Bush’s Empire: Making His Own Reality, NIE Edition

I’m interested in Michael Hirsh’s report that Bush trashed the key judgments of the NIE while in Israel for two reasons. First, WTF was the SAO who leaked the story trying to accomplish?

That NIE, made public Dec. 3, embarrassed the administration by concluding that Tehran had halted its weapons program in 2003, which seemed to undermine years of bellicose rhetoric from Bush and other senior officials about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. "He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views" about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity. [my emphasis]

The same article quotes Stephen Hadley, one of a limited number of Senior Administration Officials accompanying Bush on the trip, as saying that Bush said only that Iran remains a threat, regardless of what the NIE says.

Bush’s national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, told reporters in Jerusalem that Bush had only said to Olmert privately what he’s already said publicly, which is that he believes Iran remains "a threat" no matter what the NIE says.

Was Hadley’s on the record quote a continuation of the earlier anonymous comment to Hirsh or, more likely, a response to the earlier leak, an alternate view of what the anonymous SAO was spinning to Hirsh? That is, did some SAO spin Bush’s fairly innocuous comment (at least as Hadley interpreted it) as a repudiation of the NIE, contrary to the official stance of the Administration? And if so, to what end? To support Dick Cheney’s campaign for war (Stephen Hadley is often considered a Cheney operative, though he was stuck playing the interlocutor between Cheney and the CIA leading up to the Plame leak)?

But I’m also struck by the timing of this quote. If I were one of the analysts who worked on this NIE–or even, say, one of the senior intelligence officers who threatened to go public with the key judgments of the NIE–I’d be pretty peeved to know that Bush was bad-mouthing my handiwork to allies, particularly after the apparent confrontation to get it declassified in the first place. Read more

Back to War Against Eastasia…

It seems like just ten days ago that I was reporting that we weren’t at war with Eastasia the Pentagon had announced that Iran had stopped providing Iraq with EFPs (though click through to read the Shachtman update). But ten days is a long time when you’re already two weeks into "Legacy Year," and so it’s time to announce that we are, once again, at war with Eastasia.

Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq with bombs believed linked to Iran — known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) — have risen sharply in January after several months of decline, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Iraqi and U.S. officials indicated just a month ago that Iran was using its influence to improve security in Iraq by restraining cross-border weapons flow and militia activity. The U.S. military had said in recent months that the number of EFP attacks had gone down.

Gen. David Petraeus disclosed the reversal to reporters after a meeting with President Bush who was visiting troops in Kuwait.

"In this year, EFPs have gone up, actually, over the last 10 days by a factor of two or three, and frankly we’re trying to determine why that might be," Petraeus said. [my emphasis]

Two things to note in this story. First, General Petraeus can count as well as I can: ten days. I wonder if Petraeus is at all embarrassed by his sudden reversal?  Particularly when you look at the timing: General Petraeus makes this announcement directly after meeting with George Bush, just after Bush has visited Israel, and not before. You think maybe Bush ordered Petraeus to ratchet up the propaganda?

Because, after all, there’s no other sign they’re ratcheting up the propaganda. Hammered copper ashtrays and Filipino Monkey, that’s what this great country has  stooped to.

Dan Rather Gets Discovery

Great news. Dan Rather will join the 5,732 other people (in addition to the American public as a whole, of course) who have a legal claim to see all those emails the White House has already disappeared (h/t pontificator). The judge in Rather’s lawsuit has decided to grant him discovery for his lawsuit.

It looks like former CBS News anchor Dan Rather will indeed get his day in court. On Wednesday evening Justice Ira Gammerman of the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan made a preliminary ruling denying the TV network’s motion to dismiss Rather’s $70 million lawsuit. "I think discovery should go forward," said Gammerman.


Now that the case will be moving forward, Rather’s lawyer Marty Gold wants CBS to start forking over internal emails and documents to prove his case, including exchanges between network brass and the White House. Naturally, this has CBS lawyers asking the court to limit the scope of the discovery. "It seems pretty clear they don’t want to produce [the documents]," said Gold.

So let’s see how those typical White House excuses are going to work…

State Secrets? The White House would have to claim that CBS was party to its biggest secrets, thereby proving that CBS is nothing but a party propaganda organ. Though of course, that’s effectively what they’ve said about Judy Judy Judy, both before and during Iraq.

Executive Privilege? For a case intimately involving whether Bush cheated his way out of military service? It doesn’t matter who it is, they’re not going to want to admit that anyone close enough to invoke privilege was "deliberating" about those TANG documents.

Which pretty much leaves the last refuge of the Bush Administration: the dog ate my emails. All of them.

Which will make it all the more interesting when the White House has to tell us what the state of their backup tapes is in approximately 3 days.

Are We Faking It Again?

That’s what the Iranians say. They say the US took video and superimposed audio to it with the menacing threat, "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes," but that the threat (and the claimed throwing of small boxes in front of the US Navy ships) didn’t happen.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accused the United States on Wednesday of fabricating video showing armed Iranian speedboats confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, according to a report carried by the semi-official Fars news agency as well as state-run television.

“Images released by the U.S. Department of Defense about the navy vessels, the archive, and sounds on it are fabricated,” an unnamed Revolutionary Guard official said, according to Fars. The news agency has close links to the Revolutionary Guard. It was the first time Iran had commented on a video the Pentagon released Tuesday.

The US, for its part, admits that it matched the audio to the video, but claims that both are authentic.

The video and audio were recorded separately and then matched, Naval and Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Now, frankly, I’m not surprised the Iranians were playing chicken with the US Navy. With all the war-mongering Dick has been doing, you’d have to imagine they’d be testing our defenses in the Straits of Hormuz. And maybe the Iranians even radioed something to the US–though the audio here sounds more like some frat boys playing with helium than a real threat. 

But what I want to know is why–authentic or not–the military released video that looks so fake? Particularly when you watch both the YouTube and the DefenseLink version, which blacks out at the end when they play the claimed threat. And with the guy on the radio repeating the threat–somehow he can understand what helium-man says right away, with no "huh" or "what"–and no continuation of the tape to hear what came next.

See, whether or not the video is authentic, I just don’t think it particularly helps the US make the case that the Iranians threatened the US. Better to leave the video alone with the bright blue boat playing along in the ships’ wake and the horns blaring than to have something as farcical sounding as helium-man issuing odd threats. We already have damaged our credibility on these issues–and particularly on Iran. We don’t need helium-man to damage it further. 

Tip Your Hat

Jack Balkin gets at something I was trying to address the other day: the collapse of Reagan’s three-legged stool and its benefits for the Democratic party.

Bush’s failed presidency has left the Republicans scrambling to reconstitute the Reagan coalition. The wide range of different candidates– from Giuliani to Romney to McCain to Huckabee to Paul– offer different solutions. We don’t yet know how the coalition will be reassembled, and under whose leadership. However, as of the day of the New Hampshire primary, it looks like putting it back together will be a tall order. And although the eventual nominee will try to assume the mantle of Ronald Reagan– and, equally important, not the mantle of George W. Bush– the Republican party will have been changed forever by the events of the last eight years.


And that is why, if, like many Americans, you think that change is coming, and you think that this is a good thing, you should tip your hat to George W. Bush and his eventful presidency. For if Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, George W. Bush is the Great Destroyer of Coalitions.

We don’t know for sure how this is going to turn out–but the sheer unpredictability of the Republican side of this primary is testament that something new is afoot. (Though why do people keep pretending that neither Michigan nor Nevada have primaries coming up on the same day or before the South Carolina primary?) If I had to bet, I’d bet either that Romney gets the nod but that the Republican bigots stay home, or that Huck gets the nomination which results in a lot of what I called the "competence corporatists" heavily supporting Dems. In either case, resulting in low Republican turnout and, barring Cheney pulling OBL out of a hole or something similar, a comfortable Dem win.

What makes Balkin’s post worth reading, though, is the way he ties this into Bush the failure.

If 2008 turns out to be a pivotal election, defining a new political era, it is important to give credit where credit is due. Two key reasons for the change will be the crackup of the coalition of the dominant party of the era, the Republicans, and the almost complete political failure of George W. Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Let me begin with the second reason, and then move to the first. Read more

Stupid DOJ Tricks: Don’t Watch this Bush Ad

I have to admit. I find this ad totally unappealing. While Bush comes off as the same kind of mob-inciting thug as George Allen did in Macaca, Geoffrey Fieger’s smug delivery doesn’t make me want to have him represent me in any lawsuits. Still, it’s marginally more subtle than most trial lawyer advertisements. And who can fault a guy for trying to make a buck off of being attacked by the astoundingly unpopular Bush?

Still, a pretty harmless ad.

Except that DOJ appears to be preparing to argue that it threatens their ability to try Fieger for crimes relating to campaign finance. They have subpoenaed the firm that made the ad, asking for: Read more

Is Pelosi Planning on Picking Bush’s Pocket?

Remember Bush’s surly claimed pocket veto on military pay raises, just in time for New Years? We pretty much dismissed its claim to legality when it happened (See especially PhoenixWoman’s link, which has gotten far too little attention for its apparent precedent on precisely the issues in question). But now I’m increasingly intrigued by the political possibilities, particularly with the news that Speaker Pelosi is calling bullshit on Bush’s claim to have used a pocket veto specifically to reject the bill.

The White House on Monday said it was pocket-vetoing the measure, but a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the president cannot use such a measure when Congress is in session. The distinction over whether the president can pocket-veto the bill is important because such a move would prevent Congress from voting on an override.

Congress vigorously rejects any claim that the president has the authority to pocket-veto this legislation, and will treat any bill returned to the Congress as open to an override vote,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi. He said the Speaker is keeping all legislative options on the table. [my emphasis]

As soon as Bush announced he planned to veto the bill, I grew enticed by what some of those "legislative options" might be–and Nancy’s cry of "bullshit" makes me even more enticed.

As I see it, if Congress insists that Bush could not have pocket vetoed the bill, then the first thing it should do is aim for an override. As the Hill points out, Democrats are likely to lose the huge majorities who supported the bill last month. But if they can credibly show that they might be able to override Bush’s veto, things would get interesting.

See, I believe that Bush has now placed Democrats in the position he has tried to place himself in with his threat to veto all the appropriations bills. That is, if Bush vetos the appropriations bills, then that’ll put the Democrats in a position where they need to negotiate quickly, or risk shutting down the government (Kagro X laid this all out in a couple of posts last September, but I can’t seem to find them right away).

The position Democrats are in now is similar: They can do a whip count, and if they’ve proven they have the votes, then can threaten to simply override the veto and negotiate from there.

Or, more tantalizingly, they can re-open the whole Defense Appropriations bill. All of it. Read more

The CIA Solidifies its Terror Tapes Story–or Tries To

Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane have done good reporting on the terror tape story. But their latest installment reads like an attempt on the part of the CIA to get its story straight. That attempt might work–so long as you don’t read it too closely. (Update: Scott Horton thinks this is a transparent cover story too.)

The story as a whole is full of no-nonsense logical explanations for the CIA’s actions with regards to the terror tapes. For example, Buzzy Krongard provides a very logical explanation for why the CIA took the tapes:

“You couldn’t have more than one or two analysts in the room,” said A. B. Krongard, the C.I.A.’s No. 3 official at the time the interrogations were taped. “You want people with spectacular language skills to watch the tapes. You want your top Al Qaeda experts to watch the tapes. You want psychologists to watch the tapes. You want interrogators in training to watch the tapes.”

In addition, the NYT’s sources claim the CIA took the tapes to document that they weren’t killing Abu Zubaydah specifically, and because they had so rarely interrogated such high level detainees. But then, the risks of keeping the tapes increased, partly because the CIA was using torture and partly because detainees were dying in custody. So the CIA stopped taking tapes and started trying to get rid of those they already had.

This set off a big debate internally in the CIA. CIA General Counsel Scott Muller advised against the tapes destruction. Then CIA’s IG John Helgorsen started investigating the CIA’s interrogation program; an April 2004 report concluded some of the CIA’s methods amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. After Muller and Tenet left and Porter Goss and John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez came in, those trying to protect the interrogators attempted to get approval for destroying the tapes again. Goss objected (the story says). But a year later, as Congress was passing the McCain Amendment banning torture, Rodriguez made the decision to destroy the tapes. And remarkably, Goss did not discipline Rodriguez, even though he claims to have opposed the tapes’ destruction.

It’s all a neat, logical story, isn’t it? It all explains the whole chronology such that American taxpayers won’t fault the CIA for trying to do the right thing, right?

Except it remains a vague story full of holes. Read more

Why the Sudden Veto of Military Pay Raises?

Digby and Steve Benen are right. Bush’s impending veto of the military spending bill is just weird. Here’s how Pelosi and Reid describe the veto:

Despite the Administration’s earlier support for the Department of Defense authorization bill, it appears that President Bush plans to veto this legislation, which is crucial to our armed forces and their families.

The Defense bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming bipartisan margins and addresses urgent national security priorities, including a 3.5 percent pay raise for our troops and Wounded Warriors legislation to remedy our veterans’ health care system. It is unfortunate that the President will not sign this critical legislation.

Instead, we understand that the President is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed.

The Administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto. The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the President vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops’ pay raise, the Wounded Warriors Act and other critical measures.

It’s weird in that Bush has had months to push a very compliant Congress to write the bill precisely as he wants. And it’s weird because the stated reason for the impending veto doesn’t make any sense. Steve points to this Yahoo article explaining why. Bush says he’s going to veto the bill because the Iraqis are worried about getting sued, but the Iraqis are already protected by law.

Sovereign nations are normally immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. An exception is made for state sponsors of terrorism and Iraq was designated such a nation in 1990. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, however, Congress passed a law and Bush issued a decree stating that Iraq was exempt from such lawsuits. Read more

Henry Gets Impatient

Apparently, I’m not the only one who noticed that, since the time when Henry Waxman first asked Michael Mukasey to hand over the White House-related materials from the CIA Leak Case investigation, he has proven to mighty responsive to requests from Congress when it involves covering up for the White House. Compare these two response times to requests from Congress:

Torture Tapes: 6 Days Response

December 8: Congress begins to call for its own investigation of the destruction of the torture tapes

December 14: Mukasey sends a letter telling Congress to butt out

CIA Leak Investigation: 15 days and counting

December 3: Waxman requests White House investigation materials from Mukasey

December 18: Waxman asks again

Given the disparity in time–and the apparent logic that the disparity seems to stifle oversight in both cases–I can see why Waxman is getting impatient. He sets up his very own confrontation with Mukasey, too, giving him a deadline of January 3:

Thus, I request that you provide the Committee by January 3,2008, with the documents requested in the Committee’s July 16 letter
to Mr. Fitzgerald, including the reports of interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other White House officials.

And if a deadline isn’t enough, Waxman throws Mukasey’s logic back at him.

You resisted providing information to the committees because of your concern that providing information could undermine the Justice Department’s on-going investigation. In the Plame matter, there is no pending Justice Department investigation and no pending Justice Department litigation. Whatever the merits of the position you are taking in the CIA tapes inquiry, those considerations do not apply here.

I’m not holding my breath. But seeing Dick and Bush’s interview transcripts sure would be an interesting way to start the New Year.