Bush administration secretly funding al-Qaeda-linked terror groups
- February 26: Eminent investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reveals, in an explosive report for the New Yorker, that the Bush administration has significantly shifted its strategy in Iraq and the Middle East to stop the escalation of Shi'ite-based violence, and in the process is secretly funding violent Sunni organizations, including some allied with al-Qaeda.
Some Bush officials are calling the shift in strategy a "redirection," and the new strategy is heightening tensions between Iran as well as placing the US in the middle of sectarian conflicts between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. The Bush administration's top priority is now to undermine Iran, a primarily Shi'ite state, and the Shi'ite organizations, such as Hezbollah, that Iran supports. In Lebanon, the administration is secretly cooperating with the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia to combat and weaken Hezbollah. The US is also undertaking clandestine operations against both Iran and its ally, Syria. In the process, the US has found itself actively, if secretly, supporting Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda. As the Bush administration has apparently chose to forget, al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization.
- The strategy finds itself undermining America's own interests in Iraq, where most of the insurgent violence threatening American troops comes from Sunni, not Shi'ite, forces. Worse, the "redirection" strategy has worked to strengthen the hold on power of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his sponsors, the most recalcitrant and hardline Shi'ite clerics.
- Hersh gives some background: "After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al-Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shi'ite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq's Shi'ite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shi'ite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shi'ite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki."
- Some indications of the new Bush strategy have been discussed publicly. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January that there is "a new strategic alignment in the Middle East," separating "reformers" and "extremists"; she called the Sunni states centers of moderation and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were "on the other side of that divide." Iran and Syria, she said, "have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize."
- But most of the core tactics of the new strategy are still secret. In many cases, the execution and/or the funding of clandestine operations have been left to the Saudis. This and other methodologies work to keep the "redirection" program from staying out of the usual Congressional appropriations process. One senior member of the House Appropriations Committee says he had heard about the new strategy, but feels that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. "We haven't got any of this," he says. "We ask for anything going on, and they say there's nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, 'We're going to get back to you.' It's so frustrating."
- Several all-too-familiar names are behind the new strategy: Dick Cheney; Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security advisor; incoming UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad; and Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who is Bush's chief tutor in foreign affairs. Rice is largely responsible for shaping the public policy, but Cheney guides the clandestine side of the operation. The redirection is in effect bringing the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia into a closer, and perhaps uncomfortable, alliance with Israel. The new strategy "is a major shift in American policy -- it's a sea change," says a US government consultant with close ties to Israel. The Sunni states "were petrified of a Shi'ite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shi'ites in Iraq. We cannot reverse the Shi'ite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it." Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, "It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what's the biggest danger -- Iran or Sunni radicals. The Saudis and some in the administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line."
- Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, says that "the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shi'ite Cold War." Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, adds that he isn't sure if the White House is fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. "The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq," he says. "It's doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down."
- Iran expert Patrick Clawson even worries that the new strategy could weaken the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki and lead to a victory for the Sunnis in Iraq. Clawson says that this might give Maliki an incentive to co÷perate with the United States in suppressing radical Shi'ite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The strategy is dependent, at least for now, on the cooperation of Iraq's Shi'ite leaders. While the Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, other Shi'ite militias are counted, at least putatively, as US allies. Both al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shi'ite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shi'ite militias has steadily increased.
- Former Bush administration security advisor Flynt Leverett says "there is nothing coincidental or ironic" about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. "The administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when - if you look at the actual casualty numbers -- the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude," he says. "This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the administration will have an open door to strike at them." (See above items for information about Bush's own belligerence towards Iran, including the presentation of false evidence that Iran is involved in providing explosives to Iraqi insurgents.) "The White House goal is to build a case that the Iranians have been fomenting the insurgency and they've been doing it all along -- that Iran is, in fact, supporting the killing of Americans," says a former senior intelligence official. Of course, many Bush officials are denying that there is any runup to a war with Iran, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.
- In January, when Democratic senator Joseph Biden asked Rice whether the US planned on crossing the Iranian or Syrian borders in order to pursue insurgents, she refused to rule out the option. "Obviously, the President isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq," she told Biden, and added, "I do think that everyone will understand that the American people and I assume the Congress expect the President to do what is necessary to protect our forces." Republican senator Chuck Hagel responded with a biting comment: "Some of us remember 1970, Madam Secretary. And that was Cambodia. And when our government lied to the American people and said, 'We didn't cross the border going into Cambodia,' in fact we did. I happen to know something about that, as do some on this committee. So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous."
- Currently the administration is examining evidence provided by Israeli agents operating inside Iran that may -- or may not -- show that Iran has developed a three-stage solid-fueled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads, with debatable accuracy, inside Europe. It is not known how reliable that intelligence is, but everyone remembers that faulty and fraudulent evidence was used to spearhead the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. On February 14, Democratic senator Hillary Clinton said, "We have all learned lessons from the conflict in Iraq, and we have to apply those lessons to any allegations that are being raised about Iran. Because, Mr. President, what we are hearing has too familiar a ring and we must be on guard that we never again make decisions on the basis of intelligence that turns out to be faulty." Regardless of questions and opposition, it is well established that the Pentagon has developed plans for a devastating air strike against Iran that can be implemented within 24 hours of the orders being given. An Air Force advisor and a Pentagon consultant on terrorism both say that the Iran planning group has been given a new task: the identification of targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities and possible regime change. One of the biggest sticking points for the administration in launching any such attack, according to the above-noted former intelligence officer, is the negative results such an attack would likely have on Republicans' election chances in 2008.
- Hersh has learned that the prime force behind the US efforts to weaken Iranian influence in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia, particularly Prince Bandar. Bandar, whose intimate relationship with Bush and Cheney has been well documented, is no longer the Saudi ambassador to the US, but he continues to meet frequently with both men. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed. Many observers believe that Cheney's surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last November was, in part, to discuss the redirection strategy with Bandar and King Abdullah. And part of Bandar's motivation may be to secure his own power base within the Saudi government -- if he can lead the US into open opposition to the Shi'ites of the region, it would greatly enhance his standing.
- Bush officials either don't know or don't care that they are placing the US in the center of a Sunni-Shi'ite struggle for influence that stretches back to the 7th century, which began over a bitter divide sparked by conflicts on who should succeed the Prophet Muhammed. Sunnis dominated the medieval caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, and Shi'ites, traditionally, have been regarded more as outsiders. Globally, 90% of Muslims are Sunni, but Shi'ites are a majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, and are the largest Muslim group in Lebanon. Their concentration in a volatile, oil-rich region has led to concern in the West and among Sunnis about the emergence of a "Shi'ite crescent." Retired military officer and Middle East expert Frederic Hof says, "The Saudis still see the world through the days of the Ottoman Empire, when Sunni Muslims ruled the roost and the Shi'ites were the lowest class." The Saudi government also fears the influence of its own large Shi'ite minority, especially in the oil-rich Eastern Province. Some Saudis believe that Iran is behind a recent spate of terrorist attacks within the kingdom. Nasr says, "Today, the only army capable of containing Iran [the Iraqi Army] has been destroyed by the United States. You're now dealing with an Iran that could be nuclear-capable and has a standing army of 450,000 soldiers." Saudi Arabia has 75,000 troops in its standing army. "The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis [Sunni extremists who view Shi'ites as apostates]. The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can't put them back."
- Hersh observes the political razor's edge being straddled by the Saudis and the Bush administration alike: "The Saudi royal family has been, by turns, both a sponsor and a target of Sunni extremists, who object to the corruption and decadence among the family's myriad princes. The princes are gambling that they will not be overthrown as long as they continue to support religious schools and charities linked to the extremists. The administration's new strategy is heavily dependent on this bargain." Nasr compares the current situation to the period in which al-Qaeda first emerged. In the 1980s and the early 90s, the Saudi government subsidizedthe covert American CIA proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis, an extremist Sunni sect. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded al-Qaeda, in 1988. Bandar and other Saudis assure the White House that this time around, they will keep a closer eye on the extremists. "Their message to us was 'We've created this movement, and we can control it.'" says the government consultant. "It's not that we don't want the Salafis to throw bombs; it's who they throw them at -- Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."
- Some Saudis fear that the royal family is taking a desperate risk in joining the US in challenging Iran. Bandar is already seen in the Arab world as being too close to the Bush Administration. "We have two nightmares," says a former Saudi diplomat. "For Iran to acquire the bomb and for the United States to attack Iran. I'd rather the Israelis bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed."
- The Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction. At least four main elements were involved, says the US government consultant. First, Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran. Second, the Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. The third component was that the Bush administration would work directly with Sunni nations to counteract Shi'ite ascendance in the region. Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington's approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of Bashir Assad of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah.
- Clawson observes, "The Saudis understand that if they want the Administration to make a more generous political offer to the Palestinians they have to persuade the Arab states to make a more generous offer to the Israelis." The new diplomatic approach, Clawson adds, "shows a real degree of effort and sophistication as well as a deftness of touch not always associated with this administration. Who's running the greater risk -- we or the Saudis? At a time when America's standing in the Middle East is extremely low, the Saudis are actually embracing us. We should count our blessings." But the Pentagon consultant has a different view. He says that the administration has turned to Bandar as a "fallback," because it realizes that the failing war in Iraq could leave the Middle East "up for grabs."
- After Iran, the US-Saudi efforts are focusing on Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Bush administration to support the shaky Lebanese government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is struggling to stay in power against a persistent opposition led by Hezbollah, the Shi'ite organization, and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah has an extensive infrastructure, an estimated two to three thousand active fighters, and thousands of additional members. Though the State Department has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist group since 1997, and has documented a number of Hezbollah-sponsored attacks against US forces (most memorably the 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 soldiers), many in the Arab world, especially Shi'ites, view Nasrallah as a resistance leader who withstood Israel in last summer's 33-day war, and Siniora as a weak politician who relies on America's support but was unable to persuade Bush to call for an end to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Bush officials have promised the Siniora goverment a billion dollars in aid since last summer alone, and has put together promises of assistance from other countries, including another billion from the Saudis. Much of this money is either for military aid or for internal security. And the US has given clandestine support to the Siniora government. "We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shi'ite influence, and we're spreading the money around as much as we can," says the former senior intelligence official. The problem is that such money "always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we're financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don't have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don't like. It's a very high-risk venture."
- Some of that Lebanese aid money has ended up in the hands of Sunni radical groups throughout Lebanon, with ties to al-Qaeda; apparently as long as those groups are seen as buffers to Hezbollah, their ties to al-Qaeda are acceptable to Bush and Cheney. The Saudi diplomat warns against any such alliances. "Salafis are sick and hateful, and I'm very much against the idea of flirting with them," he says. "They hate the Shi'ites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly." A senior official in the Siniora government acknowledges that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. "We have a liberal attitude that allows al-Qaeda types to have a presence here," he says. He relates this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a "theatre of conflict." He says that the Siniora government is in a no-win situation. Without a political settlement with Hezbollah, he says, Lebanon could "slide into a conflict," in which Hezbollah fights openly with Sunni forces, with potentially horrific consequences. But if Hezbollah agrees to a settlement yet still maintained a separate army, allied with Iran and Syria, "Lebanon could become a target. In both cases, we become a target."
- Naturally, the spin from the Bush administration is both rosy and misleading. Bush says his administration's support for the Siniora government is just an example of the US supporting democracy, and of Bush's desire to prevent other powers from interfering in Lebanon. When Hezbollah led street demonstrations in Beirut in December 2006, John Bolton, who was then the US ambassador to the UN, called them "part of the Iran-Syria-inspired coup." CFR's Leslie Gelb says the administration's policy is less about democracy and more about American security. "The fact is that it would be terribly dangerous if Hezbollah ran Lebanon," he says. The fall of the Siniora government would be seen, Gelb says, "as a signal in the Middle East of the decline of the United States and the ascendancy of the terrorism threat. And so any change in the distribution of political power in Lebanon has to be opposed by the United States -- and we're justified in helping any non-Shi'ite parties resist that change. We should say this publicly, instead of talking about democracy." Indyk says that the US "does not have enough pull to stop the moderates in Lebanon from dealing with the extremists. ...The president sees the region as divided between moderates and extremists, but our regional friends see it as divided between Sunnis and Shi'a. The Sunnis that we view as extremists are regarded by our Sunni allies simply as Sunnis."
- Bandar has been sent to Lebanon, in a mission endorsed by the White House, "to create problems between the Iranians and Syria," according to a Middle East ambassador. There had been tensions between the two countries about Syrian talks with Israel, and the Saudis' goal was to encourage a breach. However, the ambassador says, "It did not work. Syria and Iran are not going to betray each other. Bandar's approach is very unlikely to succeed." Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze minority in Lebanon and a strong Siniora supporter, has repeatedly attacked Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran in his statements, and accuses Hezbollah of assassinating Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Siniora Cabinet, because of his support for the Syrians. Jumblatt says he met with Cheney last fall to discuss, among other issues, the possibility of undermining Syria's Assad. He and his colleagues advised Cheney that, if the United States does try to move against Syria, members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would be "the ones to talk to." The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a branch of a radical Sunni movement founded in Egypt in 1928, engaged in more than a decade of violent opposition to the regime of Hafez Assad, Bashir's father. In 1982, the Brotherhood took control of the city of Hama; Assad bombarded the city for a week, killing between 6,000 and 20,000 people. Membership in the Brotherhood is punishable by death in Syria. The Brotherhood is also an avowed enemy of the US and of Israel. Nevertheless, Jumblatt himself says, "We told Cheney that the basic link between Iran and Lebanon is Syria -- and to weaken Iran you need to open the door to effective Syrian opposition. ...I told Cheney that some people in the Arab world, mainly the Egyptians," whose moderate Sunni leadership has been fighting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for decades, "won't like it if the United States helps the Brotherhood. But if you don't take on Syria we will be face to face in Lebanon with Hezbollah in a long fight, and one we might not win."
- Hersh was able to secure a rare interview with Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, in December. Nasrallah lives under extraordinary security precautions, because he believes -- with reason -- that he is a prime target for assassination by the Israelis as well as fellow Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives and Sunni jihadists who Nasrallah's aides believe are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Nasrallah's battle with Israel last summer turned him -- a Shi'ite -- into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shi'ites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war. Nasrallah told Hersh that he believes Bush is working with Israel to foment "fitna," an Arabic word that means "insurrection and fragmentation within Islam." He told Hersh, "In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other. I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence." He did not give Hersh any specific evidence. He told Hersh that the US war in Iraq has increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. According to Nasrallah, Bush's goal is "the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war -- there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shi'ite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shi'ite."
- Nasrallah added, "I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, 'I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.'" He believes the US also wants to partition Lebanon and Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country "into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq." In Lebanon, "There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state." But, he said, "I do not know if there will be a Shi'ite state." Nasrallah said he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was "the destruction of Shi'ite areas and the displacement of Shi'ites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shi'ites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq," which is dominated by Shi'ites. "I am not sure, but I smell this."
- According to Nasrallah, partition would leave Israel surrounded by "small tranquil states. I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states. In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East." He said that Hezbollah is preparing for another Israeli onslaught later in 2007.
- Bush officials have always insisted that it is opposed to any partitioning of Iraq, and has no intention of partitioning Lebanon, either; Bush officials say they want an intact Lebanon with a weakened and largely impotent Hezbollah. And there is no evidence to show that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shi'ites into southern Iraq. But, Hersh writes, "Nasrallah's vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House's new strategy." It may not be as important to show that Nasrallah is correct, as it is to understand that the beliefs he espouses may be driving events in the Middle East. One of Nasrallah's aims is to bring the Siniora government into accord with Hezbollah, one way or the other. "Practically speaking, this government cannot rule," he said. "It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon." Bush's support of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, "is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-a-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?"
- Nevertheless, some in the Bush administration believe that Nasrallah could actually be a partner in a political settlement inside Lebanon. The outgoing director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in January that Hezbollah "lies at the center of Iran's terrorist strategy.... It could decide to conduct attacks against US interests in the event it feels its survival or that of Iran is threatened.... Lebanese Hezbollah sees itself as tehran's partner." Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called Hezbollah "the A-Team" of terrorists in 2002, but now says the issue is more complicated. Nasrallah has emerged as "a political force of some note, with a political role to play inside Lebanon if he chooses to do so," he says. Armitage says that Nasrallah is, in terms of public relations and political gamesmanship, "the smartest man in the Middle East." But, he adds, Nasrallah "has got to make it clear that he wants to play an appropriate role as the loyal opposition. For me, there's still a blood debt to pay" -- referring to the Marine barracks bombing and other lethal attacks against US forces. Former CIA agent Robert Baer, who served in Lebanon for years, has been an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, but now says, "we've got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it's going to be Nasrallah and the Shi'ites. "The most important story in the Middle East is the growth of Nasrallah from a street guy to a leader -- from a terrorist to a statesman. The dog that didn't bark this summer [during the war with Israel] is Shi'ite terrorism." Baer is referring to fears that Nasrallah, in addition to firing rockets into Israel and kidnapping its soldiers, might set in motion a wave of terror attacks on Israeli and American targets around the world. "He could have pulled the trigger, but he did not."
- One thing the Bush administration has adamantly refused to do is to bring Congress into the discussion. Many equate the Bush administration's clandestine actions in the Middle East with the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s, when Reagan officials secretly, and illegally, funded the Contra rebels against the legitimately elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then -- notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams -- are involved in today's dealings. Two years ago, Abrams led an informal "lessons learned" discussion with other veterans of the scandal. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: "One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the CIA has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office" -- meaning Cheney. Three separate sources have told Hersh that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte's decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. The former senior intelligence official says that Negroponte does not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan administration, when he served as ambassador to Honduras. "Negroponte said, 'No way. I'm not going down that road again, with the NSC running operations off the books, with no finding.'" Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, the official adds, because "he believes he can influence the government in a positive way."
- The government consultant says that Negroponte shares the White House's policy goals but "wanted to do it by the book." He adds that "there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn't fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives." It was also true, he says, that Negroponte "had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East." The Pentagon consultant says that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, is accounting for covert funds. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," he says. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and a retired four-star general. "This goes back to Iran-Contra," says a former National Security Council aide. "And much of what they're doing is to keep the agency out of it." He says that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the US-Saudi operations. And "The CIA is asking, 'What's going on?' They're concerned, because they think it's amateur hour."
- Congress is beginning to exercise its oversight. Last November, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress on what it depicted as the administration's blurring of the line between CIA activities and strictly military ones, which do not have the same reporting requirements. And the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, has scheduled a hearing for March 8th on Defense Department intelligence activities. Democratic senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, says, "The Bush administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the intelligence committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been 'Trust us.' It is hard for me to trust the administration."
- Conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan writes for The Atlantic Monthly, "If Cheney decides to bomb Iran without Congressional approval, then we're not just headed for a massive increase in violence in the Middle East and the US, we're also facing a constitutional crisis and a military revolt. Sane hands would never begin to countenance such a gambit. But Cheney's going down. And people who know they're doomed can do crazy things." (New Yorker, CNN/Think Progress [link to video interview with Hersh], The Atlantic)
"We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11." -- Seymour Hersh
- February 26: Few will be surprised to learn that the neoconservatives of the American Enterprise Institute, so tremendously wrong with their advice and predictions about the outcome of the Iraq invasion and occupation, are now leading the charge in the public debate about whether the Bush administration should target Iran.
War with Iran
AEI's neocons actually began the calls for military action against Iraq well before anyone in the Bush administration publicly began upping its rhetoric about the supposed "threat" posed by Iran to the US. Some AEI figures have called for stricter economic sanctions, some want to increase the American financing of opposition groups, and some insist that only immediate military action is a reasonable course of action. For all, the desired end result is regime change in Iran. Bush recently spoke to an AEI audience about his vaunted war on terror, though he focused largely on Afghanistan.
- Ronald Reagan said that no think tank "has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute." Bush told the AEI audience that he admires AEI a lot. After all, I have been consistently borrowing some of your best people. More than 20 AEI scholars have worked in my administration." Bush also relayed greetings from Dick Cheney, who served as an AEI Senior Fellow from 1993-1995. Cheney's wife Lynne currently serves as a Senior Fellow studying education and children.
- Much of the administration's talking points on Iran can be found on a section of AEI's Web site entitled "The Iranian Threat." Since the beginning of this year, AEI's Michael Ledeen, who wrote nearly 20 articles for the AEI last year on Iran, has published a story in the National Review Online headlined "The War of the Persian Succession: Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad Are Posturing to Succeed an Ailing Khamenei." AEI's Anne Applebaum wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled "Wisdom in Exile." And AEI's Michael Rubin wrote a story published by the New York Daily News titled "How to Make '07 Ahmadinejad's Last Year in Power."
- In discussing the role of the AEI, the Guardian pointed out that "[i]ts influence on the White House appeared to be on the decline last year amid endless bad news from Iraq, for which it had been a cheerleader. But in the face of opposition from Congress, the Pentagon and state department, Bush opted last month for an AEI plan to send more troops to Iraq. Will he support calls from within the AEI for a strike on Iran?" And CNN's Suzanne Malveaux pointed out that the AEI is "[o]ne conservative policy group that has the president's ear and is influencing his thinking" on Iraq.
- AEI scholar Josh Muravchik, a Middle East specialist, is one of the loudest voices for a military strike against Iran, if not an invasion. He recently told the Guardian, "I do not think anyone in the US is talking about invasion. We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself." But an air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities is, according to Muravchik, a necessity. Not only might Iran use nuclear weapons "out of the blue but [the nukes could also be used] as a shield to do all sorts of mischief. I do not believe there will be any way to stop this happening other than physical force." He went on, "The Bush administration ha[s] said they would not allow Iran nuclear weapons. That is either bullsh*t or they mean it as a clear code: we will do it if we have to. I would rather believe it is not hot air."
- Other AEI neocons, like Raymond Tanter, the founder of the Iran Policy Committee, which includes former Bush officials, support increased funding for Iran's Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), even though the State Department has branded it a terrorist organization. He also favors attacking Iran with intensive air strikes, perhaps even using tactical nuclear weapons.
- Like most conservative think tanks, AEI gets its money from an array of conservative foundations, many of which will be familiar to those who followed the funding of the infamous Arkansas Project that targeted Bill Clinton during his two terms in office. Donors include the Olin Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.
- In August 2006, AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht, a member of a small group of analysts that met with Bush to discuss the Middle East situation, told ABC that "the mid- to long-term fallout from Israel-Hezbollah conflict could be a good thing because it may prompt Bush to take military action against Iran." Gerecht said that the role the Iranians and Syrians played in the conflict had angered Bush. This Week host, George Stephanopoulos, asked: "How much harder line could he take? Are you talking about military action?" Gerecht reponded: "Well yeah, it is conceivable you go down the road 12 or 18 months that the president will say nuclear weapons in the hands of the mullahs is simply unacceptable -- as he said many times. And if in fact Lebanon contributes to the hardening of the American postion, then I would say that Hezbollah actions in Lebanon were a great mistake." (Media Transparency)
- February 26: The Senate will investigate the horrific conditions suffered by outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Walter Reed scandal
The investigation, to be conducted by the Armed Services Committee, will begin March 6, and will start with an array of senior defense officials who will testify about how conditions at the Army's elite hospital complex deteriorated to the conditions depicted in last week's Washington Post series (see items above). One official who will testify is Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley. While other Pentagon officials expressed horror and regret at the revelations, Kiley has attacked the Post expose as "one-sided" and contended, "[T]his is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed."
- But Kiley's superior, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, disagrees. He said, "I have not seen anything or heard anything in the time since [the stories ran] to lead me to believe that those articles were in any substantial way wrong." Gates has already begun an internal investigation led by Clinton and Reagan-era defense officials into Walter Reed, the Bethesda Naval hospital and "any other centers they choose to examine." While he said he hadn't heard of any additional problems with veterans' outpatient services beyond Walter Reed, Gates emphasized that the Pentagon needs to understand "the scope of the problem."
- Democratic senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says there is a simple reason the previous Republican-led Congress refused to investigate Walter Reed: "They did not want to embarrass the president." (TPM Muckraker, NBC/Think Progress)
- February 26: The New York Times editorial board observes that the orchestrated firings of seven (now eight -- see item above) US attorneys by the Department of Justice looks like nothing else than partisan politics that have contaminated and corrupted the American judiciary system.
US Attorney firings
"It is hard to call what's happening anything other than a political purge." the Times writes. "And it's another shameful example of how in the Bush administration, everything -- from rebuilding a hurricane-ravaged city to allocating homeland security dollars to invading Iraq -- is sacrificed to partisan politics and winning elections."
- The Times notes correctly that US attorneys have enormous power, and must be -- as they long have been -- be insulated from political pressures. "Although appointed by the president, once in office they are almost never asked to leave until a new president is elected," the Times observes. "The Congressional Research Service has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are. It found that of 486 U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were forced out in similar ways -- three in 25 years, compared with seven in recent months."
- And of course the firings are plainly political in nature. Arkansas attorney H.E. Cummins, a distinguished prosecutor well respected by both Republicans and Democrats alike, was forced out, only to be replaced by Tim Griffin, a former Karl Rove deputy with little legal experience who cut his teeth doing opposition research for the Republican National Committee. The Times notes that Griffin's recent announcement that he would not try for a permanent appointment is all but meaningless -- under current law, his "interim" appointment is indefinite.
- The Bush administration had a crony in Republican senator Arlen Specter's office slip in that particular legal provision into the USA Patriot reauthorization under cover of night, and senators voted for the reauthorization without realizing the new provision was now in the bill.
- There are three theories surrounding the firings, all hatefully political. The first involves at least one attorney, California's Carol Lam. She has already succeeded in putting Republican Randy Cunningham in jail for corruption, and recently indicted two more of Cunningham's Republican cohorts. The Justice Department does not want those investigations to proceed. Instead, the DOJ has used the implausible excuse that Lam did not pursue prosecutions of illegal aliens as a justification for her firing. She has been replaced by an attorney with almost no criminal law experience -- but holds a membership in the rabidly conservative Federalist Society. Other fired attorneys were pursuing similar investigations of corrupt Republicans. The second theory involves what the Times calls "candidate recruitment." A US attorney can make headlines and launch political careers. Congressional Democrats suspect that the Bush administration has been pushing out long-serving US attorneys to replace them with promising Republican lawyers who can then be run for Congress and top state offices. Thirdly, presidential politics. Griffin's naming to the position in Arkansas gives Republicans access to potential dirt against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
- The Times writes, "The charge of politics certainly feels right. This administration has made partisanship its lodestar. The Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed in his book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, that even applicants to help administer post-invasion Iraq were asked whom they voted for in 2000 and what they thought of Roe v. Wade. ...The politicization of government over the last six years has had tragic consequences -- in New Orleans, Iraq and elsewhere. But allowing politics to infect US attorney offices takes it to a whole new level. Congress should continue to pursue the case of the fired US attorneys vigorously, both to find out what really happened and to make sure that it does not happen again." (New York Times)
- February 26: Judge Reggie Walton, presiding over the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, dismisses one of the 12 jurors, leaving 11 to decide Libby's fate.
Lewis Libby perjury trial
The juror, an art historian, says she read or saw something over the weekend about the trial. After interviewing the juror in the presence of lawyers from both sides, Walton rules that "what she had exposure to obviously disqualifies her." Walton decides, with the defense team's support, to let the jury continue deliberating with 11 members, overriding prosecution objections who want one of the two alternate jurors who heard the trial, but have not taken part in the deliberations. Walton says he doesn't want to "throw away two and a half days" of discussions the jury has had since getting the case at midday last Wednesday. If an alternate had been seated, the jury would have been required to begin its deliberations over from the beginning. Walton refuses to disclose what the juror had seen, but he concluded the exposure was not intentional and resulted from a misunderstanding of his orders. He has ordered jurors to avoid media coverage of the case and to stay off the Internet. Usually defense attorneys want the largest number of jurors available because they only need one to hold out against conviction in order to force a mistrial, says veteran Washington defense attorney Lawrence Barcella, who spent 16 years as a federal prosecutor. "This is surely a well thought out calculation for the defense based on the jurors they have, the way they guess the deliberations might be going, and who the alternate would be," he says. Ultimately, however, decisions like this are "guesswork, tempered by the experience and instincts of very experienced attorneys who have demonstrated good instincts." (AP/CNN)
- February 26: Former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, a longtime advisor to the Bush administration, is highly critical of several Bush officials, saying that many of his most senior officials have consistently let Bush down with poor advice and strategies.
Iraq war and occupation
"I have watched the president from the beginning and my sense is that his instincts have been pretty good and his policy decisions -- the ones that he himself has acted on -- are pretty good," Perle says. "But he has an administration that not only does not implement his policies, they are often hostile to his policies. He has failed to gain control of his own administration." Perle calls former Secretary of State Colin Powell "a disaster," saying, "He never liked the president's policies. He did almost nothing to get them implemented." Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then the national security advisor, has always been, according to Perle, "in way over her head from the beginning, and the president gave much too much weight to her views." Perle says that overall, "[t]he administration was full of people even in the White House at the National Security Council who were hostile to the president's policies." (Why Perle feels that the NSC and White House officials were "hostile" to Bush's policies is completely at odds with the reams of material concerning that time period and those officials that can be found throughout this site.)
- Perle says that he "was not at all happy with the conduct of the [Defense Policy] board," and says, "I think we got ourselves, unfortunately, into an occupation [of Iraq] that we could have avoided. We could have avoided it by turning things over to the Iraqis more or less immediately, which is what I was arguing for. ...I think it was a mistake to disband the [Iraqi] army the way it was done. But the big mistake was not handing things over to the Iraqis immediately. If you are in a position of occupation and you can't get the electricity going, you're bound to inspire an insurgency. I don't think that insurgency was inevitable."
- Perle, a staunch neoconservative, criticizes the Congressional Democratic leadership for making Iraq "a partisan political issue...using it to rally Democrats," and says that instead of merely sitting back and letting Bush conduct his disastrous Iraqi policy as he sees fit, the Democrats "have lost all sight of the national interest." He adds, "Despite all of the earlier claims about wanting a bipartisan approach to these issues, everything that they are doing is to the contrary. What's sad is getting this nonbinding resolution and then moving with this basically deceptive [Rep. John] Murtha approach, which is to pretend that all they are doing is putting restrictions on funding in the best interest of the troops. In fact, they are trying to make it impossible for the commander-in-chief to dispatch the troops. I've been in Washington now since 1969. I can't recall a more hypocritical coordinated assault by one party than this one. Even in the worse days of the Nixon administration it never reached this." Perle's memory is, of course, highly selective, if not completely faulty.
- Perle, whose track record of predictions for Iraq and domestic politics is almost completely wrong, predicts that "the Democrats have injected a note of such bitter partisanship that it is going to backfire" even before the 2008 elections. According to Perle, "most Americans are unhappy with the situation in Iraq, but they do not want to see a humiliating withdrawal, and they don't want to see a bitter partisan dispute when they realize that the country needs to pull together. Nancy Pelosi is overplaying her hand. Jack Murtha has just gone around the bend. I don't understand him at all, and I think in the end the public, broadly speaking, will say, 'Enough of this.'"
- In discussing the possible Senate candidacy of former Air America host Al Franken, he says that Franken "was hung up on the fact that we didn't find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and that whole thing gets a little tedious after a while." He also denies that any intelligence was "cherry-picked" by Bush officials to justify the invasion of Iraq, denies that intelligence analysts were pressured to produce desired results, and blames the entire intelligence debacle on former CIA director George Tenet. (NewsMax)
- February 26: While the straight news coverage from the Washington Post continues to be generally reliable and sometimes challenging of the government's policies, it has become blindingly obvious that the editorial staff, under the aegis of editor Fred Hiatt, is turning farther and farther to the right.
Conservative media slant
Media Matters writer Eric Boehlert notes the Post's increasing embrace of extremist right-wing bloggers and commentators, bringing them on board by the handsful.
- Boehlert focuses on the recent addition of Michelle Malkin to the Post's cadre of right-wing columnists and in-house bloggers. Post reporter Howard Kurtz produced a recent profile of Malkin for the paper's Style section. Malkin has repeatedly written of her contempt for the Post and its staff, calling the managing editor anti-American and calling Kurtz himself dishonest and incompetent. In return, Kurtz produced a fawning profile of Malkin that Boehlert calls "a Valentine's Day week mash note, presenting Malkin as a pugnacious, on-the-rise pundit who has her liberal critics up in arms." The Columbia Journalism Review's Paul McLeary noted, "It really takes a talented writer to paint conservative commentator Michelle Malkin as the voice of reason. ...But the Washington Post's Howie Kurtz...manages to do just that."
- The Post's new love affair with Malkin is not the first time the paper has fawned over right-wing hatemongers. Last year the paper gushed over Fox News's Brit Hume, the openly partisan anchor who recently slandered Democratic House member John Murtha as senile. In 2005, the paper equated talk show maven Rush Limbaugh, whose battle with reality is well documented, with late-night satirist Jon Stewart.
- Boehlert says that the relationship between the Post and right-wing bloggers is classically dysfunctional: The Post loves the bloggers, but the bloggers hate the Post." And the more the right-wing bloggers condemn and mock the Post, the more the paper fawns over them. Boehlert writes, "I don't know if the Post's cozying up is part of an overt effort to shed the 'liberal media bias' charge, or if Post news execs actually believe the online GOP bomb-throwers represent an interesting and important piece of today's political dialogue. But for whatever reason, the Post has gotten into bed with the right-wing bloggers again and again. It's time the Post ended this ill-conceived romance. It's also time for the Post to show influential liberal bloggers a little love."
- Boehlert reminds readers that in 2005, the Post hired blogger Ben Domenech to write a column, "balancing" the column written by moderate Dan Froomkin, a veteran journalist who can often be critical of the Bush White House. Domenech never pretended to be a serious journalist, and his writings were little more than junior-high level name callings against liberal targets: he called Coretta Scott King a "communist" and attacked Teresa Heinz Kerry as an "oddly shaped egotistical ketchup-colored muppet." After Domenech's problem with plagarism was made public, Domenech disappeared from the pages of the Post. Boehlert writes, "The whole media meltdown was hugely embarrassing for the company, and it should have sent up lots of red flags for how it deals with, and often celebrates, right-wing bloggers. But as the Post's loving look at Malkin proved, the Post's crush remains hot and heavy."
- Malkin is no more factually based than Malkin, and has consistently written liberal-bashing screeds that routinely dive into racist slanders and ugly, baseless personal attacks. Perhaps worse, she, like many of her rightist colleagues, has been systematically and consistently wrong about Iraq and the Middle East. Boehlert writes, "Malkin is the field general for a squad of bitter pro-war dead-enders who lash out online against anyone who dares speak the truth about the war. She has been wrong about Iraq in every conceivable way, with a losing streak dating back more than 50 straight months. The consequences for having habitually botched the most important policy issue of the last decade? She's taken to lunch by a Washington Post reporter (the same reporter Malkin once derided as incompetent), who then splashes a friendly profile in the paper while carefully refusing to inform readers about Malkin's glaring ignorance and unhinged loathing. See, GOP warbloggers can't lose. If they'd been right about Iraq, the Washington Post surely would have toasted them. But even after they continually make fools of themselves prognosticating all sorts of falsehoods about the war, the Washington Post still toasts them. As for the articulate bloggers on the left who opposed the war from the outset and who insisted the White House had not made a coherent case for launching a pre-emptive war? The Post couldn't care less about them. Then again, the Post editorialized relentlessly in favor of the war and was proven just as wrong as the Malkins of the world. So perhaps the newspaper is simply embarrassed and doesn't want to honor, let alone acknowledge, the liberal bloggers for fear it would simply highlight the paper's own glaring foreign policy incompetence."
- The Post certainly has the right to feature unpalatable conservative viewpoints, but one would think that the paper would provide coverage of opposing viewpoints. It does not. The Post either ignores or mocks, for example, the Daily Kos's Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who runs the most popular and widely read blog in the world. It ignores MyDD's Matt Stoller, veteran liberal commentator Eric Alterman, Talking Point Memo proprietor Josh Marshall, Crooks and Liars video blogger John Amato "who revolutionized political blogging by posting video clips on his...website." It ignores Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake, whose live blogging of the Lewis Libby trial was relied upon by mainstream news outlets around the world. It ignores John Aravosis and Duncan Black of AmericaBlog and Eschaton, both far more widely read than Malkin. It ignores Glenn Greenwald, a bestselling author whose thoughtful posts for Unclaimed Territory have been taken in by Salon. "Let's start the clock ticking and see how long it takes (if ever) for the Post to invite Glenn Greenwald out to lunch in order to write up a flattering profile of the rising progressive blogger," Boehlert writes. "I doubt it will ever happen, in part because over the last two years Greenwald has been mentioned in grand total of two articles in the Post, compared to the 12 articles that have mentioned Malkin over the same time period." The only liberal blogger who gets any ink from the Post is Arianna Huffington.
- Boehlert writes, "The one lengthy Post feature of a liberal blogger that I can find from the last 24 months was a page-one piece from April 2006 when the Post shadowed lesser-known blogger Maryscott O'Connor, who writes at My Left Wing. The Post portrayed O'Connor as a Bush-hating lunatic. Key phrases from the article: "angry," "rage," "fury," "angriest," "outrage," "crude," "loud," "crass," "inflammatory," "attack." (Editor's note: I have posted with, and alongside, O'Connor both on her own blog and on the Daily Kos. She is often outraged and angry, and rarely bothers to avoid profanity in her posts. But the Post piece was completely one-sided, even choosing to print a tremendously unflattering photo of O'Connor -- a lovely lady who was once an actress -- chosen to depict her as some screaming Medea figure. Many of her posts are thoughtful, heartfelt, vulnerable, and emotionally compelling.)
- Instead, the Post presents one side of the story only, and that falsely. For example, Kurtz quotes Malkin's complaints that her critics often "ridicule my looks, ridicule my ethnicity, go after my family." That may have some validity -- bloggers on both sides of the aisle do not always observe the rules of propriety -- but Kurtz fails to give any examples except a single digitally-altered photo of Malkin posted on the political humor site Wonkette. And he refuses to discuss Malkin's own propensity for tremendously ugly hate speech. She recently accused American journalists of having "a vested interest in exaggerating the violence [in Iraq] as much as possible," and often calls the Associated Press "The Associated (with terrorists) Press." Boehlert writes, "It's the absolutely central point about Malkin that the Post neglected -- Malkin claims journalists covering Iraq are either cowards or siding with the terrorists who are trying to kill Americans (or both). As her fellow warblogger Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs puts it with a headline he routinely uses, "The Media Are the Enemy." Yet the Post profile politely omitted any reference to Malkin's repugnant claim that journalists are terrorist-sympathizer traitors. Of course, if that point had been spelled that out in print, and certainly if the Post had allowed others to comment on Malkin's wild, press-hating accusation, Washington Post readers all across the Metro would have wondered, why on earth is the newspaper treating a fringe radical figure like Malkin so seriously? In order to avoid that obvious, albeit uncomfortable, question, the newspaper shifted the focus to Malkin's critics (they're so mean), without ever really explaining what Malkin's hateful, factually challenged rants were and why they generate such heat."
- The Post also gave kid-gloves treatment to Malkin's 2004 book In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror, where she defended the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II -- even after writing in 2000 that "what happened to Japanese-American internees was abhorrent and wrong."
- The Post was also polite in saying that Malkin's work sometimes "have had mixed results." The understatement in that sentence is extraordinary. Boehlert gives some examples of what the Post could have told its readers about Malkin and her deliberate "errors":
Boehlert writes, "Let's face it -- if a liberal blogger ever stitched together a record of sloppy, Keystone Kops-style obfuscation the way Malkin has, Post editors wouldn't even know how to spell the blogger's name, let alone be interested in profiling them. And who would blame them? Any overexcited dolt can randomly make stuff up on the Internet, or link to others who do. Apparently, the fact that Malkin does that like clockwork and that it, in turn, gets people upset is newsworthy in the eyes of Washington Post editors. Two years ago this month, Kurtz noted, "Many bloggers are careful and thought-provoking, others partisan or mean-spirited." The question is: Why has the Post has made a conscious decision to champion mean-spirited bloggers like Malkin at the expense of the thought-provoking ones?" (Media Matters [multiple sources])
- During the 2004 campaign, Malkin appeared on MSNBC's Hardball and insisted that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were alleging that John Kerry shot himself on purpose while serving in Vietnam. Her slanderous appearance caused a media stir, since the Swifties had never made that accusation against Kerry. Host Chris Matthews, appalled at Malkin's venomous accusations, shut her down. The following day, while blogging and appearing on C-SPAN, Malkin lied repeatedly about her Hardball showdown.
- In early 2005, during the Terri Schiavo right-to-die controversy, Malkin insisted -- wrongly -- that the Post had fabricated an article about the now-infamous Schiavo "talking points memo" written and distributed by the GOP, and demanded retractions and apologies. (Kurtz gave Malkin and her blogger colleagues a forum within the Post to air their allegations, with no rebuttal.) Malkin's claims were proven to be untrue when an aide to a Republican senator confessed to writing the Schiavo memo.
- In April 2005, Malkin was leading the right-wing charge in accusing a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer with the Associated Press of working in concert with Iraqi insurgents to stage the public assassination of a Baghdad election worker. The photographer was tipped off by terrorists, Malkin claimed, wrongly. The allegations were proven to completely fictitious.
- In October 2005, after a depressed University of Oklahoma engineering student blew himself up 100 yards away from a packed football stadium, Malkin linked to posts by fellow warbloggers who said that the student, Joel Henry Hinrichs, had an al-Qaeda connection. Malkin also complained the mainstream media were covering up the real facts in an effort to "whitewash radical Islam out of the news." Scores of law enforcement agencies quickly confirmed the terrorism conspiracy theory was pure fiction.
- Last summer, Malkin went after the New York Times for publishing photos of vacations homes owned by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Malkin accused the Times of emboldening al-Qaeda and deliberately endangering the lives of Rumsfeld and Cheney by showing terrorists where the men lived. Malkin ignored the fact that the Times had received Pentagon approval to run the innocuous photos. Rumsfeld's own spokesman said, "I'm a little confused about why this has caused such an uproar."
- In January 2006, Malkin spearheaded the conservative accusations that the AP had manufactured a "phony" and "bogus" Iraqi police source, Jamil Hussein, who was reporting false stories about the daily carnage inside Baghdad. She claimed the phony AP source proved that all of the AP's Iraq reporting was suspect. Malkin and her ilk have consistently accused the media of overblowing the violence in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi government confirmed the police source's existence, thereby ruining Malkin's conspiracy theory -- though the Post never bothered to report the instance.
- February 26: Apparently the right never tires of trying to bash Al Gore. Following the success of his documentary film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, the "Tennessee Center for Policy Research" makes the following claim:
Conservative smear campaigns
"Gore's mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES)." The story flashes across the right-wing media sphere, being front-paged on the conservative gossip site The Drudge Report, several influential conservative blogs, and even on ABC News. Unfortunately, the claim is, as are almost all of the other attempts to smear Gore, dead wrong.
- Gore does indeed pay far more for his power consumption than the average American, but this is because he chooses to pay more for what his power company markets as "green power," drawn entirely from renewable energy sources. According to a report by the Tennessean, "Gore purchased 108 blocks of 'green power' for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills. That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources. The green power Gore purchased in those three months is equivalent to recycling 2.48 million aluminum cans or 286,092 pounds of newspaper, according to comparison figures on NES' Web site." Gore does indeed use more energy than the average American -- though not anywhere near more in a month than the average power consumer uses in a year -- but not only does he pay for it, he pays a premium for using energy from renewable sources. The Gore family also conserves energy in other ways, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, installing solar panels on their home, and driving a Lexus hybrid SUV. According to Gore spokeswoman Kalee Krider, "They, of course, also do the carbon emissions offset." That means figuring out how much carbon is emitted from home power use, and vehicle and plane travel, then paying for projects that will offset that with use of renewable energy, such as solar power.
- As for the Tennesse Center For Policy Research, no one seems to know what this organization is. A review of their IRS forms indicate that they have no officers, directors or trustees, and are run out of a post office box. Their "non-partisan" website gets no traffic and only links to conservative organizations. (Tennesee Center for Policy Research, Tennesseean/Democratic Underground)
- February 26: Conservative author Dinesh D'Souza, who has been spectacularly and demonstrably wrong on almost everything he has ever written from Iraq to the reasons why poor black children fare so badly in America's public schools, blames the Abu Ghraib torture scandal on -- what else? -- liberals.
Conservative smear campaigns
He also writes, in a column published on the extremist conservative site Town Hall, that Arabs were not particularly disturbed by the photographs and videos of Iraqis being tortured. His rationale is entertaining, if bordering on the mentally unstable.
- D'Souza, like a blind pig finding a truffle, makes some cogent points about his second assertion. He writes, "Most Muslims did not view [Abu Ghraib] as a torture story at all. Muslims were not outraged at the interrogation techniques used by the American military, which are quite mild by Arab standards. Moreover, many Muslims realized that the most of the torture scenes in the photographs -- the hooded man with his arms outstretched, the prisoner with wires attached to his limbs -- were staged. This was simulated torture, not real torture. The main focus of Islamic disgust was what Muslims perceived as extreme sexual perversion. For many traditional Muslims, Abu Ghraib demonstrated the casualness with which married Americans have affairs, walk out on their spouses, and produce children without bothering to take responsibility for the care of their offspring. In the Muslim view, this perversion is characteristic of American society. Moreover, many Muslims viewed the degradation of Abu Ghraib as a metaphor for how little Americans care for other people's sacred values, and for the kind of humiliation that America seeks to impose on the Muslim world. Some Muslims argued that such degradation was worse than execution because death only strips a man of his life, not of his honor."
- D'Souza is correct in observing that most Muslims were horrified by what they considered the blatant sexual perversion and sexual humiliation of the prisoners in the photos, though where he gets the idea that Muslims were not particularly bothered by the idea of Iraqis being tortured, and the idea that the tortures were simulated, cannot be ascertained. Certainly the vast outpouring of responses in Muslim newspapers, television broadcasts, blogs, and the like were of horror and anger at both the tortures and their sexual content. And he is correct in stating that Muslims -- like many Americans, though he does not acknowledge this -- viewed the torture as emblematic of how, in their view, Americans care nothing for their values and their beliefs. Indeed, some Muslims -- but not the majority -- generalized the news of the torture as indicative of Americans' lack of social and ethical values as reflected in the "laxity" of America's values toward marriage and child rearing. But D'Souza makes wild, sweeping generalizations not supported by the writings of Muslims throughout the Middle East and throughout the world. In addition, D'Souza, like so many of his ilk, uses the few facts and correct assumptions he makes to fire badly aimed broadsides at his own targets -- liberals, progressives, and Democrats.
- D'Souza then leaps off the deep end of rational thought, writing, "In one crucial respect, however, the Muslim critics were wrong. Contrary to their assertions, Abu Ghraib did not reflect the shared values of America, it reflected the sexual immodesty of liberal America. [Abu Ghraib guards] Lynndie England and Charles Graner were two wretched individuals from Red America who were trying to act out the fantasies of Blue America. Casting aside all traditional notions of decency, propriety and morality, they simply lived by the code of self-fulfillment. If it feels good, it must be right. This was bohemianism, West Virginia-style." D'Souza is merely grinding his own axe. His hatred of liberals and Democrats, who in his mind apparently all live in some wild bohemian style of constant orgies, flag burnings, and drug use, contaminates his perceptions of how Muslims view Americans. No liberals that I am aware of approved of the Abu Ghraib tortures or the sexual deviancies displayed by England, Graner, and their colleagues at Abu Ghraib. Thousands of liberals and progressives have spoken out and written about their disgust at the treatment of the Iraqis tortured at the Baghdad prison.
- D'Souza "proves" his point by both making ugly generalizations about Appalachians and progressives in general: "At some level, the cultural left recognized this, which is why most of its comments about Abu Ghraib assiduously avoided the issue of sexual deviancy." This is demonstrably not true, but D'Souza has no intention of letting the facts get in the way of his assertions. "The left's embarrassment on this matter seems to have drawn on class prejudice," he writes. "For some liberals, soldiers like Graner and England were poor white trash getting into trouble again. Of course if Graner and England were professors at an elite liberal arts college, their videotaped orgies might easily have become the envy of academia. If they were artists staging these pictures in a loft in Soho they could have been hailed as pioneers and encouraged by leftist admirers to apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts." This is a statement astonishing in the breadth of its inaccuracy and hatred, both for "white trash" Americans, to use his words, and for liberals in general. I defy D'Souza to find one liberal, in or out of "academia," who found the Abu Ghraib torture photos titillating or of any iota of artistic meria. He continues, "But being low-life Appalachians, Graner and England inspired none of these elevated thoughts. Instead, liberals moved opportunistically to attack the military and discredit its prisoner interrogation policies -- even though these polices had nothing to do with what actually happened." Here he is just flat wrong. The Army's own policies have been demonstrated to have not only been lax and vague, but the authority to conduct torture in Abu Ghraib and other "detention facilities" has been proven to have come from the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in part under policies codified by the secret program code-named "Copper Green."
- D'Souza winds up by writing, "To his credit, President Bush made no attempt to defend Abu Ghraib, firmly asserting that it didn't represent America." This is, again, not true: Bush and his officials tried for weeks to downplay and ignore the tortures and abuse reported from Abu Ghraib. "What he should have said is that it didn't represent the values of conservative America," D'Souza writes. "In reality Abu Ghraib did reflect the values of a debauched liberalism run amok. These values are ruining America's image in the traditional world. Many ordinary Muslims were scandalized to see how some Americans behave, and how other Americans who should know better try to cover these disgraceful things up. In minimizing Abu Ghraib, some conservatives became cheap apologists for liberal debauchery."
- Instead of debunking D'Souza further, I will quote Democratic Underground writer "Earl G," who says of D'Souza's rantings, "Let's break this down shall we? 1. Getting a job as a prison guard in Iraq and then sexually humiliating the prisoners in your care is a commonly-shared fantasy of those living in 'Blue America.' 2. Everyone in 'Blue America' has cast aside 'all traditional notions of decency, propriety and morality.' 3. Torturing prisoners is exactly the same thing as sex between consenting adults. Where does Mr. D'Souza get off making these wild statements? I'll tell you where he gets off. He gets off in his basement with a copy of Professors Gone Wild: Liberal Arts Orgies III. Basically D'Souza's theory comes down to this: nobody in 'Red America' is ever to blame for any of their own actions. If a conservative gets caught blowing a male prostitute for meth (Ted Haggard), or in possession of child porn (Parker J. Bena), or having a child out of wedlock (Dan Burton), or handing divorce papers to their second wife while she's in hospital recovering from cancer (Newt Gingrich), or trying to choke their mistress (Don Sherwood), well -- it's all because they couldn't resist the temptations of 'Blue America.' And who cares if 'Red America' has higher divorce rates than 'Blue America?' The liberals are to blame! Now that's what I call personal responsibility. ...But don't blame Dinesh D'Souza for pulling all this nonsense out of his *ss. Blue America made him do it!" (Town Hall, Democratic Underground)