Why John McCain Is Optimistic About Libya

April 26, 2011

BY: ROMESH RATNESAR

The war in Libya is not going well. Muammar Gaddafi shows no sign of giving up power. His forces’ siege of the rebel-held city of Misratah has killed upwards of 1,000 people, including two Western journalists. One month in, NATO’s air campaign is plagued by halfhearted commitment and intracoalition blame-passing. The rebels on whose behalf the U.S. and its allies intervened have failed to advance much beyond their strongholds in eastern Libya. Only a few inveterate optimists seem to believe the anti-Gaddafi forces still have a chance to win.

John McCain is one of them. “Gaddafi is a third-rate military power,” he told me on Sunday. “This isn’t the Wehrmacht we’re taking on. These are a bunch of goddamn mercenaries that are highly paid – but one thing we know about mercenaries is that if they think things are going in the wrong direction, they’ll get out of Dodge.” I had run into McCain the previous night in Cairo, as he was finishing a quiet dinner with two of his aides, at a Chinese restaurant overlooking the Nile. He was just back from a day trip to rebel-held Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. In McCain’s view, the West still has tools at its disposal that can bring about Gaddafi’s downfall, even without a major commitment of U.S. military force. In two conversations with me before he departed Egypt for Oman, McCain described what he saw in Benghazi and laid out what it will take for the Obama Administration to avoid a foreign-policy disaster.

The fighting in Misratah over the past week has been horrific, McCain said. By the time they arrived in Benghazi, a 20-hour journey by sea, wounded rebel fighters had little chance for survival. “You just see dead after dead,” McCain said. One man’s entire face had burned off. McCain asked a doctor if another casualty, bleeding from his chest but still breathing, had a chance. The doctor said he’d be dead in an hour.

At the same time, the Senator believes the rebels have succeeded in repelling Gaddafi’s attempt to overrun Misratah, despite the regime’s claims that local tribes had been sent in to mediate. “Unless Gaddafi were losing, he wouldn’t be going through this bull—- about the tribal guys coming in,” McCain said. “If he were succeeding, he would just keep doing what he was doing. So this could be a big setback for him.” The rebels have “learned by doing” – they have neutralized Gaddafi’s advantage in weaponry by improving their use of guerrilla tactics. “Urban warfare is very nasty and individualized,” he said, “and the good guys have probably learned how to fight pretty well in that environment.”

McCain and his aides weren’t blown away by the fighting prowess of the opposition forces they met in Benghazi; their description of the rebels’ training exercises sounded a little like watching warm-up drills before a high school football game. “We’re talking about a fourth-rate power taking on a third-rate power,” he said. And though the citizens of Benghazi cheered McCain, they also said they were baffled at the West’s seeming unwillingness to take more aggressive steps to stop Gaddafi’s shock troops. “There is some anger, but a lot of it is just, ‘I thought the Americans would help us,'” McCain said.

So what do they want? And what, at this stage, can we still provide? According to McCain, plenty. “We should recognize” the rebel leadership as a provisional government, he said, which might open up the financial pipeline to Benghazi. “Get them communications equipment [like] satellite phones – Christ, these guys are still talking on cell phones! We should get them equipment and stuff that may not be weapons directly from us, but stuff they need that would really help. Uniforms, for Christ’s sake!” (The Obama Administration has said it will send $25 million in military surplus to the rebels.) Most importantly, the Obama Administration needs to reclaim ownership of NATO’s air campaign. “I love the British and I love the French, but they do not have the military capabilities of the United States of America … We are fighting half a war. You can never win conflicts unless you do what is necessary to win.”

In McCain’s view, a modest increase in moral and material support to the rebels, plus more aggressive application of American air power – including the use of unmanned drones – would cause the regime to crumble. “I don’t think it would be a lengthy campaign. In this kind of warfare, momentum shifts one way or the other.” But what if it doesn’t? What if, even after we make the Libyan war a fair fight, Gaddafi remains in power? That remains the insoluble Western dilemma, and even McCain is unable to offer a way out. Should we send in U.S. ground troops, which Obama has already ruled out? “There would be demonstrations the likes we haven’t seen since Vietnam.” Kill Gaddafi, as McCain’s Senate ally Lindsey Graham advocates? “That’s not something you can count on. You’re probably going to take some other people with him. You want to do that? What if you miss? You’re going to kill a lot of people. What I’m saying is that it’s not so simple.”

That leaves two potential outcomes: a prolonged stalemate and possible partition of Libya, which McCain calls the worst of all alternatives, or a negotiated settlement with elements of the Gaddafi regime, which might include one or more of his sons. That’s not exactly the bargain the Libyan people thought they were signing on to when the rebellion began. But the longer this drags on, the more it looks like the best one they’re going to get.


U.S.-Pakistan relations strained further with case of jailed diplomat

February 9, 2011

By: Karen DeYoung and Karin Brulliard

The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, over the case of an American diplomat the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who has admitted he fatally shot two Pakistanis he said threatened him from a motorcycle while he was driving in Lahore on Jan. 27, has severely strained relations between the two governments and threatens to scuttle a planned summit among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled for the end of this month in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton canceled a meeting last weekend with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an international security conference in Munich to protest Allen’s detention, according to officials from both countries who were not authorized to discuss the situation on the record.

The administration has twice summoned Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani to the White House for formal complaints and demands that Pakistan recognize Davis’s diplomatic immunity and release him immediately. The message was repeated in a meeting in Islamabad Monday between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter.

Davis, 36, holds a diplomatic passport and is a member of the “technical and administrative staff” at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad “entitled to full criminal immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convention,” the State Department said Monday.

The administration and Congress, the statement said, “have repeatedly made clear at the highest levels that this matter must be resolved by the Pakistan government or it could impact other bilateral initiatives.”

In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions, fanned by the Pakistani media and used for political advantage, that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. It has also posed a challenge to Pakistan’s weak civilian government as it struggles to wrest control of national security policy from the powerful military and fends off opposition political parties.

The most powerful opposition group, the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rules Punjab province and its capital, Lahore, where Davis is being held and several hearings have taken place in the case.

Although the administration has been unequivocal in its insistence that Davis has diplomatic status, it has been less than clear on the nature of his job in Pakistan over the last two years. An early embassy statement said it was “security” related, while officials in Washington have said that he vetted questionable visa applicants. The CIA has declined to comment on the case.

On Thursday, the Lahore court extended Davis’s detention for another eight days. The U.S. Embassy complained that it was given no notice of the hearing, that Davis had no attorney present, and that he was not provided with an interpreter.

“He was denied due process and a fair hearing,” the statement said. “His continued detention is a gross violation of international law.”

Although Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party government has close relations with the administration, and depends on the billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic assistance, it fears being painted as a U.S. lackey.

A foreign ministry official said that the government itself is divided over the case. The ministry has determined that Davis is immune from prosecution based on his passport and diplomatic visa, and the fact that Pakistan “accepted” that when Davis first arrived in the fall of 2009, the official said.

Other parts of the government, he said, see some advantage in using the situation to prove the government’s independence from Washington. But the Americans, he said, “have dropped hints they could go to any extent” to get Davis released.

Further complicating the situation, a Pakistani intelligence official said that the two men Davis killed were not, as he has said, armed robbers intent on stealing money, his telephone and perhaps his car, but intelligence agents assigned to tail him. This official said the two intended to frighten Davis because he crossed a “red line” that the official did not further define.

Both the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence service and the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau regularly use motorcycle tails to track the movement of U.S. officials, another Pakistani official said.

The Pakistani media has also suggested that Davis is being held hostage to a wrongful-death case brought in New York by family members of four Americans killed in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. U.S. and Indian officials have blamed the attack on the Pakistani organization Lashkar-i-Taiba, which has long-standing ties to ISI. Four senior ISI officials, including the organization’s director, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, have been called as witnesses in the case.

According to his 2009 visa application, Davis was born in Wise, Va. He gave an address in Las Vegas, where he is listed in Nevada state registration records as the co-owner of a firm called Hyperion Protective Services.

On Sunday, the widow of one of the men killed by Davis committed suicide in the city of Faisalabad. According to a doctor at the hospital where she was admitted after ingesting rat poison, she said she did it because she feared Davis would be released without facing trial


Seymour Hersh Unleashed

January 25, 2011

By Blake Hounshell

DOHA, Qatar-David Remnick, call your office.

In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Hersh, whose exposés of gross abuses by members of the U.S. military in Vietnam and Iraq have earned him worldwide fame and high journalistic honors, said he was writing a book on what he called the “Cheney-Bush years” and saw little difference between that period and the Obama administration.

He said that he was keeping a “checklist” of aggressive U.S. policies that remained in place, including torture and “rendition” of terrorist suspects to allied countries, which he alleged was ongoing.

He also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community.

“What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals* if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited to “defence of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering,” according to its website.

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

Hersh relayed that he had recently spoken with “a man in the intelligence community… somebody in the joint special operations business” about the downfall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. “He said, ‘Oh my God, he was such a good ally.'”

“Tunisia’s going to change the game,” Hersh added later. “It’s going to scare the hell out of a lot of people.”

Moving to Pakistan, where Hersh noted he had been friendly with Benazir Bhutto, the journalist told of a dinner meeting with Asif Ali Zardari, the late prime minister’s husband, in which Hersh said the Pakistani president was brutally disdainful of his own people.

Hersh described a trip he made to Swat, where the Pakistani military had just dislodged Taliban insurgents who had taken over the scenic valley, a traditional vacation area for the urban middle class. Hersh said he asked Zardari about the tent cities he saw along the road, where people were living in harsh, unsanitary conditions.

“Well, those people there in Swat, that’s what they deserve,” the Pakistani president replied, according to Hersh. Asked why, Hersh said Zardari responded, “Because they supported the Taliban.” (Note: Hersh’s conversation is not recounted in his 2009 New Yorker article on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, presumably because it coudn’t be verified.)

The veteran journalist also alleged that the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who was recently recalled after his name surfaced in Pakistani court documents and in the lively Pakistani press, had actually been fired for disputing the plans of Gen. David Petraeus, who took over the Afghan war last summer after General McChrystal was summarily dismissed.

“When Petraeus issued a very optimistic report about the war in December that he gave to the president,” Hersh said, the station chief “just declared it was bankrupt… internally. He just said ‘This is completely wrongheaded. The policy’s wrongheaded.’ Off he goes. Out he goes.”

“I’ve given up being disillusioned about the CIA,” Hersh said. “They’re trained to lie, period. They will lie to their president, they will lie certainly to the Congress, and they will lie to the American people. That’s all there is to it.”

Hersh was speaking on the invitation of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, which operates a branch campus in Qatar.


Senators say US military’s cyber ops not disclosed to Congress

January 19, 2011

The Pentagon failed to disclose clandestine cyber activities in a classified report on secret military actions that goes to Congress, according to a Senate document that provides a public peek at oversight concerns surrounding the government’s computer war capabilities.

A brief written exchange between Senate questioners and the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations, Michael Vickers, underscores unresolved questions about how and when the Pentagon conducts cyber warfare, and about the guidelines for military action in the event of a computer-based attack on the U.S.

The U.S. military’s use of offensive cyber warfare has only rarely been disclosed, the most well-known instance being the electronic jamming of Iraqi military and communications networks just before the lightning strike against Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003. But Pentagon officials have been clear that cyber espionage and attacks from well-funded nations or terror groups are the biggest threats to military networks, including critical battlefield communications.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Wednesday that the cyber threat from China is significant and that the Defense Department needs to focus more on cyber warfare. The Pentagon has made a lot of changes to deal with the threat, he said in remarks at the Foreign Press Center, but added that the U.S. has to “come to a place where, again, those threats are diminished, if not eliminated.”

The growing threat has been evident in recent global clashes including the Internet blitz against Georgian government sites just before the Russians invaded in 2008 and the Chinese government’s reported efforts to develop computer viruses to attack enemy networks. The Pentagon created Cyber Command to better deal with the threats, but has yet to clearly define the parameters of its offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Nowhere does the brief Senate exchange obtained by The Associated Press detail the cyber activities that were not disclosed. But cyber experts suggest they may have involved secret operations against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could possibly include other hotspots such as Yemen or Somalia.

The exchange emerged in a question posed to the Vickers, who has been nominated as undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voiced concerns that cyber activities were not included in the quarterly report on clandestine activities. But Vickers, in his answer, suggested that such emerging high-tech operations are not specifically listed in the law – a further indication that cyber oversight is still a murky work in progress for the Obama administration.

Vickers told the committee that the requirement specifically calls for clandestine human intelligence activity. But if confirmed, he said, he would review the reporting requirements and support expanding the information included in the report.

“It would be my intent, if confirmed, to fully comply with that responsibility, to include cyber activities,” he said.

The exchange was included in 33 pages of Senate questions and answers from Vickers in preparation for his nomination hearing. No hearing date has been set.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bob Mehal declined to discuss the clandestine activities report or the answers Vickers submitted to the panel, because the report is classified, and Vickers’ submission has not been made public.

James Lewis, a cyber security expert and longtime consultant for the government on such high-tech related issues, said it is likely the committee complaint referred to ongoing military cyber activities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, although there also could be similar efforts in Yemen or other countries where the U.S. is supporting counterinsurgency operations.

Lewis said there have been longstanding tensions between the congressional committees and the various military and intelligence agencies over how much sensitive information is given to lawmakers, as well as historical turf battles that have played out repeatedly between the various panels with overlapping oversight of military and intelligence.

The oblique exchange between Vickers and the Senate panel also highlight congressional efforts to map out strict oversight and command and control guidelines for the military’s shadowy cyber role.

“Congress members and staff always feel they should be getting much more info about clandestine operations than they get,” said Lewis. He added that while there are times when it’s better to strictly control access to some classified information, there is still “a legitimate need for oversight since such clandestine activity can have political consequences.”

The exchanges between Vickers and the Senate panel also cover a wide range of other intelligence issues.

If confirmed, Vickers said, his big challenge would be the continuing struggle to meet the military’s “unmet demand” for intelligence as the U.S. fights two wars and works to dismantle terrorist networks, including those in Yemen and Somalia.

Asked whether the intelligence community has devoted enough counterterrorism resources to Yemen and Somalia, Vickers said the military needs more intelligence and special operations forces with language and cultural expertise.

He added that he would like to see funding increase from $40 million to $50 million for counterterror operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and efforts to train other nations’ forces. Such training is being done in a number of countries including Yemen and Pakistan.

Vickers also offered a sharp condemnation of recent leaks of classified data. He did not specifically cite the more than a quarter-million diplomatic records obtained by WikiLeaks, but he said unauthorized disclosures are among the most serious problems he would face.

“The spate of unauthorized disclosures of very sensitive information places our forces, our military operations and our foreign relations at risk,” he said.

Vickers, a former Green Beret, has had a long and storied career, including his engineering the clandestine arming of Afghan rebels who drove the Soviet Union out of their country in the 1980s. His role in one of the largest covert actions in the CIA history was chronicled in the 2003 book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” which became a film in 2007.


US Intelligence Thwarted Attack on Iran

November 24, 2010

by Ray McGovern

Why should George W. Bush have been “angry” to learn in late 2007 of the “high-confidence” unanimous judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier? Seems to me he might have said “Hot Dog!” rather than curse under his breath.

Nowhere in his memoir, Decision Points, is Bush’s bizarre relationship with truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the intelligence community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. As the Bush book makes abundantly clear, that NIE rammed an iron rod through the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war.

Nowhere is Bush’s abiding conviction clearer, now as then, that his role as “decider” includes the option to create his own reality.

The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) has missed that part of the book. And hundreds of Dallas “sheriffs,” assembled to ensure decorum at the Bush library groundbreaking last week, kept us hoi polloi well out of presidential earshot.

But someone should ask Bush why he was not relieved, rather than angered, to learn from U.S. intelligence that Iran had had no active nuclear weapons program since 2003. And would someone dare ask why Bush thought Israel should have been “furious with the United States over the NIE”?

It seems likely that Bush actually dictated this part of the book himself. For, in setting down his reaction to the NIE on Iran, he unwittingly confirmed an insight that Dr. Justin Frank, M.D., who teaches psychiatry at George Washington University Hospital, gave us veteran intelligence officers into how Bush comes at reality – or doesn’t.

“His pathology is a patchwork of false beliefs and incomplete information woven into what he asserts is the whole truth. … He lies – not just to us, but to himself as well. … What makes lying so easy for Bush is his contempt – for language, for law, and for anybody who dares question him…. So his words mean nothing. That is very important for people to understand.” (See “Dangers of a Cornered Bush.”)

Not Enough Sycophants

When the NIE on Iran came out in late 2007, Bush may have pined for his sycophant-in-chief, former CIA Director George Tenet, and his co-conspirator deputy, John McLaughlin, who had shepherded the bogus Iraq-WMD analysis through the process in 2002 but had resigned in 2004 when their role in the deceptions became so obvious that it shamed even them.

Tenet and his CIA cronies had been expert at preparing estimates-to-go – to go to war, that is. They had proved themselves worthy rivals of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, in cooking intelligence to the White House menu.

On Iraq, they had distinguished themselves by their willingness to conjure up “intelligence” that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller described as “uncorroborated, unconfirmed, and nonexistent” after a five-year review by his panel. (That finding was no news to any attentive observer, despite Herculean – and largely successful – efforts by the FCM to promote drinking the White House Kool-Aid.)

What is surprising in the case of Iran is the candor with which George W. Bush explains his chagrin at learning of the unanimous judgment of the intelligence community that Iran had not been working on a nuclear weapon since late 2003. (There is even new doubt about reports that the Iranians were working on a nuclear warhead before 2003. See “Iranian Nuke Documents May Be Fake.”)

The Estimate’s findings were certainly not what the Israelis and their neoconservative allies in Washington had been telling the White House – and not what President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were dutifully proclaiming to the rest of us.

Shocked at Honesty

Bush lets it all hang out in Decision Points. He complains bitterly that the NIE “tied my hands on the military side.” He notes that the Estimate opened with this “eye-popping” finding of the intelligence community:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

The former president adds, “The NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

The mind boggles at the thought that Bush actually thought the White House, even with de rigueur help from an ever obliging FCM, could put a positive spin on intelligence conclusions that let a meretricious cat out of the bag – that showed that the Bush administration’s case for war against Iran was as flimsy as its bogus case for invading Iraq.

How painful it was to watch the contortions the hapless Stephen Hadley, national security adviser at the time, went through in trying to square that circle. His task was the more difficult since, unlike the experience with the dishonestly edited/declassified version of what some refer to as the Whore of Babylon – the Oct. 1, 2002, NIE on WMD in Iraq, this time the managers of the Estimate made sure that the declassified version of the key judgments presented a faithful rendering of the main points in the classified Estimate.

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.'” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e., whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

But can you blame Bush for his chagrin? Alas, the NIE had knocked out the props from under the anti-Iran propaganda machine, imported duty-free from Israel and tuned up by neoconservatives here at home.

How embarrassing. Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence analysis, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.”

It is inconceivable that as the drafting of the Estimate on Iran proceeded during 2007, the intelligence community would have kept the White House in the dark about the emerging tenor of its conclusions. And yet, just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

The Russians More Honest?

Ironically, Russian President Vladimir Putin, unencumbered by special pleading and faux intelligence, had come to the same conclusions as the NIE.

Putin told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early October 2007:

“We don’t have information showing that Iran is striving to produce nuclear weapons. That’s why we’re proceeding on the basis that Iran does not have such plans.”

In a mocking tone, Putin asked what evidence the U.S. and France had for asserting that Iran intends to make nuclear weapons. And, adding insult to injury, during a visit to Tehran on Oct. 16, 2007, Putin warned: “Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility.”

This brought an interesting outburst by President Bush the next day at a press conference, a bizarre reaction complete with his famously tortured syntax:

Q. “Mr. President, I’d like to follow on Mr.-on President Putin’s visit to Tehran … about the words that Vladimir Putin said there. He issued a stern warning against potential U.S. military action against Tehran. … Were you disappointed with [Putin’s] message?”

Bush: “I – as I say, I look forward to – if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those. … And so I will visit with him about it.”

Q. “But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?”

Bush: “I think so long – until they suspend and/or make it clear that they – that their statements aren’t real, yes, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian – if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.

“But this is – we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding world war III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously, and we’ll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.”

Can’t Handle the Truth

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.” Spelling out how the Estimate had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this (apparently unedited) kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Thankfully, not even Dick Cheney could persuade Bush to repair the juggernaut and let it loose for war on Iran. The avuncular vice president has made it clear that he was very disappointed in his protégé. On Aug. 30, 2009, he told Fox News Sunday that he was isolated among Bush advisers in his enthusiasm for war with Iran.

“I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney said when asked whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack on Iran before leaving office.

Bush briefed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the NIE was released. Bush later said publicly that he did not agree with his own intelligence agencies. (For more on the Bush memoir’s conflicts with the truth, see “George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?”)

And it is entirely possible that the Iran-war juggernaut would have been repaired and turned loose anyway, were it not for strong opposition by the top military brass who convinced Bush that Cheney, his neocon friends and Olmert had no idea of the chaos that war with Iran would unleash.

There’s lots of evidence that this is precisely what Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and then-CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon told Bush, in no uncertain terms. And it is a safe bet that these two were among those hinting broadly to Bush that the NIE was likely to “leak,” if he did not himself make its key judgments public.

Whew!

What About Now?

The good news is that Cheney is gone and that Adm. Mullen is still around.

The bad news is that Adm. Fallon was sacked for making it explicitly clear that “We’re not going to do Iran on my watch,” and there are few flag officers with Fallon’s guts and honesty. Moreover, President Barack Obama continues to show himself to be an invertebrate vis-à-vis Israel and its neocon disciples.

Meanwhile, a draft NIE update on Iran’s nuclear program, completed earlier this year, is dead in its tracks, apparently because anti-Iran hawks inside the Obama administration are afraid it will leak. It is said to repeat pretty much the same conclusions as the NIE from 2007.

There are other ominous signs. The new director of national intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is a subscriber to the Tenet school of malleability. It was Clapper whom former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put in charge of imagery analysis to ensure that no one would cast serious doubt on all those neocon and Iraqi “defector” reports of WMD in Iraq.

And, when no WMD caches were found, it was Clapper who blithely suggested, without a shred of good evidence, that Saddam Hussein had sent them to Syria. This was a theory also being pushed by neocons both to deflect criticism of their false assurances about WMD in Iraq and to open a new military front against another Israeli nemesis, Syria.

In these circumstances, there may be some value in keeping the NIE update bottled up. At least that way, Clapper and other malleable managers won’t have the chance to play chef to another “cooked-to-order” analysis.

On the other hand, the neocons and our invertebrate president may well decide to order Clapper to “fix” the updated Estimate to fit in better with a policy of confrontation toward Iran. In that case, the new director of national intelligence might want to think twice. For Clapper could come a cropper. How?

The experience of 2007 showed that there are still some honest intelligence analysts around with integrity and guts – and with a strong aversion to managers who prostitute their work. This time around, such truth-tellers could opt for speedy, anonymous ways of getting the truth out – like, say, WikiLeaks.

This article appeared first on ConsortiumNews.com.


Nuking the White House

November 22, 2010

By MAUREEN DOWD


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

You know you’re in trouble when you need Henry Kissinger to vouch for you.

But there was the one formerly known as “The One” sitting at a table with a bunch of old, white, Republican dudes, choosing the most abstruse issue on the agenda for his moment to Man Up.

With Republicans treating the president like a dirt sandwich and Democrats begging the president to throw a knuckle sandwich, Obama drew his line in the sand on telemetry.

The Start arms treaty used to be a chance for American presidents to stare down the Russians. Now it’s a chance for a Democratic president, albeit belatedly, to stare down the Republicans.

The administration dilly-dallied for months on New Start, which should have been a no-brainer, even after it was clear that Senator Jon Kyl was a problem and needed to be cultivated, and even after it was clear that Republicans were on track to grab some power back.

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

Besides, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize on layaway doesn’t want to be responsible for any loose Russian nukes ending up in the crazy ‘Stans.

As Richard Wolffe notes in his new book, “Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House,” the president drove Rahm Emanuel crazy by spending his first months in office toiling on the details of Start when the chief of staff was trying to get him to focus on the economy and his domestic agenda.

Nuclear arms control, Wolffe writes, was one of Obama’s first interests as a student at Columbia University. And his head is still in those wonky clouds.

“Most people don’t really give a pig’s patootie about a nuclear arms deal with Russia,” James Carville told reporters last week. But he agreed that the president needed to get out of his spineless spiral, even repeating his put-down from the Democratic primaries, that if Hillary gave Barry one of her spheres of testicular fortitude, “they’d both have two.”

Just as Bill Clinton once snatched welfare reform from the Republicans, now President Obama is playing W.’s national security card against the Republicans.

It would have been nice if Obama had made his tough stand earlier, on tax cuts or “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And since he doesn’t have the votes yet, he risks losing and taking a second shellacking. Popeye pulling out the spinach too late.

Still, if the president calls the Republicans’ bluff and makes them vote against ratification, they look petty. Is it worth risking the obliteration of the world to obliterate Obama’s second term?

In The Washington Post recently, Robert Kagan advised his fellow conservatives to show maturity and readiness to govern: “Blocking the treaty will produce three unfortunate results: It will strengthen Vladimir Putin, let the Obama administration off the hook when Russia misbehaves and set up Republicans as the fall guy if and when U.S.-Russian relations go south.”

Senator Richard Lugar, the only Republican so far willing to vote with the president, was blunt in warning Kyl of the danger of playing politics with nukes. His message underscored the hypocrisy of Republicans who shriek at the Iranians building a nuclear bomb while shrugging at the thousands of nukes that the Russians have floating around.

“One of those warheads – and there were 13,300 originally – one of them could demolish my city of Indianapolis,” Lugar told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

The president and his advisers have been moping since the election. Richard Wolffe says the fourth-quarter player in the Oval, who has struggled to figure out whether he’s an insider or an outsider, aims to position himself as a statesman. He wants to come across as the grown-up in the room, disciplining puerile Republicans who would “mess with nuclear weapons and screw up alliances.”

The Republicans may help Obama if they act so vindictive, entitled and puffed up that they turn off the voters who just anointed them.

Sarah Palin’s fans have hijacked what is supposed to be a fun talent contest, “Dancing With the Stars,” and turned it into an annoying straw vote for the Palin family. And on Friday, as Americans were rebelling against groping airport pat-downs, the soon-to-be speaker of the House, who was supposed to travel like real Americans, put himself above the madding crowd.

The Times’s Jeff Zeleny was on the scene and reported that John Boehner did not wait in line or go through security: he “was escorted around the metal detectors and body scanners, and taken directly to the gate.”

So much for Reagan’s trust but verify. Now we’ve got distrust and vilify.


Top Companies Aid Chamber of Commerce in Policy Fights

October 22, 2010

By ERIC LIPTON, MIKE McINTIRE and DON VAN NATTA Jr.

Prudential Financial sent in a $2 million donation last year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce kicked off a national advertising campaign to weaken the historic rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations.


R. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist of the Chamber of Commerce, left, and Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue in Washington in January.

Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year as the group took a leading role in aggressively fighting proposed rules that would impose tighter security requirements on chemical facilities.

And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years to a chamber foundation that has been critical of growing federal regulation and spending. These large donations – none of which were publicly disclosed by the chamber, a tax-exempt group that keeps its donors secret, as it is allowed by law – offer a glimpse of the chamber’s money-raising efforts, which it has ramped up recently in an orchestrated campaign to become one of the most well-financed critics of the Obama administration and an influential player in this fall’s Congressional elections.

They suggest that the recent allegations from President Obama and others that foreign money has ended up in the chamber’s coffers miss a larger point: The chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help.

And these contributions, some of which can be pieced together through tax filings of corporate foundations and other public records, also show how the chamber has increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors to finance much of its legislative and political agenda. The chamber makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors. It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.

Proponents of that measure pointed to reports that health insurance providers funneled at least $10 million to the chamber last year, all of it anonymously, to oppose President Obama’s health care legislation.

“The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”

The chamber’s increasingly aggressive role – including record spending in the midterm elections that supports Republicans more than 90 percent of the time – has made it a target of critics, including a few local chamber affiliates who fear it has become too partisan and hard-nosed in its fund-raising.

The chamber is spending big in political races from California to New Hampshire, including nearly $1.5 million on television advertisements in New Hampshire attacking Representative Paul W. Hodes, a Democrat running for the United States Senate, accusing him of riding Nancy Pelosi’s “liberal express” down the road to financial ruin.

“When you become a mouthpiece for a specific agenda item for one business or group of businesses, you better be damn careful you are not being manipulated,” said James C. Tyree, a former chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, who has backed Republicans and Democrats, including Mr. Obama. “And they are getting close to that, if not over that edge.”

But others praise its leading role against Democrat-backed initiatives, like health care, financial regulation and climate change, which they argue will hurt American businesses. The Obama administration’s “antibusiness rhetoric” has infuriated executives, making them open to the chamber’s efforts, said John Motley, a former lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, a rival.

“They’ve raised it to a science, and an art form,” he said of the chamber’s pitches to corporate leaders that large contributions will help “change the game” in Washington.

As a nonprofit organization, the chamber need not disclose its donors in its public tax filings, and because it says no donations are earmarked for specific ads aimed at a candidate, it does not invoke federal elections rules requiring disclosure.

The annual tax returns that the chamber releases include a list of all donations over $5,000, including 21 in 2008 that each exceed $1 million, one of them for $15 million. However, the chamber omits the donors’ names.

But intriguing hints can be found in obscure places, like the corporate governance reports that some big companies have taken to posting on their Web sites, which show their donations to trade associations. Also, the tax filings of corporate foundations must publicly list their donations to other foundations, including one run by the chamber.

These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

Dow Chemical, for example, sent $1.7 million to the chamber in the past year to cover not only its annual membership dues, but also to support lobbying and legal campaigns. Those included one against legislation requiring stronger measures to protect chemical plants from attack.

A Dow spokesman would not discuss the reasons for the large donation, other than to say it supports the chamber’s work.

Prudential Financial’s $2 million donation last year coincided with a chamber lobbying effort against elements of the financial regulation bill in Congress. A spokesman for Prudential, which opposed certain proposed restrictions on the use of financial instruments known as derivatives, said the donation was not earmarked for a specific issue.

But he acknowledged that most of the money was used by the chamber to lobby Congress.

“I am not suggesting it is a coincidence,” said the spokesman, Bob DeFillippo.

More recently, the News Corporation gave $1 million to support the chamber’s political efforts this fall; Chairman Rupert Murdoch said it was in best interests of his company and the country “that there be a fair amount of change in Washington.”

Business interests also give to the chamber’s foundation. Its tax filings show that seven donors gave the foundation at least $17 million between 2004 and 2008, about two-thirds of the total raised.

These donors include Goldman Sachs, Edward Jones, Alpha Technologies, Chevron Texaco and Aegon, which has American subsidiaries and whose former chief executive, Donald J. Shepard, served for a time as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s board.

Another large foundation donor is a charity run by Maurice R. Greenberg, the former chairman of the insurance giant A.I.G. The charity has made loans and grants totaling $18 million since 2003. U.S. Chamber Watch, a union-backed group, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service last month asserting that the chamber foundation violated tax laws by funneling the money into a chamber “tort reform” campaign favored by A.I.G. and Mr. Greenberg. The chamber denied any wrongdoing.

The complaint, which the chamber calls entirely unfounded, raises the question of how the chamber picks its campaigns, and whether it accepts donations that are intended to be spent on specific issues or political races.

The chamber says that it consults with members on lobbying targets, but that it does not make those decisions based on the size of a donation or accept money earmarked to support a specific political candidate.

Endorsement decisions, chamber officials said, are based on candidates’ votes on a series of business-related bills, and through consultations with the chamber’s regional directors, state affiliates and members.

To avoid conflicts of interest, individual businesses do not play a role in deciding on which races to spend the chamber’s political advertising dollars. The choices instead are made by the chamber’s political staff, based on where it sees the greatest chance of getting pro-business candidates elected, chamber executives said.

“They are not anywhere near a room when we are making a decision like that,” Mr. Josten said, of the companies that finance these ads. The chamber’s extraordinary money push began long before this election season. An organization that in 2003 had an overall budget of about $130 million, it is spending $200 million this year, and the chamber and its affiliates allocated $144 million last year just for lobbying, making it the biggest lobbyist in the United States.

In January, the chamber’s president, Thomas J. Donohue, a former trucking lobbyist, announced that his group intended “to carry out the largest, most aggressive voter education and issue advocacy effort in our nearly 100-year history.”

The words were carefully chosen, as the chamber asserts in filings with the Federal Election Commission that it is simply running issue ads during this election season. But a review of the nearly 70 chamber-produced ads found that 93 percent of those that have run nationwide that focus on the midterm elections either support Republican candidates or criticize their opponents.

And the pace of spending has been relentless. In just a single week this month, the chamber spent $10 million on Senate races in nine states and two dozen House races, a fraction of the $50 million to $75 million it said it intends to spend over all this season. In the 2008 election cycle, it spent $33.5 million.

To support the effort, the chamber has adopted an all-hands-on-deck approach to fund-raising. Mr. Josten said he makes many of the fund-raising calls to corporations nationwide, as does Mr. Donohue. (Both men are well compensated for their work: Mr. Donohue was paid $3.7 million in 2008, and has access to a corporate jet and a chauffeur, while Mr. Josten was paid $1.1 million, tax records show.)

But those aggressive pitches have turned off some business executives. “There was an arrogance to it like they were the 800-pound gorilla and I was either with them with this big number or I just did not matter,” said Mr. Tyree, of Chicago.

Another corporate executive, who asked not to be named, said the chamber risks alienating its members.

“Unless you spend $250,000 to $500,000 a year, that is what they want for you to be one of their pooh-bahs, otherwise, they don’t pay any attention to you at all,” the executive said, asking that the company not be identified.

Chamber officials acknowledge the tough fund-raising, but they say it has been necessary in support of their goal of remaking Congress on Election Day to make it friendlier to business.

“It’s been a long and ugly campaign season, filled with partisan attacks and political squabbling,” William C. Miller Jr., the chamber’s national political director, said in a message sent to chamber members this week. “We are all tired – no doubt about it. But we are so close to bringing about historic change on Capitol Hill.”

Eric Lipton reported from Washington, and Mike McIntire and Don Van Natta Jr. from New York. Kitty Bennett and Griffin Palmer contributed research.


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