• U.S.

Plenty More to Swear About

5 minute read
Joe Klein

The Vulcans–a campaign 2000 nickname for George W. Bush’s hawkish national security team–went Krakatoa last week. Dick Cheney erupted on the Senate floor, deploying the F word against Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who had been belaboring the Vice President over the no-bid deals that Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, had scored in Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suffered a meltdown in a House Armed Services Committee hearing, blasting the press for “sitting in Baghdad” and “printing rumors.” (He later apologized.) And the White House was forced to acknowledge that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had approved, at least for a while, the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions–that is, torture–against enemy combatants. Indeed, Rumsfeld, who works at a stand-up desk, indicated a desire for at least one more strenuous stress position: “I stand 8-10 hours a day,” he scrawled on a memo. “Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

Presumably the Secretary of Defense doesn’t do his standing naked, continuously, in the middle of the night, surrounded by hostile guards and attack dogs. But then, Rumsfeld’s blustery testosteronics are at the heart of what has gone wrong with the Bush foreign policy–and last week the assorted temper tantrums appeared to be a leading indicator of a gathering summer storm confronting this presidency.

The torture investigation is one of four major defensive battles the Administration is facing. In the weeks to come, the White House will also have to deal with the 9/11 commission’s final report, the congressional investigations into the CIA’s bungled assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and a special prosecutor’s hunt for the White House leakers who blew the cover of CIA secret operative Valerie Plame. Not only is the Administration defending itself against the Democrats, the investigators and the media. Two other serious, surreptitious–and quite possibly unprecedented–battles are going on: the intelligence community is at war with the White House, and the uniformed military is at war with the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. The first conflict went public last week with news of the impending publication of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism, a book by an anonymous author who is known to be a senior CIA official and former chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden station. The invasion of Iraq was “an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat,” the author writes. “There is nothing that bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

Michael Moore couldn’t have said it any better–and this book was vetted by CIA censors. In fact, the views of Anonymous are an accurate reflection of the opinions I’ve heard from multiple intelligence sources. The spooks seem to believe that outgoing CIA Director George Tenet was strong-armed by Cheney and Rumsfeld into overassessing Iraq’s WMD capacity. This may or may not be true, but it is the conventional wisdom in the intelligence community. Furthermore, there is intense anger over the White House’s revealing the identity of Plame, who may have been active in a sting operation involving the trafficking of WMD components. Plame was outed in a White House attempt to discredit the finding of her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that there was no evidence that Iraq tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. “Only a very high-ranking official could have had access to the knowledge that Plame was on the payroll” of the CIA, an intelligence source told me.

The military has made no secret of its fury with Rumsfeld and his coterie of neoconservatives at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld has been faulted for committing too few troops and too little planning to postwar Iraq. Returning National Guard leaders have been telling their congressional representatives about chaos in the field. There is also some rustling among the brass about General Tommy Franks’ memoir, to be published in August. Bob Woodward reported that Franks once called Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who was charged with postwar planning, “the [Cheney expletive] stupidest guy on the face of the earth,” and some defense experts are wondering if Franks, who has a reputation for candor, will elaborate on that.

One hopes the news from Iraq will change for the better. There are plausible explanations for some of the Administration’s actions (for example, the government should at least consider some extreme methods of eliciting information from terrorists intent on mass murder). But George W. Bush is facing a long, hot summer of investigations and exposes that will last deep into the campaign season, and last week, for the first time, a Gallup-CNN poll indicated that a majority of Americans think that the war in Iraq was a mistake. This is a difficult trajectory to turn around, and the erupting Vulcans aren’t making the President’s task any easier.

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