with his reasoning on this question, he’s been one of the few conservatives to take the issue itself seriously. Early on, he recognized the importance of our inability to find evidence of WMD. (As I understand his position, he feels the war was justified on humanitarian and geostrategic grounds even if we never find WMD or even if there was never any WMD.)
He’s also trying to grapple with the deception issue.
Most conservative commentators are either unwilling even to credit the debate or approach it only in the most polemical fashion. Their tacit reasoning seems to be, as long as the boots are on the ground and the poll numbers hold, who really cares who said what? At best, they’re willing to advance the ludicrous argument that the CIA — the institution most hostile to maximalist intelligence estimates on Iraq — was responsible for the hype.
Now, back to Sullivan.
In a post yesterday evening he discusses the deception debate and particularly the Ackerman/Judis article. He concedes that the administration hyped some of the evidence. But he sees the Ackerman/Judis article as an argument that the administration exaggerated the threat rather than lied about it. Yet he finds “a premise here that strikes me as off-base. The premise is that after 9/11, only rock-solid evidence of illicit weapons programs and proven ties to terrorists could justify a pre-emptive war to depose Saddam.”
What Sullivan goes on to argue is essentially that in the post-9/11 world we’re operating under a ‘better safe than sorry’ standard. By that standard the administration is justified in pointing out the most ominous interpretations of admittedly incomplete evidence.
Here, though, Sullivan has his own problem with premises. Logically, his reasoning works, but it’s not an apt analogy or description of what happened.
If the ‘better safe than sorry’ doctrine is what we’re now operating under, there shouldn’t be any need for exaggeration. The president might just have said, “They had chemical and biological weapons in the past. It’s a brutal regime that’s used these weapons in the past. They probably have them now. They might even be trying to develop nuclear weapons or strike up ties with al Qaida. We don’t have much evidence on these latter points. But the possibility is just too dire to chance. Better safe than sorry.”
Yet the administration seems to have understood that this wouldn’t quite cut it. So they tried something different. At best, they kept the ‘better safe than sorry’ reasoning to themselves. They decided it was better to be safe than sorry in their arguments to the American people. And, to make sure, they stripped all the ambiguity out of the evidence and removed it from the public debate. (Conservative defenders of the administration are engaging in a rhetorical sleight of hand here, arguing that under ‘preemption’ we don’t need as much evidence, and conflating this with the idea that we needn’t present the evidence we have accurately.) Actually, they did more than that. On many occasions they presented evidence that they, at best, should have known was highly dubious and in some cases certainly knew was bogus.
So, Sullivan may be right that we can no longer wait for “rock-solid evidence.” But the folks at the White House who made the case apparently weren’t too confident that the American people agreed. So they told the American people that they knew much, much more than they did.
My own sense is that what the administration did was analogous to the actions of the cop who frames someone whom he’s sure is guilty. They believed Saddam was dangerous, in many cases believed it deeply. And they believed he must be doing this stuff. But they didn’t have a lot of evidence. So, well, they made it up. Either they hyped what they knew to the point of outright deception. Or they passed along information that they had to know or should have known was probably bogus. Again, it’s like the cop who tries to put someone away on the say-so of an unreliable jailhouse snitch because he knows the guy’s guilty anyway. After all, he doesn’t know the snitch isn’t telling the truth, right? So if the jury buys it, what’s the problem? Mix in a touch of intellectual dishonesty and willingness to spin yourself and you see how this all works.
I really don’t think the president necessarily knew a lot of this was going on. But I think he created a climate within his national security team in which this sort of scamming and self-scamming was acceptable and tolerated.
Let’s keep in mind that this is all working under the assumptions of what we might call the conservatives’ ‘exaggeration’ argument. A measure of exaggerations are necessary and apparently acceptable.
If this is true, though, I think we need the administration to spell out for us now just how this ‘exaggeration’ exception works. How far does it go? Let’s take Iran. We’re now being told that the Iranians are close to getting nukes and that we may have to go to war to stop them. I take this issue very seriously, largely because I think they may be quite close. But to make up my own mind on this I really want to know now whether the ‘exaggeration’ rules apply to Iran too because war with Iran would make war with Iraq look like a cake-walk.
So, fine, we’re working under the ‘exaggeration’ rules now. But let’s just get straight what those rules are. And can we get a heads-up on when they’re being applied and when they’re not? Like maybe a chyron under the screen when top administration officials are talking? Do they mean Iran’s maybe not really far along to developing nuclear weapons? Do they cover that too? Does the ‘exaggeration’ doctrine cover 10% of the truth, 50%, 75%? As long as we can get this straight I guess we can still have some idea of what’s actually going on.
Could this possibly be true? The BBC has a report on the rising numbers of Iraqis who have apparently become victims of radiation poisoning because of the low-enriched uranium (i.e., “yellow-cake”) which was looted from the Tuwaitha nuclear facility south of Baghdad. Barrels of the stuff were dumped into local rivers, it seems, so that the containers could be used for various domestic purposes. (Hell, and you thought you had to go to Niger to get your yellow-cake!)
Down at the end of the article, though, comes this …
A team of UN experts has been at Tuwaitha trying to account for the missing nuclear material, but the United States as the occupying power is not allowing them to carry out any medical examinations on local people.
Is this part of the dispute with the UN inspectors or the IAEA? Are we doing medical examinations and don’t want others doing it?
I have a hard time believing it’s really as clear cut as that BBC clip implies. But if there’s anything to this story it’s really, really bad.
Man, they don’t call ’em hawks for nutin’!
Hayes’ piece is a systematic attempt to refute Ackerman’s and Judis’ catologue of the various misrepresentations, distortions, and outright lies the Bush administration put out in the lead-up to the war with Iraq.
First, let’s stipulate that I find Hayes’ refutation, well, let’s say singularly unconvincing — particularly so on the bogus Niger uranium documents (we may get more into this later.)
But this factual disagreement isn’t my primary concern here. I’ve made my own views on this point clear enough. Read both pieces and decide for yourself.
The key is Hayes’ description of TNR as “previously hawkish” on Iraq. (The scrapbook item makes the same point.) But TNR joined their publication of the Ackerman/Judis piece with an editorial deploring the administration’s misrepresentations but still supporting the war, albeit much less on the basis of some of the more outlandish WMD claims.
Does this count for TNR being “previously hawkish.” I know Judis never favored the Iraq war — a fact that put him somewhat at odds with the editorial line of the magazine, which has been consistently pro-war.
Now, generally speaking, being a ‘hawk’ in whatever context means being a hardliner, a maximalist, someone who’s not afraid of throwing their weight around and getting the job done — someone who won’t get squeamish or put up with any shilly-shallying. In short, it means being tough.
In this case, according the Weekly Standard, to be an Iraq hawk you have to a) support the war before shooting started b) support the war after the shooting ended and c) keep sitting still for the administration’s agitprop even when much of it’s being exposed as gross exaggerations, manipulations or outright lies on a more or less daily basis.
That’s tough. Real tough.
When I popped open my in box this morning I found a slew of emails from various and sundry right-wing yahoos alerting me to this article in the National Review Online, which ostensibly puts to rest the whole matter of the Texas DPS manhunt Homeland Security story.
Here’s one example from a disgruntled, but expectant TPM reader Michael K.
I am sure you are aware of the following story from
NRO, or at least aware of its conclusions.
Can we expect to see a mea culpa on TPM in the near
future? It seems that you may have attempted created a
tempest in a teapot for, what appears to be, no good
Thanks for your time.
Michael K. (last name withheld by editor)
The essential point of the story in question is that the DHS found it did nothing wrong and that more was spent by DHS investigating the issue than it spent helping to track down the Texas Democrats in the first place. And, therefore, it’s the critics who are wrong not the Texas Republicans or the DHS.
Now, just for starters, it’s obviously the thinnest sort of ice any conservative stands on when judging the merit or results of an investigation by how many tax payer dollars it cost to conduct. Need I say more? But let’s set that aside for the moment and go to a few points about the NRO article.
First, the author’s interpretation of “DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin’s report” which he issued “after an extensive investigation.” Hard to know where to start on this one since Ervin recused himself from the entire case in mid-May. He turned the investigation over to Lisa Redman, DHS’ assistant inspector general.
Then there’s the “unidentified caller from the Texas DPS” who called the DHS and asked for assistance in tracking down former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney’s plane. I think I can help on this one. His name is Lt. Will Crais. He’s been identified, to the best of my knowledge in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every daily newspaper in Texas.
Next, the author of the NRO article claims that Laney really was genuinely missing. And thus the necessity of finding out where he was.
Without Texas Rep. Pete Laney safely in allied territory â in the case, a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma â the Democrats’ conspiracy was doomed to failure. Laney was the linchpin to the scheme; without him, the 50 Democrats already holed up in Oklahoma numbered one short of the necessary 51.
Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick was looking for Laney too. Under Texas house rules, the speaker of the house may use the Texas Department of Safety (DPS) to retrieve fugitive lawmakers â in handcuffs if necessary. If Craddick could find Laney before he made it across the border, the Democrats’ walkout would fail.
Both sides wanted to know: Where was Pete Laney?
Visiting his mother, of course. After all, it was the day after Mother’s Day.
Laney, who is the former Democratic speaker of the Texas house and a licensed pilot, was flying to Oklahoma when he dropped off radar screens and landed his plane in Graham, Texas to visit his mother.
See, everyone was looking for Laney! His plane had “dropped off radar screens.” (I know Texas is a whole different country. But normally we call dropping off radar screens ‘landing’ — especially when it occurs over something called an airport. And how’d they know it had dropped off the radar screens?) Even DHS officials admitted they were bamboozled into thinking the plane had crashed.
In any case, the whole premise here is false. Democrats weren’t looking for Laney. He wasn’t missing in any sense save the fact that Tom Craddick and Gov. Perry wanted to take him into custody. Even the Texas law enforcement officials don’t make this argument any more. (Woe to the journalist who repeats spoon-fed talking points after they’re no longer operative!)
Now, what I take from the author’s seeming unfamiliarity with the case is that he read little else but the DHS own self-exonerating report. And perhaps he got walked through the controversy by some flack at the RNC, someone from Tom DeLay’s office, or maybe someone from the Rutherford Institute.
That explains why his whole conclusion conveniently ignores (or perhaps wasn’t aware of) the main question the critics raised from the outset and why it follows so closely from the DHS IG’s report itself. As we noted here at TPM more than a month ago, the question was not whether Homeland Security knew they were being bamboozled (the report itself says they did). The question was whether a domestic political dispute was a proper matter for DHS to get involved in and who — i.e., what politicians — ordered the DPS to pull them into the dispute.
On question one, the DHS seems to have decided that this was an appropriate use of their albeit minimal resources. That judgment speaks for itself, and not well. As for the other question, the Homeland Security IG report states explicitly that they chose not to look into this question after state officials refused to answer their questions.
Returning back to the East Coast on an Airbus 320, right now at about 35,000. As of Monday morning we’ll be back off the vacation posting schedule and back to regular daily posts routine.
There’s a bounty today of good material on the growing debate and/or scandal about the administration’s over-hyping of evidence about Iraq’s WMD programs. Actually, in my Wednesday morning column in The Hill I said that there really is no new debate or new scandal. It’s really more that it’s suddenly become acceptable to discuss what everyone knew for the last year or so: that is, that the administration was willfully misrepresenting the evidence both on WMD and a purported link to al Qaida.
The first thing to look at is Spencer Ackerman and John Judis’ article in The New Republic on the administration’s misrepresentation of the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD program. This is a good example of why they call journalism the first draft of history. It’s the first attempt to put this whole matter of intelligence manipulation into a chronological and interpretive perspective. It’s more complicated than people just lying. It’s having your agenda and then having the facts. You try to get them to fit together. And when they don’t, well, you go with your agenda. (Why else do they call it your agenda, after all.)
The reason that any of this is really even a debate, why there’s even a question, goes to the heart of intelligence work itself. In intelligence work few things are ever truly certain. The ‘facts’ about which you have the greatest certainty are only nearly certain. And even the utterly unsubstantiated rumors from unreliable sources could conceivably be true. The whole enterprise is probabilistic. And thus, the answer to whether someone was distorting the intelligence or simply had a particularly harebrained take on it must in some sense be too. But when you begin to see people pushing the evidence that is almost certainly bogus and disputing the evidence that is almost certainly valid, you, at a certain point, just realize that you need move over into the vernacular and call things as they are. Those folks are lying.
As noted before, so much of intelligence work is made of hints and allegations, that it’s going to be hard to find one of those bright line examples that counts in the public square of scandalism as a ‘lie.’ But Ackerman and Judis have significantly advanced the story on one of the key cases where you really may be able to show a no-two-ways-about-it lie.
One of the thus-far-hidden points of humor in all this is that the president’s father, when vice-president, was widely ridiculed for claiming that he was “out of the loop” on significant elements of the Iran-Contra affair. We now have a case in which the president and most of the senior members of the government claim to have been ‘out of the loop’ on what numerous administration officials and intelligence community analysts knew about Iraq’s WMD programs. Ackerman and Judis, however, marshal very persuasive circumstantial evidence that Dick Cheney — and almost certainly other high-level officials — knew the Niger uranium sale story was bogus before it was placed in the president’s State of the Union speech. The argument they make is a cumulative one. So you’ll really need to read the piece. But the key piece of information comes from the former US ambassador to Niger who visited the country and came back with clear and multiple evidence that the whole story was bogus.
The CIA circulated the ambassador’s report to the vice president’s office, the ambassador confirms to TNR. But, after a British dossier was released in September detailing the purported uranium purchase, administration officials began citing it anyway, culminating in its inclusion in the State of the Union. “They knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie,” the former ambassador tells TNR. “They were unpersuasive about aluminum tubes and added this to make their case more persuasive.”
I don’t know off hand how the former ambassador would be in a position to confirm that the CIA had passed the information on to Cheney’s office. But the authors wouldn’t have published his confirmation unless he was in a position to know. So the vice-president’s office got the information. And, frankly, though it is possible, it’s simply strains credulity to the breaking point to believe that such information would not have made it to Cheney himself. And that’s being generous.
In any case, read the Ackerman-Judis article.
Also, see Ken Pollack’s long column today in the Times. Pollack makes several important points. And I feel his discomfort in being pushed into being a defender of the president’s policies when in fact he is not one. His point that bears repeating is that there was all sorts of evidence that the Iraqis continued to maintain some chemical and biological weapons capacity. All sorts of governments believed this. It’s also true that there were security arguments for invading Iraq which did not hinge on its being an imminent threat in the near-term. And this is where the administration’s deception came into play. They knew they didn’t have evidence that would make most Americans support going to war NOW. So they essentially cooked it up and made it up.
I don’t share Pollack’s certainty that we’re going to find the chemical and biological weapons. I’m not certain we won’t or that we will. But for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere, I think that as time goes on it becomes increasing likely that we may have misjudged this part of the equation too.
Unfortunately, we’re now in a situation in which if we do turn up some nerve gas that will be taken as evidence that the White House found the WMD. And that will be true as far as it goes. But it may snuff out the inquiry into all the administration’s deceptions on nukes and al Qaida links — the stuff that created the false impression of an imminent threat. TPM is interviewing Pollack next week. So we’ll be going over these questions in more detail then.
A couple points to conclude. There’s a now fashionable argument that we shouldn’t let the administration’s deceptions on WMD and al Qaida blind us to the big issue, which is securing a democratic, non-threatening Iraq. This point strikes me as true, but terribly off-point. We also shouldn’t let the WMD deception issue stop us from passing a federal budget next year or getting the trade deficit under control. But do we need to? I figure we can manage all these things at the same time.
It’s true that we are now in Iraq. And how we got there — legitimately or illegitimately — doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for preventing the country from falling into chaos or reduce our strong national interest in insuring a positive outcome. But getting to the bottom of the administration’s deceptions is about our democracy. And let’s not let our strong interest in Iraqi democracy forget about American democracy, which we have something of an interest in too.
Finally, Republicans are saying to Democrats, threatening them really, with the argument that going up against the president on the question of his administration’s deceptions on the WMD issue is a political loser. Walking into a buzzsaw and so forth. I’m really not sure this is true. I think this may end up being a more debilitating issue than they imagine. But certainly it could be handled poorly by Democrats. And perhaps it’s not good politics. But frankly I’m not sure that matters. As Ackerman and Judis say at the end of their article, some issues are well worth pressing quite apart from the politics. It’s important simply because it’s wrong. And this sort of indifference to the truth is toxic in a democracy. (I can already hear the Republicans snarking about definitions of sex and so forth. But, really, their inability or unwillingness to recognize the distinction between frivolous issues and ones that are central to a democracy indicts them from their own corrupt mouths.)
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who is basically a New Dem like myself and we were talking about unions. He asked me whether I really thought the country would be in better shape if the union movement were, say, twice as strong, had twice as many members as it currently has. I was surprised by the question since it challenged one of my basic assumptions. I’m a big supporter of unions. But I’m far from a down-the-line supporter of their issues. I’m a big free-trader for instance and that’s not at all a popular position in today’s trade union movement. So I thought about it and said that, yes, I thought it would be in better shape, though it certainly wouldn’t be positive in all respects.
But what we could agree on was that a good bit of the decline in the union movement was attributable to changes in the law and de facto changes in the law — through lax enforcement of labor law — which chipped away and over time significantly diminished the right to organize, the right to join a union if that’s what you want to do. And that, I told him, is just wrong — whatever the economic consequences.
This is a similar case. Even if the consequences of going into Iraq turn out to be good — and that seems to be an open question, though I think it was and to a degree remains possible — it’s wrong to have deceived the public to make the policy happen. It’s wrong to have damaged the country’s intelligence agencies. Let’s not even get into the damage that was done to the country’s standing in the world. It’s also wrong for the political opposition not to say it was wrong, even if the short-term political consequences are uncertain or even damaging.
Here are a few very good examples of an ignored fact: the problems at the Times (and, for that matter, the Post and a slew of other papers) aren’t new. They just started treading on what we might call, well, protected persons. Don’t miss Sid Blumenthal’s response to one-time and current New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld’s error-laden review of Blumenthal’s book in the New York Review of Books. Along the same lines, see Joe Conason’s and Gene Lyons’ run-down of the same dispute.
Apparently, after the Democrats convinced the president to create the Department of Homeland Security, he got so into it that he ended up creating two of them.
First, there’s the get-along-go-along operation that gets dragged into Keystone Cops political shenanigans and then lets bygones be bygones when it finds out it’s been had. Then there’s the highly-compartmented, top-secret, black-marker-wielding intelligence operation that releases its public reports.
The report the DHS released yesterday looks a bit like one of those old cornball FBI surveillance reports you might find in the back of some Malcolm X Reader you read in college or the same from some old lefty PBS documentary about Allen Ginsberg. In many places the thing is so marked up — or, as the phrase goes, ‘redacted’ — with that oversized, black magic-marker that you can hardly see what’s going on.
Actually, I shouldn’t have gone with the two DHS metaphor. It’s really more like three. Because there’s also the comically passive DHS which conducted the investigation of itself. The report issued Monday lacks, shall we say, Ricoeur’s ‘hermeneutic of suspicion.’ (The general thrust of the report is ‘no harm no foul.’ We’ll be saying more about the specifics in subsequent posts.) In all seriousness, the report’s methods and conclusions are good examples of the difference between the hyper-aggressive investigations of the 1990s and the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil operations of today.
Here are some noteworthy examples from Wednesday’s article from the Austin American-Statesman. Keep in mind that the real question most people were trying to get an answer to was just who tried to misuse the DHS’s resources …
During questioning [of the DPS], the investigator “was consistently interrupted and challenged by DPS participants that questions were not within the scope of the DHS-OIG investigation,” one document said.
When asked who instructed the officer to call the interdiction center, “(redacted) said several individuals,” the document said. When asked for specifics, the investigator was told that “this question was outside the scope” of the investigation, and the question was not answered.
[ed.: if and when DHS investigates TPM, I’d like to put in my request for this ‘investigator’.]
Homeland security investigators refused to investigate a DPS order to destroy all documents relating to the agency’s search for the Democrats, referring the matter to the FBI. The FBI was not interested in investigating.
[ed.: with Leung and Hanssen out of circulation the Bureau is stretched thin lining up a new crop of double-agents.]
Not exactly the Ken Starr treatment …
It’s the small hypocrisies that make life sweet. The president accepts public money for his campaigns, but doesn’t check off the box. This from yesterday’s Ari-thon …
Q And also in the last, 2000 and coming up, the President will accept federal funds in the general election.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Is there any dash of hypocrisy in that he doesn’t contribute to that fund when he files his tax returns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, interestingly, we talked before about taxpayer-financed elections, and while for the congressional races, Senate races and House races, and for overwhelming majority of the funds that go to presidential races is voluntary, there is that check on the tax reforms. And the best I remember this from IRS data is something like only 12 percent, or down to 8 percent of the American people check that box. So I think the President is in pretty good company with a number of American people who do not check that box.
Q Why would he take the money, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, he’s not taking the money for the primary campaign; he will take it for the general.
Good company …
Interesting timing. We know from depositions from down in Texas that Gov. Rick Perry got personally involved in pushing the manhunt for the Texas Dems — he’s the one who told the cops to go to the neo-natal intensive care unit. Monday, the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation of itself gave everybody a clean bill of health — while making no apparent attempt to find out which politicians authorized misusing its resources. Today, Gov. Rick Perry will announce a special session to take another shot at redistricting in two weeks — a sort of redistricting the Washington Post said states do ‘regularly’, and had to have an alert letter to the editor writer point out hadn’t happened in half a century.
Now back to the last few days of the vacation.
See Gov. Perry’s letter calling the special session, with the no-federal-judges canard included.
Finally, something on the WMD front. No, not actual WMD. But some actual information on something I’ve been wondering a lot about. Just what are we offering the regime leaders and top scientists in exchange for spilling the beans about the regime’s weapons programs?
I definitely thought the Iraqis still had some chemical and biological weapons capacity. The one thing that has made me seriously question whether they did has been the number of regime leaders and scientists in custody. Administration leaders talk a lot about the size of Iraq and how long it would take to search a country of that size. But this has always struck me as a bogus argument. When cops do a murder investigation they don’t make a grid line of their entire municipal jurisdiction, mark it off with string, and search every foot of the city. They do an investigation to find the body and the perp. They talk to people and they follow leads.
However large Iraq may be, the fact is that we have lots of folks in custody who should know plenty about the WMD program. And apparently not one of them has squealed. My governing assumption has always been that there’s a get-out-of-jail-free card, a harem, a Riviera Chateau and a lifetime supply of jelly beans (and that’s just for day one) for whomever sings first. Frankly, I still think that assumption is almost certainly accurate. But this new article from the Times of London says it’s not true. Or at least officials from Tony Blair’s government seem to be telling the Times it’s not true.
According to the article, the Brits are practically begging the Americans to start cutting some deals. But we’re standing firm. Here’s the key graf from the piece …
âWe have been trying for ages to persuade the Americans but they have come up with all kinds of legal arguments,â one government official said. US authorities have been happy to offer plea bargains to some of Americaâs most notorious criminals, but apparently draw the line at members of a regime that they have denounced as evil.
Now, one pretty straightforward explanation for this is simply that the folks in the Blair government are getting desperate. The Brits are in full scandal mode over the failure to find WMD (a British government report recently made a finding that those trailers were not mobile weapons labs after all …) both at the public, press and governmental levels. So perhaps the Blairites are just grasping for straws and want to offer still more, hoping someone will crack. Or, more cynically, they want to float a plausible explanation for the failure to find the goods.
In any case, it makes you wonder.
Damn. Damn. Damn. In this business timing is everything. I was just polishing up the prose on one of my weekly columns — this one about former NSC official Rand Beers. And now the Washington Post has beat me to it. So it’s back to the drawing board.
Here’s the deal with Beers.
With all that’s coming out now about the lead-up to the Iraq War and the questionable statements about terrorism links and WMD, you’d have to figure that the administration’s top anti-terrorism operatives would know where the bodies were buried, if there were any to be unearthed, right? You’d also have to figure that that someone would be someone any ambitious Democrat would really want to talk to, right? Especially if that someone seemed a touch disgruntled with his boss’s policies.
Well, Beers served as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterterrorism from August 2002 until he resigned just days before the beginning of the Iraq war for what Ari Fleischer then called “personal reasons.” Two months later he signed on as John Kerry’s lead foreign policy advisor.
See his first salvo in the Post.
“I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs â and then deceived the American public as well.”
That’s the final paragraph of Nick Kristof’s devastating column on just when the White House knew the Niger/Iraq uranium purchase story was bogus.
In Saturday’s Times, Bill Keller says: “What the Bush administration did was gild the lily â disseminating information that ranged from selective to preposterous.”
That is a description that is perhaps most artfully described as generous.
Washington’s newfound appreciation of the ‘subtleties’ of truth-telling and lies is, well … what shall we call it?, a revealing contrast to the common-sense definitions bandied about through 1998. But Kristof at least is on to something. There was an element of self-deception. A strong one.
If you simply insist on believing white is black, even when you can see it’s white, then when you tell people it’s black then, well, maybe you’re sort of not really lying, right?
Certainly, in some cases, the truth was more muddy. Folks in the administration put the most ominous interpretation on fragmentary information that was admittedly ambiguous.
Here’s another clip from Kristof …
Still, Mr. Tenet and the intelligence agencies were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq. Ambiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.
“It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a `mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be `filled with weaponized anthrax,’ ” a former military intelligence officer said. “None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense and the secretary of state.”
So I’m not simply being critical of this ‘subtlety.’ Mass psychology and individual psychology are more apt tools than lie detector tests for much of this. Maybe we’re not talking about lying but only saying things you have no reason to believe are true, which I guess is not really a lie, right?
Or saying things you have good reasons to believe are false but don’t know for a fact to be false?
I’m not in the camp of people who think the administration’s falsehoods and distortions about WMD change that fact of the deadly significance of WMD, or the significance of Iraq’s long history of non-compliance. But there is still, at the end of the day, an odd unwillingness to state the simple fact that in many cases the White House lied to the American public, repeatedly and unashamedly, to pave the way for war. Sure, sure, they thought they were doing it for a good cause. But if they’d lie about this, well you know the rest …
Everything changes. Everything. Especially in Southern California.
Part of America’s special nature — good and bad — is its manner of chewing itself up and building itself up again. Unused land gets laid out and built up and then the new buildings get demolished and the land is built up again. All of this seems to happen in an accelerated fashion in Southern California. It’s a sliver of the nation where something like the frontier still exists. Land to be developed. Lots of it. And once they develop it, they develop it again.
Today I drove out to what Southern Californians call the “inland empire” – an area starting maybe 40 miles east of Los Angeles. The towns have names like Upland and Pomona and Ontario and Montclair. It’s where I grew up — or at least where I grew up from the time that I was six until I left for college when I was eighteen.
As must always be the case, the towns and streets and shopping malls look nothing like they did when I was a child. But in this case it’s something more than the standard differences that occur over a decade or two. Nothing looks the same. These towns, this region, was and is the bleeding edge of the Los Angeles sprawl, which has been spreading like lava eastward from the coast for decades.
When my family moved to Upland, California in 1975, large sections of the town were still lemon groves. (In a sense this area was still very much like the area east of Los Angeles where Philip Marlowe usually ended up at the end of Raymond Chandler detective novels. Those old shacks where the bad guys were holed up. I think it’s in The Big Sleep where Chandler describes Marlowe driving down a road lined with these groves, noting how the rows look like spokes from a rushing car.) One square block would be lemon groves and the next would be tract homes. Other blocks in the grid were just fields with nothing at all but rocks and dirt.
By the mid-late 1970s I don’t think any of the lemon groves were actually being farmed. They were derelicts. They’d already been marked off for future development. They were just growing and producing their crops on nature’s autopilot because there was no point in chopping them down until some developer was actually ready to build a new subdivision. Back then, at least in my memory, the better part of the town was still in lemon groves. Certainly a lot of it. And to the east the lemons were still king.
Today, the edge of the sprawl is dozens of miles to the east, with towns and towns of bedroom communities which, thirty years ago, only existed on paper.
So old buildings and stores were gone and replaced with new ones. And the open fields where me and friends would go build forts and stalk and capture lizards when we were little kids were built over for the first time, or perhaps the second.
But none of these were my main interest today. I wanted to see something very specific.
Twenty-two years ago, late in the evening one night in March of 1981, to be specific, my mother was killed in an auto accident on Foothill Boulevard in a town called Claremont. This was one town over from ours. She was on her way home. She was killed instantly — at least in every meaningful sense of the word. And the impact of her car left a softball-sized dent in the foot-thick metal pole that held up the street lights at the intersection where she died.
The street, Foothill Boulevard, is the main drag in the region. It’s actually the westernmost part of the legendary, cross-country Highway 66 and for years after I’d see that dent — hard to notice for most people, but hard for me to miss. First as a passenger in other people’s cars I’d see it and then as a driver myself cruising over the same path countless times.
For a very long time afterwards the gash still had etches of the maroon paint from her car — for years I would guess, though I don’t know precisely how long. Then eventually those chipped or washed away. And finally it was just a dent.
These things don’t work quite the way they do on TV or in novels. I didn’t fixate on it. Hundreds of times I passed that intersection and didn’t look or even think about it. But it was always there, always there ready for me to notice, an occasional reminder.
In one of those weird, impersonal cruelties by which bureaucracies operate, there was apparently some thought at first that the city would sue my father or, I guess, my mother’s estate — such as it was, which wasn’t much — for the price of fixing or buying a new street light pole. Someone had to pay for repairing this small part of the city’s infrastructure. And why should it be the taxpayers? Or so the reasoning went.
In any case, for whatever reason, this bizarre indignity never occurred. And the dent remained for years. The last time I saw it, it had been there for almost two decades.
Later, my father moved away from the area. But when I was in my twenties I’d visit the area to see old friends and I’d inevitably drive by and see the dent. I probably saw it last in the middle 1990s – still the same dent, unchanged, with a few flecks of the paint ripped deep into the metal.
But coming back to California this time I realized that through all those years I’d never touched it. I’d driven by it countless times and very rarely I’d feel some rush of the impact of her death as my car swept past the point in space where hers stopped in its tracks. But I’d never gotten out of the car and walked up to the spot or touched the dent. There must have been grooves cut into the metal — perceptible only by touch. But I’d never stopped to feel the metal against my fingers or find its contours. I guess it had never occurred to me. Or maybe it occured to me today because I’m only three years younger than she was when she died. Who knows? One could go on about what the kinetics of that dent represented and what feeling its latent effects might conjure up in me — but it probably goes without saying.
In any case, I wanted to rub it with my hand, maybe kiss my fingers and touch it.
I hadn’t been to the area in at least five or six years and I didn’t even remember the cross street name anymore. But I wouldn’t forget the shape of the dent or the look of the intersection. I knew what it all looked like. So I drove to it knowing I’d recognize it when I saw it but not knowing quite which intersection it would be out of three or four in a row. My memory had grown hazy.
So I passed one and then another and then the intersection that I knew must be it. But no dent. I could make out a few scratches a couple feet off the ground as I drove by, but no dents. I circled back and drove by again thinking maybe I’d missed it. But nothing. Each was that unscarred blotchy metal that all the light poles there are made of. Then I gave a good long look at the pole I knew was the one. And then I extended the search a couple blocks in each direction. Nothing.
Eventually I realized it was gone. I knew where it was but it wasn’t there. I stopped by the corner where the new, unbent pole was and looked at it. I wondered what had finally prompted the change. Was it just time to install new poles? Or maybe that old pole had finally got knocked down by some more formidable vehicle. Maybe an eighteen-wheeler had ripped it out of the ground. It wouldn’t have been a match for something so large and heavy. Or maybe a new higher tech streetlight was installed. I mulled the possibilities and wondered if it mattered to me and rubbed my thumb a few times over my fingers and drove away.
Maybe what they say about California is true. I did grow up here. But since I got here on Tuesday afternoon, the tempo of my thinking has slowed dramatically. Not the quality, I hope not at least, but the tempo. Maybe it’s the sun, or the beach, or the jacuzzi in my dad’s backyard which, for once, I didn’t have to fix before using when I came to visit. In any case, this probably explains some of the slow pace of posts.
Do read Krugman’s column today. As usual a very nice column. But it also captures an important reason why I’ve given the Texas/redistricting Homeland Security story a lot of attention. Tom DeLay is a genuinely dangerous guy. This incident was a particularly egregious example. But I mean he’s dangerous not so much in the sense that he’s going to commit one particularly egregious act as the way he is transforming not only the government itself but what we consider acceptable in government. He is, to paraphrase the late Pat Moynihan’s old phrasing, defining political deviance down. Krugman hits on several of the key examples in his column today.
Happily, the New York Times finally gave a full editorial to the Homeland Security scandal back on Tuesday. “The new Department of Homeland Security was called in on the case as if it were the patronage police and the dissenting Democrats were terrorists.” Take a look at the editorial before the evil Times business gods snatch it out of public view and make you pay to read it. (It ain’t that good.)
One point they allude to at the end of the piece, and one of the good things to come out of the affair is the way that it has exposed the laughable hypocrisy of many on the right. It’s one thing to say, well, if this were Clinton they’d be saying this that and the other. And they would, of course. But it’s nice just to have on record that my conservative friends really don’t care very much about the abuse of federal law enforcement authorities for the crudest of political purposes. Just not their bag, not their concern.
Also, do read the piece by Fareed Zakaria which I linked to in the earlier column. It’s on the deeper story behind the overstatements about WMD. He really has them right.
Finally, TPM has made arrangements to start accepting advertisements on a limited basis. Till now, the site has depended entirely on the much-appreciated generosity of readers who send in contributions — that and a pretty big subsidy from my freelance writing. But we’re trying to open up a new revenue stream which should help us expand the site in various ways. We’re not expecting any major ad buys from Nike or Coke or anything like that. TPM attracts between twenty and thirty thousand individual readers on an average weekday. But it’s a fairly choice demographic, including lots of people on Capitol Hill, many in the executive branch, lots of DC lawyers and lobbyists, and a lot of folks in the national media who advertisers generally are itching to get access to. So we’ll see how it goes. More soon.
I must confess to a mounting impatience with the advocates of the president’s war policy who now seem zealously intent on short-circuiting any serious debate about the rationale for the war by denying, obfuscating or simply lying about the premises of the very debate itself.
There are two basic ways this is being done. One is to toss around words like ‘conspiracies’ and ‘plots’ in order to discredit their opponents without seriously engaging their ideas. The second is to utterly distort what the WMD debate was all about.
I’ve been traveling for the last few days (out-of-pocket, 38,000 feet in the air, etc.) and am only now catching up on my reading. So perhaps I’ve missed some better examples. But certainly one of the best is the sneering OpEd Robert Kagan wrote in the Post on Saturday.
It’s starts with the familiar rhetoric (“There is something surreal about the charges flying that President Bush lied when he claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”) and ends with it too (“So if you like a good conspiracy, this one’s a doozy. And the best thing about it is that if all these people are lying, there’s only one person who ever told the truth: Saddam Hussein.”)
Along the way, we get the heart of the argument: It’s false, dishonest or just ridiculous to charge President Bush with deceiving the American people about Saddam’s WMD because so many other worthies said just the same thing. Who? Hans Blix, John Deutsch, Tony Blair, German intelligence, Bill Cohen, Bill Clinton, everyone. In other words, just about everybody who could credibly be called part of the foreign policy establishment.
Each of these guys — and Kagan could have mentioned many others — said at one point or another that Saddam continued to maintain a serious stockpile of chemical and likely also biological weapons. This is all true, of course, so far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far if you start off by being disingenuous about what the debate even involves.
The president’s defenders want to frame the argument like this: the president said there was WMD; his critics said there was WMD. If he’s wrong, everybody was wrong. If there was a ‘plot’ to deceive the American people, as Kagan would have it, even the president’s critics were in on the plot. So what kind of plot would that be?
This is just a head-fake with an advanced degree and it’s deeply dishonest.
The public didn’t get sold on this war because Saddam had nerve gas, or botulinum or even anthrax. True or not, a lot of people believed that. (I believed it — and I still have a very hard time believing Saddam doesn’t have chemical munitions stored somewhere.) The public got sold on the war because the administration argued consistently and vociferously that Saddam was on the brink of amassing far more fearsome weapons — particularly nuclear weapons (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”) and that he had growing operational ties to terrorists to whom he might give these weapons or even some of his less threatening chemical agents.
It was fairly clear before the war that neither of those claims were true. Since the war it has become clearer by the day that they were almost certainly not true.
Those were the imminent threats that made the war necessary in March. No waiting for inspections, no building up of alliances, nothing. There was an imminent threat and countries respond militarily to imminent threats.
The only thing that’s pretty clear is that there was no imminent threat. And there is a growing body of evidence — much of which was known, frankly, before the war — that the administration did everything it could to push the claim that there was an imminent threat using what was often very, very weak evidence. I don’t think ‘lie’ is necessarily the best word for it. I think a more apropos analogy is a lawyer’s brief. You pull together every piece of evidence you can find — good, bad, flimsy, obviously bogus, uncertain, it doesn’t matter, just throw it all in — and you make the best case you can with what you have. You put in everything that helps your case and forget about everything that hurts it. And the case was that there was an imminent threat that required war against Iraq. I repeat, imminent.
In many cases I think the folks who pushed these arguments knew they weren’t true. But to them, the ends justified the means.
In other cases, though — and these are the more important and intriguing ones — I think they believed that Saddam was such a bad guy that these things must be true. Or if they weren’t true now, they would be soon enough. So, same difference.
Fareed Zakaria has an excellent column in this week’s Newsweek in which he discusses the roots of this tendency. Many of the same folks who played key roles in the build up to the Iraq war make similar overestimations about the Late Soviet Union and later China. (You’ll find some similar, if less elegant and erudite, ideas on these folks and this tendency in my earlier article “Practice to Deceive.”)
We now need a serious congressional inquiry that will explain what was conscious deception, what was willful blindness tinged by a deep-seated ideological zeal, and what was simply an unwillingness to credit the reports of Intelligence Community analysts with whom the folks in the administration had deep-seated policy disagreements.
It does Kagan no credit to tar critics as conspiracy theorists or muddy up the water enough so that the debate can’t be had. (If he wants to have it out with that minority of yahoos who claim that the US cooked up all the claims about WMD to get into Iraq and snatch away the country’s oil, that’s his choice.)
The fact is that the administration and its advocates are now doing everything they can to run away from a year’s worth of arguments about the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Quoting one of their patron saints, conservatives are often fond of saying that ‘ideas have consequences.’
Lies do too.
Till now we’ve assumed that the Department of Homeland Security got hoodwinked into getting involved in the manhunt for the Texas Democrats. Apparently that’s not so. (Note to Joe Lieberman, Dan Gerstein, et al.: did you guys pick up on this?) One of the things Homeland Security did to help the Texas Republicans was to put out what amounted to an APB, calling various Texas airports to see if they could track down the Democrats in question. When an official at one of the local airports contacted by Homeland Security asked what was up, the Homeland Security official told him it didn’t have anything to do with a downed plane or any problem like that. “This is just somebody looking for politicians they can’t find,” an unidentified official told Marvin Miller, an airport official in Plainview, Texas, according to a Saturday article in the Washington Post.
So much for an innocent misunderstanding. So much for ‘homeland security’. (Note to Tom Ridge: Where’s that IG Report?)
So here’s the story with the disputed quotes from Sam Tanenhaus’ article on Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Vanity Fair. As noted here a couple days ago, the Tanenhaus article says that Wolfowitz is “confident” that Saddam played some role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and that he had “entertained” the notion that Saddam had played some role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as well. (Tanenhaus sources Wolfowitz’s ideas about Oklahoma City to a “longtime friend” of the Deputy Secretary.)
In the portion of his article that discusses his interview, Tanenhaus quotes Wolfowitz on the 1993 bombing and then notes that Wolfowitz declined to comment on Saddam’s possible involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.
The only problem is that none of this exchange appears in the interview transcript the Pentagon later posted on its website.
So what’s the score? Did Wolfowitz say this stuff or didn’t he?
It turns out that the dispute centers not on what was said but on whether it was on the record.
Vanity Fair and Tanenhaus said that these statements were all on the record. Certain portions of the interview were off the record, they say, but this wasn’t one of them.
Wolfowitz’s office disagrees. As he did yesterday, Wolfowitz spokesman Jeff Davis told me that the “transcript is complete and accurate, minus introductory pleasantries and off-the-record comments.”
Davis confirmed that the issue of the 1993 bombings was discussed during an off-the-record portion of the interview and that Wolfowitz declined to discuss the Oklahoma City bombing issue when Tanenhaus brought it up. In other words, there isn’t much dispute about what was said, just whether the two were on-the-record.
Tanenhaus is a pro. So it seemed to me that there must have been some miscommunication or misunderstanding on one or both sides about when they were off and on the record. So I asked Davis precisely what had been said that made it clear they’d gone off the record. In the complete transcript, Davis told me, “it was clearly caveated that that particular discussion [of the 1993 and 1995 bombings] is off the record.”
When I asked Davis if I could see a copy of the transcript and the caveats he mentioned, he declined, citing the wish to maintain the confidentiality of the Deputy Secretary’s off-the-record comments. (I’d have preferred to see it myself; but Davis’ point isn’t unreasonable.)
Now, obviously I wasn’t present for the interview and I haven’t seen the unedited transcript. So make your own judgments. But that’s my best effort to get to the bottom of this little mystery.
Yesterday TPM reported that quotes from Sam Tanenhaus’ interview with Paul Wolfowitz, which appeared in the Vanity Fair magazine article, don’t appear in the transcript of the interview provided by the Pentagon. I’m still waiting to get the complete story from both sides. So I don’t want to go into too many details quite yet. But, in the interests of not leaving the open question hanging out there, I can say that the discrepancy turns on a dispute between the two parties as to what was and what was not on the record. More on this soon.
Is Doug Feith dusting off his resume? Or, more to the point, should Doug Feith be dusting off his resume? (Feith is UnderSecretary of Defense for Policy and generally considered one of the uberest of uber-hawks in the administration.)
In Washington, people seldom get fired because of manifest incompetence (God knows that’s true.) Nor do folks usually get canned because of one mega screw-up. People hold their positions because of a latticework of ideological positions, interpersonal connections, reliability, their usefulness for various tasks and constituencies. When enough of those are pulled away, a person’s position can grow precarious.
Feith gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times a few days ago in which he got seriously out in front of stated administration policy on possible US troop redeployments in Asia. Not that what he was saying was wrong necessarily, just not ready for public consumption.
Let’s hear what Chris Nelson had to say about this in the Nelson Report a couple days ago …
Summary: on the big Asia troop redeployment stories last week, it’s now clear that Undersec. DOD Feith spoke without clearance on where to put the Okinawa Marines, and, at most, Australia looks like a future training site. General thrust of his L.A. Times interview more right than wrong. But net effect may be, finally, to show Rumsfeld why Feith is too loose a cannon to keep around.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, interviewed in Singapore over the weekend, “clarified” the rather stunning remarks of Undersecretary for Planning Doug Feith, barely stopping short of calling Feith an idiot for his L.A. Times interview claiming that U.S. Marines now on Okinawa would likely be moved to Australia.
— but, while Wolfowitz ridiculed Feith’s “Australia” statement as a “salacious detail” from “some eighth level in the bureaucracy”, he did confirm what we also reported, on Wednesday, and again Thursday, that “the story in the broad concept was generally pretty accurate.”
— but both formal, and informal, responses to Feith’s L.A. Times interview from State Department, White House and even DOD sources, on Friday, made clear that professional Asia policy handlers viewed with great displeasure what one DOD source frankly called “Feith’s obvious ignorance of the political ramifications of all this”, especially for Okinawa and Australia.
Another source noted that Feith’s tendency to try to work directly with Secretary Rumsfeld, at the expense of consultation with colleagues, and his habit of aggressive confrontation with perceived “opponents” within the Administration, nearly led to his being fired once before.
— it was an open question, Friday, whether this latest episode, which went far beyond “inside baseball” to present serious international political concerns, will be the last straw for Feith, but Wolfowitz’s dismissive language should be noted.
So loose cannon-hood is one issue.
Then there’s the question of the “Road Map.” People sometimes tend to lump together all the neocons and hardliners in the administration on all the issues in the Middle East. That’s not accurate. Paul Wolfowitz, for instance, may be seen as the godfather of the administration neocons. But he is also quite serious, I think, about a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Perhaps it wouldn’t be one that doves have in mind, but one which would require what Israeli leaders often call ‘painful compromises’ — certainly the creation of a Palestinian state, some retrenchment of settlements from the West Bank, and possibly even some compromises on Jerusalem.
Feith is a different sort of character. I think he can fairly be called a hardcore, Greater Israel, rejectionist — someone who thinks the whole peace process, even a leaner, meaner one, is a mistake.
Up until now that fissure didn’t matter quite so much. But in the present circumstances that puts him seriously off-message.
Finally, there’s WMD and the intelligence failure issue.
If there’s blame to go around in this administration it should cover a lot of very high-level people. But one of the key issues is the special intelligence shop that was set up over at the Pentagon because they didn’t like the intell they were getting from CIA about Iraq. A lot of the intell they started working with came from Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi’s ‘intelligence network’ inside Iraq. And a lot of that info now seems to have been pretty bogus.
That special intelligence shop, The Office of Special Plans, came under the oversight of Doug Feith. (Today he gave what The New York Times calls “rare briefing today to rebut accusations that senior civilian policy makers had politicized intelligence to fit their hawkish views on Iraq and to justify war on Saddam Hussein.”)
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect Feith to be going anywhere anytime soon. I’m not even saying he’ll be going anywhere at all. Canning him would be greeted with great hostility by many of Bush’s most ardently pro-Israel supporters — not so much Jews, as evangelical Christians. But that latticework that keeps people in office looks like it’s fraying a bit for him. And if the WMD intell question gains too much political traction, too much heat, I’m not sure there’d be anyone quite so well-placed to take the fall.
Okay, from the sublime to the ridiculous. As I reported earlier this afternoon, the Pentagon’s transcript of the Vanity Fair interview between Sam Tanenhaus and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz seems to have left out at least one key exchange.
That’s the sublime.
Now to the ridiculous.
Rush Limbaugh has a blurb up on his website that says you can debunk Hillary’s new book with passages from Sid Blumenthal’s new book — a sort of inverted harmonic convergence of Clinton-hating, you might say.
Sydney Blumenthal’s book blows Hillary’s out of the water. He writes that Bill called him after his Lewinsky grand jury testimony to see what he thought of it. Next, Hillary picked up the phone followed by James Carville.
Sydney heard Hillary and Bill talking in the background, and rejoiced that they were “still working together.” They managed the entire scene at that time, pretending to be estranged. How many times did we see this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo (below) of the first family and dog departing for the Vineyard the day after Bill testified, with Chelsea between them and Hillary off to the side?
Yet Blumenthal says that Mrs. Clinton was in on the strategy, not giving her husband “the silent treatment” as we were told. This disagrees with Mrs. Clinton saying in her book that Buddy the dog came along to keep Bill company, since he’s the only one who would. I have to feel sorry for the Democratic presidential nominees today, because this book is the only story out there!
As you might expect, this is rather misleading spin. He even gets the quotes wrong. Blumenthal explicitly says he never talked to Hillary about her emotions or feelings or what was happening between her and her husband. This is his description (p. 461) of his first contact with Hillary after the president’s admission …
I called Hillary. We dispensed with the extraordinarily difficult personal problem at the start. As her friend, I wanted to respect her privacy. I said that whatever “issues” anyone had, and hers was worse than anyone’s, we had to think about the politics. That was her reasoning as well. She said that the President would be “embarrassed,” but that was for him to deal with. And that was all she said about it.
What follows this passage is an uncomfortable description not only of Hillary’s feelings of personal betrayal but of her humiliation and chagrin at having defended her husband against charges she now understood to be true. Four pages later Blumenthal describes talking by telephone to Clinton, then Hillary, then Carville and Mark Penn after the president’s speech to the country. While talking to Penn he says …
I could hear the President and Hillary bantering in the background. Whatever they would have to do between themselves to get over this episode, in the challenge to their marriage and the presidency they were still working as a team. Without that, nothing was possible.
Now that I think about it, would anyone really trust Rush Limbaugh on something like this? Doesn’t one go to Rush for Vince Voster and the Temple of Doom sorta things? In any case, next back to why passages seem to have been scrubbed from the Pentagon’s Tanenhaus-Wolfowitz transcript.
Remember that transcript the Pentagon posted of the interview Sam Tanenhaus did with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for Vanity Fair magazine? Just how complete and accurate is it? As I discussed in my article this morning in The Hill, what I found most surprising was a passage in which Tanenhaus discusses the portion of the interview in which he and Wolfowitz discussed the possibility that Saddam may have played a role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. According to Tanenhaus’ article, Wolfowitz is “confident” Saddam played some role in the 1993 incident and has “entertained” the theory that he played a role in the Oklahoma City bombing as well. In the interview, according to Tanenhaus, Wolfowitz declined comment on the 1995 bombing.
These are theories that are, to put it mildly, not widely credited. And it raises some serious questions about just what sorts of theories gained credence at the DOD.
I wanted to see the actual interchange so I called up the transcript of the interview on the Pentagon website. And that passage is nowhere to be found.
So I called the Pentagon to see if the transcript was a complete transcript or only a partial one. A Wolfowitz spokesman, Jeff Davis, told me that, though he wasn’t present during the interview, to the best of his knowledge it was a complete transcript — save, possibly, for any pleasantries at the beginning of the conversation, or any parts that may have been off the record.
So what happened to the parts of the interview where the 1993 and 1995 bombings were discussed? Davis speculated that those quotes from Wolfowitz might not have been from the interview at all, but rather from published accounts of other previous statements Wolfowitz may have made, or other transcripts from the Pentagon website that Tanenhaus may have gotten his hands on.
So then I called Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair’s Beth Kseniak told me categorically that Tanenhaus’ and Wolfowitz’s discussion of the 1993 and 1995 bombings definitely took place during their interview.
If that’s true, why isn’t it anywhere in the Pentagon’s transcript?