Don’t Worry, Isikoff Says, DC Is Not Corrupt and Dishonest

When the Village needs to plant a story to counter a growing narrative, they know who to call: Michael Isikoff. And true to form, Isikoff writes a review of Philip Shenon’s book on the 9/11 Commission that–while it presents abundant evidence that agrees with Max Holland’s post on the book–still tries to refute Holland’s post.

Holland makes two main points in his post. First (as covered in this post), that Zelikow and Rove carried on back-channel communication after the Commission heads told him to stop. And, more generally, Holland argues that Zelikow used his position to,

… exploit[] his central position to negate or neutralize criticism of the Bush administration so that the White House would not bear, in November 2004, the political burden of failing to prevent the attacks.

To which, Isikoff scolds,

In any case, the suggestion by conspiracy theorists—who have seized on the evidence in Shenon’s book—that Zelikow was serving as a secret White House "mole" is hard to sustain.

Nosiree, Zelikow wasn’t the secret White House mole! While Isikoff includes a quote from Lee Hamilton, a Democrat with a long history of excusing Republican shortcomings, in which Hamilton vouches for Zelikow’s interest in exposing all the facts, Isikoff also presents the following evidence that supports and expands on Holland’s post:

  • After Commission investigator Warren Bass found emails from Richard Clarke warning of "hundreds of Americans [lying] dead in several countries," Zelikow, "disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice."
  • Isikoff numbers "at least four" calls between Rove and Zelikow; Isikoff repeats Zelikow’s excuse that these were related to Zelikow’s academic job, but he doesn’t include the allegation that Zelikow tried to have his Executive Secretary stop logging his calls.
  • He repeats Shenon’s claim that Rove specifically said that a report that blamed Bush for 9/11 could most easily sink his re-election bid.

So to make his argument that Zelikow wasn’t a White House mole trying to prevent a critical report from hurting Bush’s re-election chances, Isikoff provides the quote of someone not known for candid speech, lauding the report itself. But Isikoff doesn’t refute the claim that Rove and Zelikow were communicating, he doesn’t refute the claim that Rove thought a favorable report was important, and he even adds another witness describing Zelikow as "bullying" the Commision to protect the reputation of his gal Condi! Read more

Is Dick Finally Going to Go After OBL?

The NYT has a disturbing story this morning, explaining that, with the US policy in tatters after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, they’re considering ratcheting up the pressure by allowing the CIA to partner with the Special Forces on operations in Pakistan.

President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The debate is a response to intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government, several senior administration officials said.


Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said. But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.

Many of the specific options under discussion are unclear and highly classified. Officials said that the options would probably involve the C.I.A. working with the military’s Special Operations forces.

Two pseudonymous counter-insurgency analysts cross-posting at Danger Zone have a good response to this: Read more


Given my well-known complaint with those who have long underplayed the importance of Pakistan in our foreign policy debates, I feel like I have to say something about Bhutto’s assassination. But so far, the most intelligent thing I’ve seen written on Pakistan comes from AmericaBlog’s AJ:

The first thing to say about Bhutto’s assassination is that any kind of rush to judgment, especially along the lines of impending doom, is probably imprudent.

Unless Musharraf planned this assassination as part of a larger campaign to reimpose his power, I would imagine things are–and will remain–in a state of flux for some time. If Musharraf didn’t plan it, only sort of allowed it to happen with inadequate security, and instead Islamic extremists pulled it off, then Musharraf himself may be subject to a lot more pressure from those extremists. But we don’t know–and I’m not convinced we’ll really know for sure for some time, if ever.

And while AJ warns against seeing this as a collapse into anarchy, it seems clear that Bhutto’s assassination devastates our Pakistan policy. Here’s AJ again:

In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn’t necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn’t work. We also — though not only us — painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.

And here’s Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler in the WaPo: Read more

Bush’s Direct and Constant Knowledge of the NIE Intelligence

Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer have an article that answers most of our questions on the genesis of the NIE. What they don’t say–though their article shows–is that Bush was much more cognizant of the development of the NIE than he has let on. Not only did he keep the US people in the dark about the new intelligence on Iraq, he also kept our European allies in the dark (and, I wonder, perhaps even Condi?), even while he was demanding they impose more sanctions.

The article starts with the news that not just Dick this time, but Bush himself, has been meeting with analysts on Iran directly.

They call them "deep dives," special briefings for President Bush to meet with not just his advisers but also the analysts who study Iran in the bowels of the intelligence world. Starting last year, aides arranged a series of sessions for Bush to "get his hands dirty," in the White House vernacular for digging into intelligence to understand what is known and not known.

Those deep dives led directly to the discovery of the new Iran intell. As with Dick Cheney, when he claimed he never got an answer to his questions about uranium in Niger, Bush has been telling us no one informed him of the answer to questions he, himself, posed. Uh huh. Read more

The NIE and Israel

In my banana republic thread, MinnesotaChuck asks the $64,000 question.

I wonder if the withdrawal of the resolution, which went down several days ago, had anything to do with the release of the NIE yesterday.

That–or rather the reverse scenario–seems pretty darn likely to me. Consider these data points:

November 26: Per Seymour Hersh, Bush tells Ehud Olmert what’s in the NIE.

November 27: The Annapolis Peace Conference

November 28: The day Hadley claims Bush was briefed on the NIE; Bush meets with Olmert again

November 29: Khalilzad submits a resolution endorsing Annapolis at UN; Condi calls Khalilzad in the middle of the meeting to ask WTF he’s doing

November 30: A Khalilzad deputy withdraws the UN resolution while Khalilzad is in "previously scheduled" meeting in DC with Condi

December 3: Unexpected public release of NIE showing Iran has given up nuke program

December 4: Israelis say the NIE is wrong; Bush announces his first trip to Israel as President (h/t Laura); both Annapolis and Iran’s purported nukes are on the agenda; Khalilzad calls the claim that he had submitted the resolution without vetting it bull

All of which makes me all the more curious how–and when–the NIE got declassified. Because it sure looks like Israel is only going to let Condi have her Annapolis-based legacy if she allows them to continue to war-monger in Iran. Read more

I Dunno. It Looks Like a Banana Republic to Me.

I suspect Zalmay Khalilzad doesn’t care to lose all his credibility in the international community just so Condi doesn’t have to admit she lost her latest fight with Cheney (or did she lose a fight with Olmert?). At least, that’s what I surmise from his snarky response to Madame Secretary’s attempt to blame him, Khalilzad, for introducing a resolution at the UN that the Administration later withdrew (h/t Holden).

Washington’s U.N. envoy denied on Tuesday he had acted alone in handing the Security Council a Middle East resolution he later pulled after Israel objected.

The United States withdrew the draft, which hailed the results of a November 27 Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last Friday in what the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers called an embarrassing about-face.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad dismissed what he said were media reports he had submitted the draft resolution "on my own," without consulting the State Department or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Read more