Losing Control

| Mon Aug. 11, 2003 12:00 AM PDT


Now we all know that, depending on what rumors or denials you care to believe, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage either are (or are not) going to stay for a Bush second term (should there be one, of course). And the United States either is (or is not) going to dun Israel's loan guarantees because of "the Fence." According to Nathan Guttman and Aluf Benn in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, Colin Powell yesterday commented "in a broadcast to the Arab world,"

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    "'A nation is within its rights to put up a fence if it sees the need for one.'... However, he said, 'in the case of the Israeli fence we are concerned when the fence crosses over on to the land of others.'"

But the same piece reported that "U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice yesterday told Dov Weisglass, the [Israeli] prime minister's bureau chief, that deducting the cost of the separation fence from U.S. loan guarantees is not on the agenda." And in Crawford, to clarify matters, the president's spokesman said "that 'at this stage' no decision had been made about the loan guarantees."

So Colin Powell is definitively staying and the neocons are making a mad rush for the position of Secretary of State. (Can you really imagine Wolfowitz of Arabia in that position? Or Newt Gingrich?) In a piece in Asia Times, Jim Lobe of suggests some of the chaos and in-fighting that threatens constantly to burst out of the confines of what previously may have been the most secretive and secrecy-mad administration in our history. And Maureen Dowd, in a spirited column in The New York Times, describes the neocon campaign to capture State.

In the confusion of competing semi-public claims, it's also possible to feel how the occupation of Iraq has managed to throw this administration into a deep and angry disarray. Who can remember a time any more when the Bush men were so disciplined and "on message" that there was nothing but the "message" to report? Now, just remind me, what was yesterday's message? Who's on first? Or was that What on second?

At the moment it's almost as if this administration is flushing its secret idiocies out into the open like so many quail. Just in the last few days, for instance, Joseph Wilson, the ex-ambassador who carried out a visit to Niger to check the uranium sale story for the CIA (under the prodding of the vice president), again had a thing or two to say. In what evidently was a response to his embarrassing public statements on who should have known what about the forgeries, his wife Valerie Plame seems to have been outed as a CIA agent by people within the administration itself. Yesterday, Wilson responded, reports Ken Sengupta of the British Independent.

    "[He said] the naming of his wife had parallels with the disclosure of the identity of the British scientist David Kelly, the source of BBC allegations that the British government 'sexed up' a dossier on Iraqi weapons.

    'The Administration in Washington came in saying they were going to restore honour and dignity to the presidency... They have shown no sign of it so far. This is highly damaging to my wife's career, and could be seen as a smear against me.'

    But it was also about discouraging 'others who may have information embarrassing to the administration from coming forward."

    ...

    Frank Anderson, the former CIA station chief for the Near East Division, said: 'When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly endanger someone's life, that's mean, that's petty, it's irresponsible, and it ought not to be sanctioned.'"

Believe me. when men like this -- ultimate insiders, secret agents, quiet diplomats -- are all yakking away to any reporter in sight, even if as yet they are better covered in the British press than here, it's a signal that something's happening. And, oh yes, the Democrats are threatening to hold hearings on the Valerie Plame matter in the fall. Men like Joseph Wilson, once they emerge, provide perfect cover for a previously weak and meek opposition party, just as they do for a previously weak and meek press. Expect investigation and hearings gridlock starting in the fall -- just another problem for an administration that no longer has its act together.

Perhaps there's been no more staggering missive in recent weeks than an op-ed by Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel assigned for her last three years of service to the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Under Secretariat for Policy in the Pentagon. The piece appeared -- to next to no notice -- in the Houston Chronicle. She got transferred out of that job, she tells us, after reading a document that responded to queries by an unnamed Middle Eastern country on U.S. postwar occupation policies in Iraq. "The answers," she writes, "had been heavily crafted by the Pentagon, and to me, they were remarkably inadequate, given the late stage of the game. I suggested to my boss that if this was as good as it got, some folks on the Pentagon's E-ring may be sitting beside Saddam Hussein in the war crimes tribunals."

Kwiatkowski's piece, which I strongly urge you to read, gives the single best sense of the neocon takeover of this government via the Pentagon, of the resulting "groupthink," of the cabal-like quality of policy-making in this administration, and of the degree to which these figures are insulated -- have quite consciously insulated themselves -- not just from intelligence that might differ from their expectations, but from anything that might do so.

Dirty tricks, war crimes... these are not charges of critics way out on the fringes. They're coming from "retired" insiders -- and "retired" officialdom, when it speaks in a critical public voice, usually represents the opinions of angry insiders who don't dare to speak up for fear of finding themselves retired. Again, if things continue on this path, expect a busy fall in Congress and in the media. Angry insiders will continue to appear, dirty tricks will multiply, policy in Iraq (and possibly the Middle East) will only get messier, and inside the administration, hands will be reaching for throats.

And while I'm talking about insiders who speak up through those who have already stepped into the cold, it's always important to hail those who take those steps for themselves. One such figure has just done so -- and in Iraq, Brian Whitaker of The Guardian reports. He is fitting proof of the consequences of occupying and reconstructing Iraq on the cheap; in fact, on next to nothing at all.

    "A broadcaster who became known as 'the voice of free Iraq' after the fall of Saddam Hussein has walked out of his job, saying the United States is losing the propaganda war. Failure to invest in the new Iraqi broadcasting service means foreign channels are gaining popularity at the expense of the US, Ahmed al-Rikabi, the American-appointed director of TV and radio said yesterday.

    ...

    The station was provided with only three studio cameras and five portable cameras, Mr Rikabi said. For the five portable cameras, they were allowed only 10 rechargeable batteries lasting 15 minutes each...There was also a clothing allowance for newsreaders, but only to clothe the visible top half of their bodies.

    Stephen Claypole, who was a public affairs adviser to Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, said: 'It's very typical of everything the Americans get involved in. They announce large budgets and the money is never released.'"

(And there's that telltale tell-all comment, again from another former U.S. official who no longer cares to keep his mouth shut when a reporter calls.)

In her column, Dowd suggests that the definitive step in neocon planning of the moment is: "Change the subject. Next stop, North Korea." So I include as my final entry of the day, an op-ed from The Wall Street Journal, written by ex-CIA director R. James Woolsey in conjunction with former lieutenant-general and present-day Fox military analyst Thomas G. McInerney. (Generals are now like those football coaches who go from the field directly into the press box to provide play-by-play on their former teams and their opponents). The piece is entitled, coincidentally (and charmingly) enough, "The Next Korean War," and, coming from the man who announced in the prewar months that we were already in "World War IV," it should set your heart racing and make your blood run cold.

Woolsey and company suggest first pressuring China into forcing "regime change" in North Korea and then, if that isn't quickly successful, launching not just a strike at North Korean nuclear facilities, but a full-scale "regime change" war in the north. ("In short, we must be prepared to win a war, not execute a strike.") And honestly, they assure, us it will be as easy and safe as eating cherry pie -- and when we do strike those nuclear facilities, our precision weapons will surely "minimize radiation leakage." (I'm ready to send Woolsey and his companion in for a few post-strike weeks to find out for themselves.) Like the full-scale verbal assault on Kim Jong Il last week by John Bolton, the Pentagon's man in the State Department, while on a visit to South Korea, this op-ed is clearly meant to be a negotiation-sinking provocation. Both are as much intended as first-strike attacks on the State Department as they are on North Korea. It's a piece worth reading. "Know your enemy" is a useful phrase.

Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.

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