Dissing the Possibility That War Was Unnecessary
After I posted the story last night that it was being confirmed by both ABC News and The New York Times that Bush rebuffed a capitulation attempt by Saddam in the weeks leading up to the invasion, I awoke this morming to see two other sources of news questioning the motives of those pushing the story now. Although the Times, ABC News, and Newsweek went big with this story yesterday, as did Knight-Ridder, it turns out that Josh Marshall at Talking Point Memo and the Washington Post are calling into question why the story is coming out now.
Marshall posits the theory that Mr. Maloof, a Pentagon staffer with ties to Richard Perle who was in contact with the Lebanese businessman Mr. Hage who was the go-between with Saddam, was trying to push this story now to mitigate Maloof's own problems for losing his security clearance for allegedly trying to help the same Mr. Hage run guns to Liberia. According to Marshall, Perle and Maloof would ostensibly be using this story now as some sort of redemption effort for Maloof, saying that "gee, if you would only see, I am a good guy here who could have helped stop the war. How could I have been involved in gun-running?"
Yup, that sounds plausible.
According to Marshall:
Let's say I'm a career defense bureaucrat struggling to get my security clearances restored because it's very hard for me to be a defense bureaucrat without them. And let's say one of the reasons I can't get them restored is because of some unauthorized contacts I had with a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation for running guns to Liberia. And let's further add to the mix that my whole mess with the security clearances is part of a larger struggle between different factions in the national intelligence bureaucracy. Oh, and one last thing: let's say I'm a protégé of Richard Perle.
Now, if I'm on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn't it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?
And if that's the case, wouldn't it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?
That sure is a lot of supposition, in a Rovian-type of discredit attempt, to say Maloof may not be trusted because he's trying to clear himself and get his clearance back. What Marshall seems to gloss over is that there are several ways to verify Hage's story, and several people in our custody formerly with the Iraqi leadership who can vouch for what Hage is saying. Marshall also seems to be overlooking that Perle, even though he may be trying to help his friend, is admitting what Hage is saying took place, and in essence is throwing dirt not only on the Intel community here for nixing the effort to pursue this, but also his friends Rummy and Wolfie at the Pentagon who also said no. Again, has anyone denied this, or are we trying to run down the credibility of the sources in a classically Rovian way just because we didn't get the story first?
The other contrarian piece on this story is a short snippet from the Washington Post this morning, that is thrown into the paper in a dismissive way that because the Administration got a lot of these types of offer in the weeks leading up to the invasion, this one was discarded as well.
"There was no interest in pursuing it," Perle said last night from Berlin, where he is visiting. "And I had the impression that they'd already had overtures of this kind." At any rate, Perle said, "I had doubts about whether there was a real offer, because the Iraqis had a lot of ways to get in touch with the U.S."
A U.S. official with knowledge of the peace feeler was equally dismissive, describing it was "the standard stuff in the run-up to any war -- people sending signals, maybe stalling for time, some people trying to make some money." In this case, the official added, "there was no hint of any serious offer."
Likewise, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "any suggestion that al Hage's offer could have avoided war is nonsense."
Note the limited use of quotes from Perle, as compared to the quotes from Perle in other sources, cropped in a way to minimize the story as much as possible. Note also that the last person quoted to dismiss the story is from the same place that was implicated for not following up on the offer itself, the Pentagon. And since Ricks allows the story to be buried with a simple dismissive quote from a "US official with knowledge of the peace feeler" without telling us whether or not that person would have a personal interest as well in covering their ass here (hello Condi), why are we to accept what this unnamed official says but not Hage?
Probably because in the great war of scoops and leaks regarding Iraq between the Post and the Times, in this case the Times beat the Post and the Post has no interest obviously pushing that line, nor does the Pentagon in confirming it. And keep in mind that the Post's corporate partner Newsweek went big with this story, as did the Post's polling partner ABC News and their top-notch investigative reporter Brian Ross. And Newsweek you will note didn't exactly use a B-Team group of people on this either.
Again, there are multiple Iraqi officials out there who can confirm the details of any offer, and according to the Times and ABC stories, there is a paper trail to back this story up. It is clear that the Post has no interest in getting after the story unless they broke the story. It is equally clear why the Pentagon wants to discredit it. What isn't clear is why Marshall is so quick to undercut it as well, aside from the hopefully remote possibility that as he gets closer and closer inside the chattering class from the blogosphere, he is more and more willing to adopt the company line on stories that he himself doesn't get first.
So at the end of the day, after all the attempts to call into question the motives of those pushing the story by Beltway types, it still comes down to this: has anyone denied the details of what Hage is saying, and if so, can they produce the Iraqi officials and any other information to back up their attempts to discredit this story?
The families of our soldiers killed in action and those injured and maimed in action have a right to know, no matter how incurious the Post and Josh Marshall are.