Josh Marshall

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Boy, where to start with this article in Sunday’s Post?

Not only is it clear, according to the Kay team’s own internal findings, that Iraq had no nuclear program. But we’ve known this pretty much since we first pulled into Baghdad. The only reason it’s not public knowledge is that David Kay has taken it as his task, not to inform the public of the state of Iraq’s pre-war weapons programs, but to carry the water of the White House and obscure the truth as long as possible.

The defenders of the White House now seem intent on lowering the bar to the most comical of levels, arguing that Saddam Hussein had not relinquished the “desire” or the “ambition” to have nuclear weapons. But by this standard (viz, Matthew 5:27-30) probably half the married men in America have cheated on their wives with Pam Anderson or Angelina Jolie. So I’m not quite sure what that proves.

The imminent threat, it seems, was that Saddam was lusting in his heart for nukes, not that he was doing anything to get them.

Along the way, you’ve got lots of pitiful attempts at push-back spin from administration officials who won’t give their name. Here’s one choice example …

An administration official, defending the CIA's prewar analysis, said its message had been widely misunderstood. "The term 'reconstituting' means restoring to a former condition, a process often inferred to be short term," he said. "Based on reporting, however, Saddam clearly viewed it as a long-term process. So did the NIE."

Long-term, indeed ...

(And as I said in the last post, where do you figure all this information's coming from?)

One key graf from the devastating article on Iraq's 'nuclear program' in tomorrow's Post ...

Among the closely held internal judgments of the Iraq Survey Group, overseen by David Kay as special representative of CIA Director George J. Tenet, are that Iraq's nuclear weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign, and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use.

Nuthin ... No program. Nothing.

And how might the Post have come by those "closely held internal judgments" ...

In the previous post I noted that the 9/11 Commission is threatening to subpoena the White House over its refusal to turn over intelligence documents from the lead-up to 9/11 (specifically, they seem to be demanding copies of the Presidential Daily Brief from just before the attacks.)

Perhaps this goes without saying, but look at these various controversies: possible subpoenas over White House stonewalling of the 9/11 investigation, the multiple investigations of the pre-war intel on Iraq, the criminal investigation into the Plame disclosure.

There are differences in each, of course. But in each case, fundamentally, we're talking about the same players: the White House and Intelligence Community. Each is coming to a head. It's a combustible mix.

What's going on here exactly?

Thomas Kean, former Governor of New Jersey, and Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, is threatening to subpoena the White House for 9/11-related documents it's apparently refusing the turn over. This according to an article in Sunday's Times.

The documents in question are apparently Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) President Bush received in the days leading up to 9/11. Kean says the White House is "quite nervous" about the contents of the documents becoming publicly known. But he wants them anyway.

(To the best of my knowledge, there is no reason to think that Commission would make such documents public, at least not in their entirety. They just want to see them and make their own judgments about what's there.)

Meanwhile, Commission member and former Senator Max Cleland says the White House is trying to run out the clock on the Commission. And, he says, he can understand why they're stalling. "As each day goes by, we learn that this government knew a whole lot more about these terrorists before Sept. 11 than it has ever admitted," he told the Times.

Now, in addition to, I suspect, being right, Cleland was also the victim of a vicious campaign offensive directed by the White House last year (the Vietnam-era triple-amputee was faulted for lacking patriotism). Because of that, it's only fair to say that you can see why he might take such an aggressive approach toward the White House.

Mind you, I'm not saying Cleland's wrong. I suspect he's right. My point is only that his well-justified bitterness at the White House can and will be portrayed by partisans as the source of his damning statements.

The same simply cannot be said about Kean, who has no partisan interest whatsoever in making trouble for the White House.

You can see why they wanted Henry Kissinger ...

Now it's the Washington Post's fault ...

Yesterday we gave Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, another citation for great moments in water-carrying.

Looking at the unfolding pre-war intel debacle, Roberts put all the blame on the CIA, telling the Post that "the executive was ill-served by the intelligence community."

Now he says the Post "mischaracterized" his statement. This from Knight Ridder ...

Roberts issued a statement late Friday, saying the Post article had "mischaracterized" his statements. "The committee has not finished its review of the intelligence and has not reached any final conclusions or finished a report," Roberts said.

A Roberts aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the senator's remarks to the Post weren't meant to be a broad critique of the CIA, but were instead aimed at specific instances of flawed intelligence work, such as the now-debunked claims about Niger sales of uranium to Iraq.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave ...

Let’s call it the overt response and the covert response.

As we noted on Friday, there’s a pretty clear effort afoot to pin the whole intel debacle on the CIA. According to this new storyline, the White House didn’t deceive the country. They were themselves led down the garden path by the CIA.

(The next TPM Featured Book is going to be The Day I Woke Up as a Character in a Kafka Novel by George Tenet with Joseph Persico. But the pub date is still a few years off. So I may have to wait to post.)

In the Times on Saturday you have what you might call the official unofficial response from the Agency, a testy push-back from “four senior intelligence officials."

Here are the two key grafs …

The senior intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as they outlined findings from a 405-page review being conducted by the National Intelligence Council, said David Kay, the American heading the search for illicit weapons in Iraq, would ultimately determine if the C.I.A. had been right.

"We don't think what we did was deficient, we don't think it was sloppy, and we're waiting to see what David finds to see whether we got it right," a senior official said. In an interim report this month, Mr. Kay said his team had not yet found any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq. The search is to be completed sometime next year.

In other words, these guys are living in fantasy land.

Nothing’s wrong. It's not that we share blame for the problems: there were no problems. Everything we said was right. David Kay is going to find the weapons. And then everything will be cool.

Up-is-downism would appear to be a pretty catchy malady.

Rather than living in fantasy land, it’s probably better to say that their positions and their complicity in the mess compel them to act as though they’re living in fantasy land.

What everyone is waiting for now is the other shoe to drop, the slow seep of leaks coming out of the Agency, and from the cadre of ex-CIA types who still have channels back in. In their own way, many of these folks are as embittered at Tenet as they are with the White House.

(Hersh's piece in The New Yorker is a preview.)

And even with Tenet, the picture isn’t so clear. Remember what happened the last time he ‘fell on his sword’ for the White House?

More on this later…

Something I came across ...

“[His] principal issue was the war. The issue of the war was not like other issues. To a significant part of the electorate, the war was a passion, and opposing it had become something like a way of life. It had defined the politics of a generation. And now the war had been going on so long that to passion was added memory. To [this] generation, it was not only a candidate’s current position on the war that counted but his position on the war at every moment in the war’s long history. To them, a man’s record on the war was an index to his character, and [his] opposition had been strong and consistent from an early date.”

page 214
Jonathan Schell
The Time of Illusion
Published 1975

Just food for thought.

I've been getting tons of emails over the transom this evening about the arrest of Abdurahman M. Alamoudi on various charges of illegal financial transactions tied to terrorist organizations and his ties to Grover Norquist.

Norquist, of course, is the capo di tutti capi of Republican insiders, and a close friend and advisor to the president and Karl Rove.

I don't have any unique insight into this particular relationship.

But if you want to know more, a good place to start is the excellent piece Frank Foer wrote on the subject back in November 2001: "Grover Norquist's Strange Alliance with Radical Islam."

Unfortunately, I think the piece is on the TNR site for subscribers only. But it may be worth paying a few bucks to read.

Now, I do know a bit about the "Free Markets and Democracy" conference that Norquist put on in Doha, Qatar back in the spring of 2001.

Norquist brought a dozen congressmen over and at least one of them had a sit down with the then-Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Taliban grandee Ahmad Muttawakil. When I talked to him in August of last year, Norquist told me that he himself didn't meet with Muttawakil. The congressman who did meet with him was Dana Rohrabacher.

My sense has always been that Norquist got into the Islam business back in the late 1990s when it looked like a growth industry for the Republican coalition.

He had a lot of ideas about Muslims being natural cultural conservatives and free marketeers, and so forth. This three-cheers for Muslim capitalism! conference in Doha is a prime example.

His 'Islamic Institute' is run out the offices of his main operation, 'Americans for Tax Reform.' (I just checked the website and apparently it's now 'The Islamic Free Market Institute.' So, you know, Mohamed von Hayek.)

In any case, after 9/11 came along he probably realized that he might have gotten tied up with at least a few questionable characters. But he was too proud to admit he'd been naive and then just dug himself deeper.

That's always been my sense. But when people start getting arrested, maybe it's time to give the whole thing a closer look.

What's wrong with this <$NoAd$>picture?

Here's the Washington Post's headline about the Madrid Donors' Conference ...

Iraq Donations Fall Short: Many Pledges in the Form of Loans, Debt Relief, Not Grants

Here's the headline in Reuters ...

Donors Promise Iraq $33 Billion, Smashing Expectations

And, yes, in case you're wondering, they're talking about the same conference.

It's pretty hard to figure out from the articles just what was pledged whether in loans or grants or anything else. But one key sign seems to be that the biggest donors turn out to be the IMF and the World Bank.

The Washington Post says most of the aid pledges coming out of the Madrid Conference are in the form of loans rather than grants. Other pledges appear to be debt forgiveness for past loans which were likely uncollectable.

Meanwhile, most of the $1.5 billion pledge from Kuwait seems actually to be money the Kuwaitis say they've already given to the Iraqis.

I think we're going to have to wait at least a few days to figure out just what was put on the table and what was not.