What do the president’s nomination of Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), to head the CIA and the seemingly contradictory proposal of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), to dismember the CIA have in common with tales of Swift boats once in Vietnam? Answer: The proven potential of all three to grab the headlines and draw attention away from President George W. Bush’s most serious vulnerabilities in this key pre-election period.
One can be forgiven for being confused at the administration’s recent moves on the intelligence front. Early last month, when the Senate Intelligence Committee published its multi-count indictment of CIA’s performance on Iraq and former CIA Director George Tenet left the scene of the crime, the pundits expressed confidence that the president would ask Tenet’s deputy to fill in over the ensuing months in order to avoid calling still more attention to the intelligence fiasco.
Leading Democrats were rubbing their hands in glee at the president’s dilemma. Failing to appoint a new take-charge CIA director would look inept amid all the warnings of a pre-election terrorist attack, but appointing one would bring on still more embarrassment for the administration. And some voters, the Democrats were hoping, might even remember where the buck is supposed to stop.
Not a problem, decided Karl Rove, who continues to outsmart many Democrats of higher IQ. The situation is made to order. The president is particularly vulnerable on two counts: what he did in Iraq, and what he didn’t do before 9/11. The 9/11 commission performed yeoman’s service in diffusing responsibility such that no one – and especially not the one sitting where the buck used to stop – could be held accountable. And it is turning out to be almost as easy on Iraq – despite the continuing mayhem there and the inexorable culpability-creep up the chain of command regarding the torture of Iraqi and other prisoners.
Porter Goss Front and Center
It was in this context that the White House decided to stoke the fires of political controversy still higher by nominating Porter Goss to replace Tenet. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for the last eight years, Goss is as responsible as anyone for the intelligence failures that facilitated the attacks of 9/11.
He bears even more responsibility for turning a blind eye toward the corruption of intelligence – including the conjured-out-of-thin-air mushroom cloud that in October 2002 frightened Congress into surrendering to the president its constitutional prerogative to wage war. No one has accused Goss of being dumb. If we “out-of-the-loop” veteran intelligence professionals could readily see what was going on, surely Goss could.
Controversy is assured – and welcomed by the White House. The Democrats will not pass up the opportunity to ask the nominee how all this could have escaped Goss’ attention during the eight years he chaired the powerful House Intelligence Committee and, specifically, why he failed to stem the erosion of CIA’s human source reporting capability – a problem Goss himself highlighted after his first year as chairman. And they will no doubt highlight the fact that Goss sponsored legislation that went far beyond the cuts in intelligence than those advocated by Sen. John Kerry – for which Republicans have roundly criticized Kerry.
But while the Democratic leadership continues to lick its chops at the prospect of raking Goss over the coals at his nomination hearings next month, Karl Rove is smirking from ear to ear. Another situation made to order. Attention will be riveted on this controversial “team player” nominated to assume the mantel of Tenet, who, in a leap of faith-based intelligence aimed at keeping himself on the starting cheerleader team, famously described the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a “slam dunk.”
Too bad the press – and even the Democrats – play along by accepting the failure of intelligence as the reason we invaded Iraq. By doing so they let the White House off the hook and deny the public the honest debate it deserves about the real reasons for war.
The White House message? The president was misled. It was a terrible performance, but now Tenet is gone. Subtext to Senate Democrats: Here’s Goss: take him, or leave him (and open yourselves to charges of foot-dragging at a time when our PR machine has ratcheted up the likelihood of a terrorist attack before election).
The performance of intelligence was, indeed, terrible – as inept as it was politicized. But intelligence failings regarding weapons of mass destruction and putative ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda had very little to do with the president’s decision to make war on Iraq.
The Real Reasons
With the false WMD threat exposed and the humanitarian rationale in question, the public deserves honest debate about the White House’s motivations for invading Iraq. Rove’s tactics aside, the Democrats are none too eager to engage this question, either, as demonstrated by John Kerry and his advisers’ recent statements on the justification for war.
And the general consensus contrives to silence those of us who dare to speak on the Iraq debacle. As has become increasingly clear, the neoconservatives’ vision that the United States has a strategic imperative to gain more assured control over oil from the Middle East and their overweening zeal to eliminate any conceivable threat to the security of Israel are what sunk us into the quicksand of Iraq. More important at this juncture, these twin aims render it virtually impossible for these policymakers to find a way out.
The neocons have considerable difficulty distinguishing between the strategic requirements of Israel and those of the United States. There are not enough U.S. troops in Iraq to quell the resistance, but there are enough to prevent any strategic threat to Israel. And so, the Bush administration shows no intention to bring home any U.S. forces from Iraq anytime soon.
This, needless to say, has serious implications for us all – including my grandson Matthew, who is fast approaching draft age. But such awkward realities are not supposed to be spoken in polite political discourse. Last Friday on PBS’ Charlie Rose Show, I broke that taboo and was immediately branded “goofy” and “anti-Semitic” by arch-neoconservative James Woolsey, a former CIA director. It is a volatile, but important, point. Most Americans would be loath to support sending our young men and women into Iraq to make the world safer for the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
In justifying the war, the administration deemed it far better to home in on things like “weapons of mass destruction” and to count on our somnolent press to miss a glaring inconsistency. On Feb. 24, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated publicly, “Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction.” And in July 2001, Condoleezza Rice said, “We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.”
But, as we are repeatedly reminded, after 9/11, “everything changed.” Were we being asked to believe, then, that weapons of mass destruction suddenly descended softly on Iraq – like manna from heaven?
Intelligence? No intelligence estimate on Iraq was wanted by the White House, or needed, until the fall of 2002 when Congress was asked to bless war on Iraq – long after the decision to attack. At that point the ever-vigilant Senate intelligence oversight (overlook?) committee woke up to the fact that it had seen no intelligence to justify war. So the White House ordered the obedient Tenet to have his chefs cook up the “evidence” needed to muddle congressional minds with mushroom clouds. And the worst National Intelligence Estimate in U.S. history was conjured up to convince Congress to surrender to the president its power to make war.
Just as the Swift boats of August have been spreading thick spray, the Goss hearings next month and debate on Roberts’ cockamamie proposal on restructuring – so outlandish as to have zero chance of passing – can be counted upon to spread enough fog to keep the mayhem in Iraq off the front pages and distract attention from the president’s most serious vulnerabilities. Karl Rove is counting on it, and he’s cleverer by half.
Iraq? The CIA made us do it.
This article originally appeared on Tompaine.com.