David Ignatius: Cheney Can’t Even Get Potentially Illegal Covert Ops Right

To be fair "serious person" Ignatius would never be so dismissive of so "serious" a person as Dick Cheney. But in his response to Hersh’s Sunday article, he pretty much agrees that covert stuff is going on, even while he points out that that–like our Irani policy more generally–is amateurish and ineffective (h/t Laura).

In the new cold war between America and Iran, the United States appears to be running some limited covert operations across the Iranian border. But according to knowledgeable sources, this effort shares the defect of broader U.S. policy toward Iran — it is tentative and ill-coordinated, and it undermines diplomacy without bringing serious pressure on the regime.

"Tell us what’s your policy with Iran," says one Arab official familiar with the covert program. "Are you going to talk to them or go to war with them?" This official describes U.S. operations this way: "There are attempts to cause mischief inside Iran and go after the Quds Force. Some things are being done, but not with the seriousness that’s needed."

Argues a former intelligence official, "It’s a PowerPoint covert-action program. It looks aggressive, but it’s not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy."

Looks like they’re potentially illegal covert ops just for the sake of potentially illegal covert ops, then, I guess. Huzzah to Dick Cheney and his willingness to flout Congressional oversight all in the interest of playing some big boy games!

I can’t help but think we’re hearing the same kind of report–well, worse, really–from that other area of our foreign policy that Dick is in charge of: our Pakistan policy.

Late last year, top Bush administration officials decided to take a step they had long resisted. They drafted a secret plan to make it easier for the Pentagon’s Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda.


But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.


The story of how Al Qaeda, whose name is Arabic for “the base,” has gained a new haven is in part a story of American accommodation to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, whose advisers played down the terrorist threat. It is also a story of how the White House shifted its sights, beginning in 2002, from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq.


“We’re just kind of drifting,” said Richard L. Armitage, who as deputy secretary of state from 2001 to 2005 was the administration’s point person for Pakistan.

In case you don’t believe Armitage (who I’m sure takes some perverse pleasure out of being quoted as labeling Dick’s Pakistan policy as "drifting"), here’s some details on why we’re drifting.

The roots of the crisis go back to the blind bargain Washington made after 9/11 with the regime that had heretofore been the Taliban’s main patron: ignoring Musharraf’s despotism in return for his promises to crack down on al-Qaeda and cut the Taliban loose. Today, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 2001, that bargain is in tatters; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has set up another haven inside Pakistan’s chaotic border regions.

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

Hello!! Don’t you guys get it?!?!?!? Every foreign policy issue that Dick Cheney touches turns to shit!!! Even "serious person" David Ignatius thinks so. Get him away from our foreign policy–all of it–as soon as you can, and put him in charge of diplomatic funerals and boat christenings, the kind of stuff the Barnacle Branch is supposed to manage. Because this rank incompetence is getting downright dangerous.

  1. GeorgeSimian says:

    This is something that is so obvious that it doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention. Secret rendition that everyone knows about, isn’t secret, it’s incompetent. Torturing prisoners could have been done in secret, but they did it in such an incompetent, stupid way that Guantanamo is just SNAFU, a big wart on their incompentent asses. Bush said that it was dangerous that everyone found out about his secret spying program, but if it was that dangerous, why couldn’t he keep it secret? Because these guys can’t run anything right. All they do is cover their sorry, incompetent asses with classified stamps.

  2. PJEvans says:

    Even better, from TPM:

    Via Jeff Stein, who catches this marvel of U.S.-Iraqi ineptitude, from today’s David Ignatius column:

    [T]he Iranians had recently captured several dissident Iranian operatives who had been recruited by U.S. military officers inside Iraq and then sent into Iran. The Iranians, whose intelligence network inside Iraq is pervasive, surveilled the meeting, then followed the agents across the border and seized them.

    So even that’s being done, well, ineptly. You’d think that people who have been pushing war with Iran would have figured out that Iran might possibly have its own undercover ops.

  3. Bushie says:

    Fear not! Our Dear Leader has issued a Presidential finding on covert actions required in Iran and our good Congress is on board so we know strict oversight is in hand. We are backing well-established Sunni groups, even if they are part of Al-Qaeda; they’re against Iran, so it’s ok. And I’m sure part of the $10,000,000,000 will show up in the suit against UBS, so the Pakistani Generals can’t hide it all, though the part Pakistani intelligence gave to Al-Qaeda in support of their larger plans maybe harder to track. Not to worry, it’s all good!

  4. SaltinWound says:

    Agree with all this. But could you take a look at yesterday’s Jerry/Merlin thread if you get the chance? I thought it went off the rails a bit with people blaming Cheney for things that happened in 2000. But it’s possible I’m the one who got confused, because there was a real groundswell. Thanks.

  5. JimWhite says:

    Somewhat OT, but not really: ondelette is pointing out at Open Salon and elsewhere that there is yet another problem with the new Hoyer FISA bill:

    The new bill contains a new definition of Weapons of Mass Destruction that allows everything down to an IED to be considered to be WMD (hint: the catch is in the definition of mass casualty incident or MCI. Look it up in your nearest NIMS/ICS or EMT book). That means that Iran will be considered a proliferator of WMD technology to terrorists on the day this bill goes into effect.

    What better way to class Iran as a proliferator of WMD’s than to redefine WMD’s? This could be the key step to justifying Cheney’s next wet dream.

    • skdadl says:

      Ye gods. I don’t know what more to say, except that is awful. The motive is clear; the danger is clear; that must be stopped.

      • JimWhite says:

        Makes me wonder what else they’ve hidden in there while we argue over immunity. I’m really starting to believe this is one of the most evil governments ever to exist. They clearly are intent on spreading death and destruction in the name of profit for their cronies.

  6. der1 says:

    Does Cheney/Bush really give a shit? Given Addington’s attitude last week on Capitol Hill I don’t think they do…they’re psychopathic war criminals and certainly not, as Mencken said, “the government the common man deserves” even though we’re getting it “good and hard.”

    Ignatius’ Washington Post:

    Sen. Barack Obama and his surrogates continued to criticize Charles R. Black Jr., a top adviser to Sen. John McCain, on Tuesday for saying a terrorist attack before the November election would help the presumptive Republican nominee. But behind their protests lay a question that has dogged Democrats since Sept. 11, 2001: Was Black speaking the truth?

    Limbaugh said in no uncertain terms that Obama would be weak in the face of terrorism. “We know damn well it’s Obama who would seek to appease our enemies. We know damn well it’s McCain who won’t put up with another attack,” Limbaugh said.

    Here’s Greenwald:

    Dick Cheney’s top aide: “We’re one bomb away” from our goal

    Their goal all along was to “get rid of the obnoxious FISA court” entirely, so that they could freely eavesdrop on whomever they wanted with no warrants or oversight of any kind. And here is Dick Cheney’s top aide, drooling with anticipation at the prospect of another terrorist attack so that they could seize this power without challenge. Addington views the Next Terrorist Attack as the golden opportunity to seize yet more power. Sitting around the White House dreaming of all the great new powers they will have once the new terrorist attack occurs — as Addington was doing — is nothing short of deranged.

    Cheney/Bush has been seeding the common man’s mind about the bogey man Achmanadinajad and the “Crazy” Iranians who will nuke all of us back into the stone age (to a woman with “common sense” that makes no sense, that is unless you’re Lynn Cheney) for some time. IMO the Pentagon, through Hersh, is trying their damndest to keep it from happening. To drift to the Center and let these criminals off would be the worst choice the Democrats could make.

  7. pajarito says:

    Dick Cheney’s foreign policy is to continue to ratchet up the heat in the Persian Gulf, threaten war, engage in illegal covert war, and generally destabilize the entire region. The reason? To keep Oil prices soaring, so “Barnacle” and his buddys get richer and richer by the day.

    War mongering is just plain good business. And if you manage to fuck up effective war or delay the peace, so much the better!! That war money and its consequent effect on oil prices is great stuff.

    America? Fuck America! I’m getting rich, SO?

    • BillE says:

      Its like the Die Hard movies. Fake terrorists to cover up the real crimes. Which are outright theft. The last die hard was pretty interesting in that it showed up like a Cheney move, Mount Weather and all (undisclosed COG location).

      As they used to say follow the money ….

    • bmaz says:

      Heh. And it is parried right into the soft underbelly between Rice and Cheney. Sadly, there is rarely, if ever, any meaty follow through.

    • JTMinIA says:

      It took me less than 5 minutes to read Waxman’s letter to Rice. It would have added about 30 seconds for me to correct the typos.

      I wish that someone in his office had done this, instead.

    • emptywheel says:

      Just put up a post on that. The nice thing about subpoena power is it works even with privately-held companies.

      And boy, Condi must be sick of getting Henry’s love letters.

  8. BayStateLibrul says:


    For those considering an antidote to Bush/Cheney depression/anger
    syndrome, consider Fantasy Baseball or other fantasies, and a cold
    beer after 5:00 PM.
    Fucking Cheney is coming to Boston on the Fourth.
    Won’t he just go away?

    • PJEvans says:

      He doesn’t seem to believe in them. No district meetings listed on his official site, either. (He does actually have them. Occasionally.)

    • emptywheel says:

      There is no recess when you’re Bush’s biggest terror. Press on. Offense! Keep pushing.

      Or, more importantly, the staffers don’t get recess.

  9. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    …Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.
    …Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him… Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

    The history stretches back at least twelve millenia, and much of it is extraordinary. It has a burgeoning population, and the US is missing out greatly by not having the fundamental curiousity to inquire into a group of people whose roots go back so far into time.

    Beyond ‘incompetence’; it’s suicidal to remain so ignorant of such a huge population.

    • bobschacht says:

      What I think is just as dangerous as the ignorance is the general attitude of American exceptionalism: History doesn’t matter, because we’re different, and the situation is different. So never mind the fact that the British Empire and the Russian Empire both failed to pacify Afghanistan in any meaningful fashion. We’re Americans, and that makes us different! And we’re fighting the War on Terra, and that makes it different! So the British experience and the Russian experience don’t matter!

      For which there is only one appropriate response, as Harry Potter fans know: Ridiculous!

      Bob in HI

  10. behindthefall says:

    We’re probably doing night ops using fancy (and inappropriate) hardware like the V-22 Osprey. It’s brainless, testosterone-rich “boys with toys”, nothing driven by thought and persistence.

  11. brendanx says:

    Here are two Post articles today about Iran, directly or indirectly:

    Chairman of Joint Chiefs says more troops needed in Afghanistian:

    Mullen also addressed the issue of a potential conflict with Iran, saying he clearly favors diplomacy over military action to deter Tehran from seeking nuclear weapons. Mullen visited Israeli officials last week but declined to provide details on his discussions with them.

    “Clearly there is a very broad concern about the overall stability level in the Middle East,” Mullen said. For the military, “opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity or the reserve, but that would be very challenging and the consequences of that are very difficult to predict.”

    Mullen said plainly that he opposes the U.S. or Israel engaging Iran with a military strike.

    “My strong preference is to handle all of this diplomatically with the other powers of government, as opposed to any kind of strike occurring,” Mullen said. “This is a very unstable part of the world and I don’t need it to be more unstable.”

    And Iran Appears to Warm to Diplomacy:

    Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that prospects for a military attack by either the United States or Israel on the Islamic republic before the end of the Bush administration are “almost nil,” and he dismissed a recent Israeli military exercise and warnings from Washington as “psychological warfare.”

    On the subject of Iraq, Mottaki said Iran believes the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not accept the controversial status-of-forces agreement sought by Washington. “It is our understanding that Iraq will not sign it,” he said.

    He doesn’t sound wrong, given the tepid appraisal of talks in this article.

    • JTMinIA says:

      Interesting how that NYT article has a picture caption referring to McCain’s “campaign plane” with the picture taken in February.

  12. al75 says:


    I think this post has it exactly right: Cheney is controlling Pakistan policy, and sees his relationship Musharraf as a key means to support his objectives. His grasp of actual statesmanship is limited to non-existent: in Cheney’s mind, micromanaging the torture of a Afghan taxi driver makes him a player, a Machiavellian tough guy. He has no understanding of Arabs or Asian muslims, and a Yale drop-out’s contempt for those who do.

    Cheney’s nemesis in the early days of the war was George Tenet, and the CIA’s effectiveness in Afghanistan in 2001 was a threat to Cheney/Rumsfeld’s control of military action. Tenet, not Al Queada, was the threat – and Cheney dealt with him.

    I wish I understood more about the Iran-Pakistan relationship. The Iranians reportedly turned to Russia, possibly with an assist from the CIA’s ‘Merlin’ program, for their atom-bomb plans. The Bush regime has long recruited Pakistan as an ally against Iran.

    From the Asia Times 3/07:

    Iran rightly estimates that Musharraf’s grandiloquent “Islamic action plan” for the Middle East crisis in essence sub-serves the US agenda of ameliorating Israel’s regional isolation without substantially addressing the Palestinian problem… Tehran probably has fresh grounds to reassess Musharraf’s intentions. Or, it is running out of patience. Last month, terrorists killed 13 officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Zahedan. Last week, in another incident in the town of Negor in Sistan-Balochistan, four Iranian policemen were killed, one abducted and another wounded. The perpetrators fled across the border into Pakistan…

    The depth of the Iranian sense of hurt and bitterness came out in
    remarks made by Ahmad Khatami, who led last Friday’s prayer meeting in Tehran. With biting sarcasm, the religious leader said, “Pakistan is becoming a terrorist state and even though it is our neighbor, little by little it is losing its neighborly manners as it has become a sanctuary for terrorists who kill people in Zahedan.”

    One doesn’t need to invoke Sibel Edmonds’ garbled account of an Israel-Turkish-Pakistani nuclear conspiracy to see the hallmark of Bush/Cheney administration’s yen for conspiracy and violence, and contempt for competence.