Thursday :: Jul 24, 2003

The Post Keeps Up Attacks on Bush


by Steve

Two stories in tomorrow’s Washington Post are worthy of your attention. First, the latest installment of the Walter Pincus assault on the White House, this time with the help of Dan Balz, runs on page A 10. It is an analysis of how the normally sure-footed Bush spin machine has botched the SOTU matter, with some interesting quotes from those inside and outside the administration.

Pincus, who is close to the CIA, affirms that the CIA and its allies have fired back at White House efforts to pin the credibility problem on the Agency.

White House finger-pointing in turn prompted the CIA's allies to fire back by offering evidence that ran counter to official White House explanations of events and by helping to reveal a chronology of events that forced the White House to change its story.

The latest turn came Tuesday, when deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett revealed the existence of two previously unknown memos showing that Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet had repeatedly urged the administration last October to remove a similar claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa.

For all the purported discipline and unity within the Bush administration, disputes among members of the national security team have been common, particularly in the run-up to the war with Iraq. Those disputes, however, generally pitted the State and Defense departments against one another, but once Bush made a decision, the combatants generally accepted that and moved on.

What is unusual about this episode is that the combatants are officials at the White House and the CIA -- and that the White House has tried without success to resolve the controversy. The biggest lesson learned so far, said one administration official, is that "you don't pick a bureaucratic fight with the CIA." To which a White House official replied, "That wasn't our intention, but that certainly has been the perception."

White House allies outside the government have expressed surprise at the administration's repeated missteps over the past two weeks, using phrases such as "stumbled," "caught flat-footed" and "can't get their story straight." Said one senior administration official, "These stories get legs when they're mishandled and this story has been badly mishandled."

Joe Lockhart, who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton, said he has been equally surprised by the way this White House has dealt with the controversy. "Their every move has resulted in people being more interested in the story rather than less interested," he said.

Mary Matalin, a former Bush White House adviser, said, "It's impossible to have a consistent message when the facts keep changing. We forsook consistency for honesty, in an effort to be as forthcoming as possible in putting out new facts as they became available."

A senior White House official said there are mitigating circumstances, beginning with the fact that the president was traveling in Africa when the controversy took root, while Tenet was also traveling. The unstable environment in postwar Iraq and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found provided a foundation for more questions over Bush's State of the Union claims. "And you learn it's difficult to control unnamed sources on both sides, including in the White House," he added.

While in Africa, Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly pinned the blame on the CIA, a decision that in retrospect was clearly a mistake. Tenet, who had spoken to Rice that morning, issued a planned statement in which he took responsibility.

His statement was wrongly interpreted as his acceptance of sole responsibility. But a careful reading of the three-page statement showed that he only took responsibility for his agency's failure to be more diligent in making sure the language was kept out of the president's speech, and he pointed to National Security Council officials who wanted to keep the language despite the agency's protests.

By the time Bush returned from Africa, a new controversy had erupted after revelations that the White House and the CIA had battled last fall over removing similar language from the Oct. 7 speech.

When the White House attempted last Friday to portray Tenet's intervention in that episode as solely a technical matter involving intelligence sourcing, the CIA responded by letting it be known that Tenet had objected to exactly the same language that was in the State of the Union address.

The fact that it was backed up by memos forced the White House to go through the embarrassment of having Hadley publicly acknowledge he was at fault for not remembering in January that the White House had removed the same language just three months earlier.

It is significant that the Post, which has spent the better part of the last two years kissing the ass of the Bush Administration, has been the most persistent in its criticism of the White House’s diminishing credibility, much more so than the New York Times, especially since Howell Raines was forced to resign.

The second Post story is a Page One entry tomorrow that blasts Rummy and Cheney for their bungling of the planning for a post-war Iraq. The story, written by Peter Slevin and Dana Priest, the latter with many contacts within the Pentagon, is notable for its harsh treatment of the Defense Department and Vice President’s office, and the blame it squarely places on those offices for the problems we have encountered in Iraq.

The story starts out as a recap of Paul Wolfowitz’s comments admitting some of the problems that were caused by poor assumptions. After allowing Wolfie and his overrated errand boy Douglas Feith to pat themselves on the back over how well things are going in Iraq now, the story then recounts the history of the post-war planning efforts inside the Bush Administration, with negative assessments and comments from those inside and outside the government.

(Wolfowitz’s) acknowledgment that some assumptions were wrong faintly echoed one of the primary complaints registered by many current and former U.S. officials since before the occupation began. The reconstruction effort, they said, was also undermined by unresolved logistical problems and secretive decision-making by the Defense Department civilians who led the planning. The planning, they said, was also poorly coordinated by the White House.

Three months after Hussein's government evaporated, 150,000 U.S. troops are enduring dozens of armed attacks in Iraq each week. The bureaucracy remains dysfunctional. A governing council of 25 Iraqis began sharing limited power with U.S. authorities there only last week.

The U.S. occupation, now costing $4 billion a month, has no clear end. And an assessment by outside experts commissioned by the Pentagon warned last week that the window of opportunity for postwar success is closing.

Officials critical of the occupation planning said some problems could have been predicted -- or were, to no avail, by experts inside and outside the Pentagon.

Before the invasion, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies were persistent and unified in warning the Defense Department that Iraqis would resort to "armed opposition" after the war was over. The Army's chief of staff warned that a larger stability force would be needed.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his team disagreed, confident that Iraqi military and police units would help secure a welcoming nation.

The State Department and other agencies spent many months and millions of dollars drafting strategies on issues ranging from a postwar legal code to oil policy. But after President Bush granted authority over reconstruction to the Pentagon, the Defense Department all but ignored State and its working groups.
And once Baghdad fell, the military held its postwar team out of Iraq for nearly two weeks for security reasons, and then did not provide such basics as telephones, vehicles and interpreters for the understaffed operation to run a traumatized country of 24 million.

"People always say that sometimes people plan for the wrong war," said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former head of the State Department's policy planning office. "One can say in some ways that the administration planned for the wrong peace. In particular, there was an emphasis on preparing for a humanitarian crisis when in fact the larger challenges turned out to be political and security."

But in contrast to the planning for war, other officials said, the Defense Department's attention to the occupation was haphazard and incomplete.

"There was a serious disconnect between the forces necessary to win a war and occupy a country," said a U.S. official who worked in the initial postwar effort and is still in Baghdad. "We fooled ourselves into thinking we would have a liberation over an occupation. Why did we do that?"

The circle of civilian Pentagon officials given the task of planning the occupation was small. From its early work, it all but excluded officials at State and even some from the Pentagon, including officers of the Joint Staff.

"The problems came about when the office of the secretary of defense wouldn't let anybody else play -- or play only if you beat your way into the game," a State Department official said. "There was so much tension, so much ego involved."

Wolfowitz turned not to the roster of career specialists in the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs bureau, but to a political appointee in the bureau: Elizabeth Cheney, coordinator of a Middle East democracy project and daughter of the vice president; she recruited a State Department colleague who had worked for the International Republican Institute.

While responsibility for developing an occupation plan resided with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith -- along with the National Security Council -- a small defense policy shop called the Office of Special Plans was given a key role in developing policy guidance for on-the-ground operations.

Its staff was hand-picked by William Luti, a former aide to Cheney and Newt Gingrich who headed the Pentagon's Middle East and South Asia policy office; they worked in a warren of offices on the Pentagon's first floor. The office held its work so closely that even members of Garner's office did not realize its role until February, a month after Garner was appointed.

So Rummy, Rice, and Cheney have their fingerprints (and relatives) all over the failing of our occupation, and the ongoing deaths of our soldiers as a result of their poor planning.

Steve :: 12:02 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!