Happy Watergate to You
Thirty years later, and we’re right back to the same questions. As for the fallout…
We Can’t Tell You
After two years of confusion the US government has released a report on what the White House knew prior to September 11th. The only problem is, it’s classified.
The White House Effect
Corporation Bush still seems to be in denial of the whole global warming phenomenon — and has a 10-year plan to prove it.
“Thirty years after the Senate select committee hearings on Watergate riveted the nation and doomed the Nixon presidency, a key figure in the scandal says he has a fresh and explosive revelation: Richard M. Nixon personally ordered the burglary of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex.
Jeb Stuart Magruder — then a ‘callow’ campaign aide, now a retired Presbyterian minister in Ohio — says in a new documentary for PBS that he heard Nixon’s voice on a telephone as the president instructed then-Attorney General John N. Mitchell to go ahead with the break-in. ‘John . . . you need to do that,’ Magruder said he heard Nixon say at the end of a phone call in which Mitchell discussed the matter with his boss.
If true, the allegation could significantly sharpen history’s answer to one of the most famous questions of modern America: What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
— From David Von Drehle’s Washington Post report.
Watergate isn’t a bad place to start this Sunday, though somewhere down the distant line were there to be a Watergate-style ending (like those “home-style” fries at fast food restaurants) to this administration, the president would probably depart polluted Washington not by helicopter a la Nixon but — just his luck — by Rapture (funded undoubtedly by his wealthier friends).
But let’s not jump the gun here. We’re still at a far more modest, if thoroughly interesting spot — with George Tenet possibly teetering at the edge of departure (at least in the rising media “departure sweepstakes”) and now, because once that finger of accusation starts moving it becomes as uncontrollable as anything else, National Security Adviser Condi Rice may be joining what could become a crowd at the departure gate. Assumedly, her deputy Stephen J. Hadley, who took a partial fall for the team the other day, is already somewhere in the vicinity.
Paul Bedard’s Washington Whispers in U.S. News just had a hot tip on the subject:
“As White House officials try to control the latest fallout over President Bush’s flawed suggestion in the State of the Union address that Iraq was buying nuclear bomb materials, there’s growing talk by insiders that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice may take the blame and resign. For most insiders, it’s inconceivable that Rice, touted as a future secretary of state, California governor, and even vice president, would go, but the latest revelations that her shop and deputy Stephen Hadley mishandled CIA warnings have put the NSC in the bull’s eye of controversy.
“While it’s unclear how serious the talk is inside the administration about the future of Rice or Hadley with the NSC, a few top aides are already suggesting replacements for Rice. They include former Bush administration National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, NASA chief and former Navy Secretary Sean O’Keefe, and Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq.”
(Note, by the way, Scowcroft’s name to which I’ll return below.)
From political gossip column to Washington news reality turns out to be a trip of less than 24 hours these days. A version of the story popped up in the Washington Post today full-blown — and with attitude. Dana Milbank and Mike Allen point out that “Rice was the first administration official to place responsibility on CIA Director Tenet for the inclusion in Bush’s State of the Union address of the Africa uranium charge. The White House now concedes that pinning responsibility on Tenet was a costly mistake.” Like Beddard, they add that Rice was being touted as a future Secretary of State or even California governor, and then focus on her claim that she couldn’t remember or hadn’t read crucial material relating to the Niger uranium claim and the Iraqi nuclear program in an “annex” to the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). “Footnotes,” her spokesman said, to which Milbank and Allen none too politely reply, “The annex was boxed and in regular type”
At the heart of the piece is this paragraph: “The remarks by Rice and her associates raise two uncomfortable possibilities for the national security adviser. Either she missed or overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, or she made public claims that she knew to be false.” Followed by numerous devastating comments like this one: “Another official called it highly unlikely that Rice did not read a memo addressed to her from the CIA. ‘I don’t buy the bit that she didn’t see it,” said this person, who is generally sympathetic to Rice.'” (Ah, “sympathy” in Washington, it’s usually stored with the steak knives.)
Believe me, this is damaging stuff. So the CIA director is wobbly (and the agency fighting back furiously), the national security adviser and her assistant possibly soon on life support, and from the nearer fringes of Washington politics, the attacks on the vice president’s office are mounting. Two months ago, the distance from the fringes to the center was oceanic. Now, it’s more like a modest river.
The VP, give the guy credit, came out nuclear-armed the other day, spouting passages from the cooked NIE, giving not an inch of ground, and blasting away at “critics.” (“In the N.I.E. on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the [intelligence] community had high confidence in the conclusion that Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to U.N. resolutions…
. Ladies and gentlemen, this is some of what we knew. Knowing these things, how could we, I ask, have allowed that threat to stand. These judgments were not lightly arrived at, and all who were aware of them bore a heavy responsibility for the security of America.”)
On the Democracy Now radio show, Melvin Goodman, former CIA analyst, responded thusly:
“Well, this is the longest statement of disinformation that I think the American government has distributed to the American people…. And for Dick Cheney just to recite these charges that we all know now not to be true, adds to the terrible politicization of intelligence that’s created a scandal in the intelligence community unlike anything I ever saw in my 24 years in the C.I.A. That includes the period of Vietnam, the period of the intelligence failure on the Soviet union, and the incredibly contentious disputes over arms control.”
In the meantime, three Democratic congressional representatives, Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, and Carolyn Maloney, all members of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, sent a letter to the Veep with ten pointed questions to answer. (“Dear Mr. Vice President: While it has been widely reported that the President made a false assertion in his State of the Union address concerning unsubstantiated intelligence that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger, your own role in the dissemination of that disinformation has not been explained by you or the White House. Yet, you reportedly paid direct personal visits to CIA’s Iraq analysts; your request for investigation of the Niger uranium claim resulted in an investigation by a former U.S. ambassador, and you made several high-profile public assertions about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. We hope that you will take the opportunity to provide responses to the following ten questions…”)
All this offers something like the coming attractions for the Bush administration in Winter — as it becomes embroiled in resignations, investigations, hearings, and who knows what else.
And here’s the remarkable thing. So far, we’re still largely dealing with nothing more than those sixteen words behind which sits Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program (though indeed it had once existed) for which Saddam’s agents were assumedly buying what would have been completely useless uranium. We haven’t made it to the seven other “facts” that made up the underpinning of Bush’s call to war and that John Dean, Watergate confessor par excellence, methodically took apart in a recent column at the online legal site Findlaw. Having dismantled the president’s facts by comparing them to what we know of the president’s sources, he points out that giving false information to Congress is a crime (as Eliot Abrams and John Poindexter, both rehabilitated by this administration, found out in the Reagan era) and he calls for the president to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate — himself. (I’ve included the piece below.)
On what has yet to surface, we only need to note, for instance, that the recently released 9/11 report had twenty-eight pages blacked out — all relating to Saudi relations with al Qaeda. As far as I can tell not a significant word about Iraq, al Qaeda, and the 9/11 attacks is to be found in its 900 pages. Now, there’s a shock.
As military analyst William Arkin points out on the Los Angeles Times Sunday opinion page, “The real revelation in the released [NIE] document is that a preemptive war was justified on very weak evidence. The Bush administration decided Hussein had to go, but it hid behind flimsy intelligence to pretend that the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction was a justification for war.”
And even that is weakly put. Since we now know that the air war against Iraq actually started in 2002 (see previous dispatch), we have striking confirmation that most of the justifications for war — including the speeches and statements now being argued about — not only didn’t precede the decision for war, they didn’t precede the war itself!
In the meantime, the desperate Busheviks may already be calling in the third team in Iraq (and before long the second team at home). Rupert Cornwell of the British Independent put the matter this way:
“Last week Paul Bremer, the chief US civilian administrator in Iraq, was in Washington to give a progress report. Outwardly he was all optimism, claiming that rebuilding was running ahead of schedule. Privately however, the message was very different, as he pleaded for more money and more personnel.”
Mike Allen and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post report that “the White House is considering asking several major figures, including former secretary of state James A. Baker III, to help with specific tasks like seeking funds from other countries or helping restructure Iraq’s debt.” It seems now that Paul Bremer is likely to have several figures, including, if Baker says no, a “Baker-like” one standing beside him (as perhaps he not so long ago stood beside Jay Garner) in Iraq and in Washington. In the same context, the surfacing of Scowcroft’s name in that US News column is interesting. Baker, of course, was called in to salvage the Florida election for Bush. He is something like the Bush family Mr. Fixit, while Scowcroft is reputedly the elder Bush’s alter ego. Rumor has it that Bush the Father is deeply unhappy with the Iraq policies of Bush the Son (as who wouldn’t be).
Iraq is indeed a mess, though with the killing of Saddam’s sons, our guys in Washington were claiming we had finally “turned a corner” in Iraq (a phrase I hadn’t heard since the Vietnam era and thought I might never hear again). Personally, I wouldn’t be so eager to see what’s around that corner or the next one after that.
Despite the still low-level if evidently growing American casualties in Iraq, the situation there seems to be verging on desperation — for neither the money, nor the foreign troops are forthcoming to make such an operation a success (though, for reasons of their own, as part of their attempt to break their country’s “peace constitution,” the Japanese government is now readying the way to send 1,000 troops there, a move much welcomed by the administration).
Iraq remains the petard upon which this administration is hoisting itself. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele suggests that even the death of Saddam himself — for many administration officials have suggested that fear of his return is holding back an outpouring of support for the occupation — is not likely to quiet the situation:
“In other quarters there has been a contrary suggestion that resistance might increase with the Hussein family’s deaths… Both positions are predicated on the assumption that resistance is linked to the fate of Saddam Hussein and his closest followers.
Occasional comments by Iraqis that ‘things were better under Saddam’ are not an indication that they want to restore his regime. They are more a rhetorical way of highlighting disappointment at the lack of security, the collapse of public order, problems with water and electricity, fear of unemployment, as well as the daily indignity of seeing foreign troops on their streets. US officials seem unwilling to accept or admit this in public.
Before the war critics argued that invading Iraq would encourage fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world. This seems to be happening, as al-Qaida elements and other antiwestern groups see the American presence in Iraq as a new source of easy targets.”
In a piece in the Asia Times, Syed Saleem Shahzad quotes American-educated Kasim Jamal, a leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, thusly:
“You can see that 5 million people [in Saddam’s time] were associated with different armed groups, whether it was civil defense, the main army, paramilitary troops or volunteer forces. Those people were given something to make their ends meet. Suddenly, these people became jobless. Now, you have to reckon with those jobless peoples’ sentiments, certainly they could go on the rampage.
The US forces have already made too many mistakes. To start with, they took over all the affairs [of the country] directly in their hands although they do not have the knowledge to handle Iraq. Now it is very high time for them and for us to discuss a formula on a free Iraq, a federation where everybody will have a respected and autonomous area with no centralized dictatorships, but in the last four months there has been no mentionable development in this regard.”
Even the American-picked, 80 year-old Adnan Pachachi of the Governing Council has recently begun to put some distance between himself and the forces of occupation, the Scotsman reports:
“Unlike the Americans and the British, who refer to their military presence in Iraq as the ‘Coalition Authority’, Pachachi talks about the occupation of his native country. One of the first acts of the council was to declare April 9, the anniversary of the day that Saddam’s statue was toppled, a national holiday. But Pachachi said he already regretted this ‘possibly hasty decision’.
He added: ‘The occupation of Iraq started on March 20 when the coalition forces crossed the border, not on April 9. So it’s not a national holiday for the occupation, it’s a national holiday for the fall of the regime. In any case, there needs to be a law before the new national day becomes official and such a law has not been enacted yet.'”
Amidst all the analogies that have been mustered to explain American policy and Iraq in recent months (of which Vietnam is only the most recent), perhaps the most chilling comes in a piece by Susan Williams, Chechnya and Iraq: imperial echoes, militant warnings at www.openDemocracy.net website:
“It was late at night and I must have dozed off for a moment in the stuffy cinema. I woke to a hand-held shot onscreen of pale, nervous soldiers being harangued by headscarved women and children, while through the door terrified young men were being led away with guns in their backs. I saw the scene as Iraq today. Then the soldiers started speaking Russian, and I was awake again, watching a rare, documentary film about Russia’s protracted war against the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
The confusion of sleep lasted seconds, but the thought remains, wedged in my brain. Could Iraq become America’s Chechnya?… True, America’s war is in its early stages, while Russia’s has lasted on and off for the best part of a decade. But seen from another angle, the US has been at war with Iraq since 1991 – and it is perhaps here to the south of Russia, rather than Vietnam, that we should be looking for a warning of what might await America… [T]he parallels are a warning: a ‘Christian’ country, bogged down in a smaller one which its occupation makes more ‘Muslim’, encouraging further terrorism and brutalising the invader’s troops, with disastrous results at home.”
One of the grimmer warnings I’ve seen comes from a Pacific News Service piece by William O. Beeman, where he writes in part:
“Ironically, President Bush’s father, President George Herbert Walker Bush, knew that the United States was ill-prepared to deal with a post-Saddam regime. This was one of the main reasons he decided not to remove Saddam during the first Gulf War.
Now the United States has utterly obliterated the only force that held the nation together, with not a clue how to put it back together again. The Bush administration has done well to rid the world of a villain, but with no plan for the future, this act is a flirtation with complete chaosÉ. Our soldiers are being shot every day. We have put corporate America in charge of reconstruction, but these oil-field construction companies are woefully unprepared. To fill the urgent demand for expert positions, Bechtel and other highly paid U.S. contractors have had to grab the first inexperienced people they could find to do the work of seasoned professionals.
In short, the United States is setting Iraq on a path to civil war.”
Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.
After months of anticipation and delays the final report of the joint House intelligence committee was released Thursday. The 900-page document left many questions unanswered about inner-White House knowledge. Despite its faults the report did reveal that US intelligence services had information prior to the September 11 attacks that al Qaeda desired to attack locations in Washington DC and New York. The report clearly leads one to believe that the attacks could have been prevented has the government acted quicker and communicated better.
The report described the general disorganization of the nation’s intelligence community and came to the conclusion that US intelligence services need to be a cohesive as the military. Although much has been revealed about what intelligence knew about select Al-Qaeda operatives, the final report was missing some key information. The CIA refused to allow a section to be published because it could potentially implicate officials in Saudi Arabia. They argued that publishing such information could upset relations with such an important US ally.
The report details information on both the Clinton and Bush administrations counter-terrorism policy, concluding that neither administration, “put the government or the intelligence community on a war footing before September 11.” The report also leaves out material on exactly how much Bush knew because his administration deemed it “classified.” Although the White House had legal grounds to withhold such information, Democrats have charged that their actions are merely trying to shield the President from criticism.
The only detailed information the report offers about President Bush’s understanding of Al Qaeda’s intentions is a classified President’s Daily Briefing from August 6, 2001. The briefing cites an intelligence report from May 2001 which notes that Osama Bin Laden had been building a support base in the US and that he wanted to plan attacks. The briefing also said that the FBI saw, “patterns of activity consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.”
This crucial information of how the White House reacted to the Al Qaeda threat is missing. But the Bush administration pulled the old “national security” card and sealed their lips. David Corn of the Nation points out how absurd this is:
“It is difficult to see the danger to the nation that would come from the White House acknowledging whether Bush received any of the information listed above or the other intelligence previously described by the committees.
It is unusual–if not absurd–for an administration to claim that the state of presidential knowledge is top-secret when the material in question has been made public. But that’s what Bush officials have done. Consequently, the public does not know whether these warnings made it to Bush and whether he responded.
The Administration has yet to acknowledge that–let alone reveal how–Bush responded to the intelligence he saw. The joint inquiry’s work provides a solid foundation for the 9/11 independent commission, which is now conducting its own inquiry. Perhaps that endeavor will be able to learn even more and address the questions the Bush Administration did not allow the committees to answer.”
The editorial board of the New York Times also stresses on Friday that it would be “ a mistake” for the White House to withhold such vital information in the next investigation.
On Thursday’s edition of Democracy Now Amy Goodman interviewed Pultizer Prize winning reporter, Seymour Hersh. She asked him why the links between the US, Saudi Arabia and September 11 hijackers have been classified. Hersh told Goodman that the Syrians are the ones with the goods on the Saudis:
“Well, besides the obvious question, the answer is oil. But I will tell you something that’s most interesting […] one of the things we do know that the Syrians haven’t come up with and that would have, perhaps, with a better relationship, the Syrians have a tremendous amount of knowledge of Saudi financing of terrorism. It doesn’t mean Saudis were aware of what happened in 9-11, but the Saudi culpability in terms of paying off people that give them trouble is much greater than we know. And, you know, that’s another area where we could have learned much more. The Syrians really have the book. Syria and Saudi Arabia were really close for 20 years. And there’s a great deal of information the Syrians have that we don’t know. But what you’re telling me is all asked and answered. Everything about [Al Qaeda connections in] San Diego is in the press. I’m, frankly, very skeptical of congressional investigations. I don’t think they do — you know, I think they try. I think what we have now in the Senate and House Intelligence Committee is a laugh riot. And I think the real story that we really should be paying attention to has been, in my lifetime, the dumbing of congress. It’s unbelievable how incompetent congress has gotten in the 30 or 40 years since I’ve been watching it. The same with the intelligence committee right now. They’re laugh riots.”
While most commentators did not dismiss the whole of the inquiry, most did find the missing information to be problematic. Chuck Pena of the Cato Institute told the BBC that the point of the inquiry should not be finding someone to blame, but rather learning from the events. He said acknowledging mistakes — like focusing anti-terror efforts on rogue states rather than organizations like Al Qaeda — is more important.
The White House Effect
Despite vast scientific research affirming the human causes of global warming, the Bush administration Thursday issued a 10-year research plan that focuses on studying the “natural variability” in climate change. Environmentalists and scientists see the study’s goals as a major setback for combatting global warming, and decry the move toward further research as a means of delaying action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The Associated Press reports that the basic summary of the new plan targets the science of global warming and greenhouse gas research, claiming that more research is needed because some climate effects “can be quantified only poorly at present.” But experts the National Academy of Science and the United Nations have already addressed the issues, prompting prominent environmental leaders to charge the Bush administration with ignoring the foundation of research that currently exists. The Environmental Data Interactive Exchange (edie) reports:
“Dan Lashof, climate change expert from the environmental group Natural Resources Defence Council told edie: ‘Research into global warming is a fine thing, but what happens when this White House doesn’t like the results? They are using this as a tool to distract the two decades of science which has gone before. It’s time to start fixing the problem of global warming not ponder further over it.'”
The 10-year plan comes just weeks after environmentalists lambasted the Bush administration for removing data on global warming from a recent White House report. EPA staffers were outraged by the administration’s softening of language and omission of facts from the report. Again taking the stance that information on climate change was poorly researched, the White House changed several statements, CBS News’ John Roberts reports. Among other changes, the White house struck the statement that climate change is ‘likely mostly due to human activities,” and threw in the caveat that “climate change ‘may have potentially profound consequences’ but, ‘The complexity of the earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, document its cause and develop useful projections on how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future.'”
Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation weighed in on the report:
“When presented with real science that talks about what climate change means to you and me, the Bush administration instead wants to essentially take that out, censor it.”
In contrast to the White House’s reluctance to acknowledge global warming, some states are picking up the slack. Tom Avril of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that several states in the Northeast are setting standards and tracking gas emissions on their own. Noting that the US is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, Avril reports that states working independently might cut emissions in their own area, but that, unfortunately, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases disperse to effect areas other than where they were emitted. Additionally, some scientists worry that the standards will revive the old battle between local workers and environmentalists, as industries might be tempted to jump the border into a state with less strict emissions standards. But some environmental economists are optimistic, saying that the environment and economy are not mutually exclusive:
“Bradley M. Campbell, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, disputes that line of reasoning, especially if an entire region participates in a trading program.
‘We can address climate change at the same time we are promoting growth and economic development,’ Campbell said. ‘It’s a false choice to say we have to choose one or the other.’
John Hanger, president and chief executive officer of environmental group PennFuture and a former commissioner on Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission, agreed, citing Great Britain’s decline in carbon emissions in the last decade during a period of economic growth.”
While the gutsier of the states do their best to set their own standards, experts agree that a national, and even global, solution to the greenhouse effect should be the ultimate goal. Apparently, there’s a reason it’s called global warming.