The Potemkin Commission

Bush’s decision to appoint a commission to examine why government officials averred with certainty that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” underscores the political side of globalization, and, as such, is not too surprising. After all, he had a model on the other side of the Atlantic, in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s halfway successful effort to cover up his own manipulations, thanks to Lord Hutton. Emboldened by this example of how to handle a burgeoning scandal, the President announced that a conclave of worthies would be convened – White House staffers compare it to the Warren Commission – to find out how we duped ourselves into going to war. Blair, in a neat trans-Atlantic triple play, took the opportunity to announce that he, too, would be setting up a similar inquiry into the mysterious case of the missing WMD. It’s all so open and above-board.

Like hell it is.

Confronted with the inescapable truth that there are no weapons of mass destruction, and, as Bush’s arms inspector David Kay put it, “we were almost all wrong,” the War Party is trying mightily to slither out of it by saying that, as the pro-war broadsheet, The Australian, put it:

“We may be dealing here with one of the most extraordinary and unbelievable episodes in the history of dictatorships. It may be, as [Kenneth] Pollock suggests, that Hussein purposely contrived to make the world believe he had WMDs, either to bolster his prestige in Arab eyes, or to intimidate his internal enemies. Or, as Kay has suggested, it may be that his own scientists lied to him about what they actually had available.”

Unbelievable is surely the word.

I seem to recall that the Iraqi regime submitted a 12,000 page document to the UN that chronicled, in excruciating detail, what we now know to be true: that Saddam had dismantled his WMDs shortly after Gulf War I. The document was immediately dismissed, of course, and anyone who took it seriously was denounced as a dupe, or worse – but the Iraqis, as it turned out, were telling the truth.

So who, I ask you, was lying?

The idea that the War Party didn’t lie us into war, that the whole thing was an “intelligence failure” that can be fixed if only we’ll fire George Tenet and “reform” the CIA is not merely wishful thinking: it is the exact opposite of the truth. As Joshua Micah Marshall points out, this is:

“A pearl. Lapidary. As Churchill might have said, hypocrisy wrapped in mendacity, bundled up in ridiculousness. A true gem. Richard Perle tells the Times that the CIA did indeed sell the president a bill of goods. ‘The president is a consumer of intelligence, not a producer of it,’ Perle told the Times. ‘I have long thought our intelligence in the gulf has been woefully inadequate.’

“Right. Perle has long been a staunch critic of the CIA. His argument was that they understated the scope of Saddam’s WMD programs, naively discounted his ties to terrorist organizations and had an overly pessimistic vision of post-war Iraq.

“In other words, if the CIA is all wet, Perle is all wet squared. Or probably even cubed. The skeptical voices in the Intelligence Community – the ones who are now vindicated in spades – were the objects of his greatest derision. And his solution was to give even more credence to the unreliable defector testimony which played such a key role in our bamboozlement.”

Here’s what happened: instead of going through the CIA and normal intelligence channels, the neocons in the Department of Defense and in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office set up their own intelligence-gathering operation. Known as the “Office of Special Plans,” this shop, headed up by analysts William Luti and Abram Shulsky, and officially presided over by Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, bundled up every stray rumor ever featured on Debkafile or headlined in the Telegraph, and delivered it straight up to the President’s desk, bypassing and trumping all the caveats and outright denials coming from Langley.

An inside look at this cloak-and-dagger operation is provided by retired Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who, in the run up to war, worked in the bowels of the Pentagon, observing first-hand how the OSP became the underground redoubt of the neoconservatives. In a remarkable three-part series for The American Conservative, Col. Kwiatkowski detailed how non-neocons were purged, pro-war “talking points” were worked up, and the enemies of the War Party within the administration were openly maligned at staff meetings:

“I was present at a staff meeting when Deputy Undersecretary Bill Luti called General Zinni a traitor. At another time, I discussed with a political appointee the service being rendered by Colin Powell in the early winter and was told the best service he could offer would be to quit. I heard in another staff meeting a derogatory story about a little Tommy Fargo who was acting up. Little Tommy was, of course, Commander, Pacific Forces, Admiral Fargo. This was shared with the rest of us as a Bill Luti lesson in civilian control of the military. It was certainly not civil or controlled, but the message was crystal.”

But who are the real traitors, here? Zinni, Powell, and Fargo, who warned against the quagmire we are now sinking into – or the civilian officials of a neoconservative disposition who bent, hammered, and shaped raw intelligence to fit their own preconceived conclusion? In her riveting account, Kwiatkowski brings up what is now a politically hot issue, and that is the question of how and why the President of the United States was tricked into uttering a demonstrably false statement in his 2003 State of the Union address:

“There was a small furor over the reference to the yellowcake in Niger that Saddam was supposedly seeking. After this speech, everyone was discussing this as either new intelligence saved up for just such a speech or, more cynically, just one more flamboyant fabrication that those watching the propaganda campaign had come to expect. I had not heard about yellowcake from Niger or seen it mentioned on the Office of Special Plans talking points. When I went over to my old shop, sub-Saharan Africa, to congratulate them for making it into the president’s speech, they said the information hadn’t come from them or through them. They were as surprised and embarrassed as everyone else that such a blatant falsehood would make it into a presidential speech.”

This brings us to the flaw in Bush’s plan to cover up the War Party’s shenanigans. By establishing a presidential commission – whose members are appointed by the White House – to deliver up an official whitewash, the Bushies are hoping they can pull a Lord Hutton and get off relatively scot-free. The only problem is that there’s a Justice Department investigation of Yellowcake-gate, stemming from the vicious counter-attack against Ambassador Joe Wilson, who exposed the yellowcake fraud – and personally suffered the consequences in having his wife, Valerie Plame, outed as a CIA agent.

The sheer nastiness of the crowd that lied us into war led, in the end, to their undoing: in retaliation for coming forward with the real story behind the fraudulent “yellowcake,” which Iraq was supposedly trying to procure in the African nation of Niger, the promulgators of this ill-conceived fabrication called Bob Novak and several other Washington reporters, averring that Wilson’s mission to Niger was the result of “nepotism.”

It is, of course, against the law to publicly identify CIA agents, a crime punishable by ten years in prison and a $50,000 fine. That’s why FBI agents are riffling through desks and drawers at the White House, and – we hope! – the office of the Vice President, preparing to present their findings to a grand jury. For political reasons, the President may wish to postpone the report of his commission until after the November elections. But Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald, the special counsel appointed to look into the Plame affair, may be doing a lot of their work for them, probing far deeper, and quicker, than the esteemed members of the commission might wish.

The same people who slimed Wilson, and outed Plame, are no doubt the same ones who passed off a forgery as authentic and caused the president to utter those infamous 16 words, for which he is still taking heat. When they are flushed out of the underbrush, and hauled up in front of a jury, we may find out why special council Fitzgerald has earned the nickname “Bulldog.”

Why a Presidential Commission now? The timing makes sense politically, and also legally, from the point of view of the defendants in any future trial of administration officials. Following the neocons’ general pattern of behavior in setting up their own intelligence apparatus, this ploy to establish a parallel investigation is like the President convening his own hand-picked grand jury, which will then leak information favorable to the defendants. Even if they lose in court, they’re hoping to win in the court of public opinion.

If I were them directing White House strategy, however, I wouldn’t count on it. The Hutton verdict is largely seen as a whitewash by the British people, and the product of a Bush-appointed commission would have a similarly low level of credibility over here. No matter how creative and even ingenious some of the explanations for the lack of WMD in Iraq may be, the increasing fantastical narrative they’re trying to palm off on us requires an almost total suspension of disbelief.

Kenneth Pollock’s improbable scenario – that hundreds of scientists and military commanders engaged in a conspiracy to fool Saddam into thinking he had WMD – is the kind of device that no novelist would even attempt, because no amount of literary skill could permit them to get away with it. But our neocons, not notable for their sense of modesty, are undeterred. Instead, they seem emboldened. Their lies, even more brazen than ever, are recklessly repeated, as if in total confidence that they’ll never be held to account.

This is typical of the neoconservative personality, which – like the neocons’ foreign policy – is organized around an overweening hubris. But we all know the consequences of what the ancient Greeks considered a grave sin as well as a character flaw: like Icarus, will the neocons, in reaching for the shining orb of Empire, set themselves up for a fall of mythic proportions?

One can only hope.

Don’t be diverted by the appointment of this Potemkin Commission, whose sole purpose is to scapegoat George Tenet and the CIA – the very people who resisted the takeover by the Office of Special Plans in the intelligence community, and warned against the very disaster that is now enfolding us in Iraq.

These are typical neocon streetfighting tactics: when you’re backed up against a wall, let out all the stops and go for the throat. Just as Blair used the controversy over Andrew Gilligan, and the death of Dr. David Kelly, to silence his critics at the BBC, so the ideologues who drove us to war seek to deflect the force of this investigation away from themselves and toward their enemies in the intelligence community and the military.

So keep your eye on the prize, and think of the glory and wonder of a future headline reading: Neocons Behind Bars.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I love a good laugh, and this, the best review ever of the neocon manifesto, An End to Evil, is too funny. But the best humor is often unintentional, and, by that standard, this is positively hilarious.

“Blogger” Stephen Green, who tries to pass himself off as a libertarian, attacks the Libertarian Party for sticking to its anti-imperialist stance, because, you see, “the Wahhabis also attacked us because we have pretty girls in short skirts who make passes at men.”

Oh, now I get it: We’re starting World War IV to ensure that the proprietor of Vodkapundit.com gets laid regularly.

According to Green, the Muslim world hates us “because we charge interest on loans” – which is hardly fair, since no one forced Osama to sign up for all those credit cards! They also hate us “because we have TV shows with high production values and penis jokes.” We have penis jokes aplenty, but, uh, about those “high production values“….

This is left-libertarianism mixed with more than a shot of neocon bloodthirstiness. Green goes on to write:

“Could the War on Terror become another War on Drugs or War on Poverty? Well, sure – there are no guarantees in life, except the one that comes with government – ‘Now bigger and more expensive!’ But we’re not there. Not yet.”

Over 500 dead and many thousands seriously wounded – and we’re still not there. Yet the War on Poverty never took a single life directly, nor did the War on Drugs claim nearly as many lives in one fell swoop as the shooting war in Iraq. But that never enters into the calculations of this self-proclaimed “pragmatic libertarian.”

Green wants to push out us “old school” libertarians, and inaugurate what will presumably be dubbed the “new” school, which owes less than nothing to Murray Rothbard and more to Neal Boortz. He fantasizes about taking over the Libertarian Party, and imagines that he and his fellow liberventionists are the Wave of the Future. But Green’s screed against “doctrinaire libertarianism” is unlikely to find much sympathy from those who pine for less government:

“The libertarian complaint with this war is twofold. The first is part is the kneejerk observation that “War is the health of the state.” Let’s be blunt here, kids. When foreigners are rearranging the Manhattan skyline because, in part, our women drive cars, then goddamnit it’s time for a healthier state. Or else everything we’ve built here is at literal, physical risk.”

The libertarian constituency for a bigger, brawnier, “healthier” state is, I would imagine, quite limited. But not as limited as Green’s understanding of libertarianism.

He seems like a bright lad, however: my guess is he’ll eventually tire of trying to convince us of his libertarian bona fides and “come out” as a full-fledged neocon. Then he can get hired on at the American Enterprise Institute, apply for a grant, and write a book about how It’s Time for a Healthier State, Goddamit.

A NOTE TO MY READERS

I neglected to thank all the many volunteers, many of whom I don’t know, in my last column, for which I apologize. Our volunteer researchers and other helpers are an invaluable part of Antiwar.com: they are the bone and sinew of our organization, and their efforts go largely unheralded and unrewarded. We couldn’t continue our work without them.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].