sharks are circling in
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - To say that there's blood in the
water and the sharks are circling around the Bush
administration's Iraq policy would be understatement at
It's more like a blood bank that's
been dropped into the water, the sharks have taken the
first bites, and Amazonian piranhas are clamoring for
visas on an expedited basis.
of US President George W Bush - including virtually all
of its top officials, from Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -
is on the defensive. Not only have the president's
approval ratings plunged to the lowest level in his
term, but his administration has opened a potentially
lethal credibility gap on so many different fronts that
reporters hardly know which to write about.
Justice Department's announcement on Tuesday that it has
launched a formal investigation at the behest of the
Central Intelligence Agency of the identification by
as-yet-unidentified "senior White House officials" of a
covert CIA agent is just the latest of a series of
brewing scandals that are likely to dominate the media
agenda in the coming weeks and months.
exception of practicing extramarital sex in the Oval
Office, Bush and his Iraq policy are now being charged
with violating just about every imaginable tenet - from
deceit and corruption, to incompetence and betrayal - of
what has come to be called "good governance".
That many of these charges have moved in just
the past few weeks from the alternative to the
mainstream media and from grassroots activist groups to
Capitol Hill indicates the seriousness of the situation
faced by Bush.
administration's claims regarding Iraq's WMD (weapons of
mass destruction) programs, particularly Vice President
Dick Cheney's assertion about an active nuclear-weapons
program, have been totally discredited. It now appears
that Iraq never reconstituted its WMD efforts after the
first Gulf War in 1991.
The failure of chief WMD
hunter David Kay and his team of 1,400 troops and
experts to find any evidence of nuclear, biological or
chemical weapons after four months of scouring Iraq has
now created a major credibility problem for the
administration. It has now retreated from its earlier
promise to release Kay's report when it was filed, and
most experts do not expect early disclosure. No matter,
the damning details - no evidence of WMD - are being
leaked to Congress and the media.
Republican chairman of the House of Representatives
Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (himself a former
CIA official), and the committee's ranking Democrat,
Jane Harmon, have now publicly charged that, in making
its case that Iraq posed a major WMD threat, that the
underlying intelligence did not support such a
"It appears, and I hate to say this,
that the Iraqis were mostly telling the truth," said
Joseph Cirincione, a weapons specialist at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace. The corollary - that
the United States wasn't - is being increasingly
embraced by Democrats running for president.
Venality and corruption
also increasingly unnerved by the extent to which Bush's
and Cheney's political and business cronies appear to be
profiting from the Iraq war and its reconstruction.
Congressional complaints have already resulted in the
decision to rescind a huge no-bid contract that went to
Halliburton, the giant construction company that Cheney
headed (and retains an interest in) before becoming vice
But evidence that Bush's major
campaign contributors and associates are looking to make
big money in the reconstruction effort is growing almost
daily; indeed, the administration's opposition to
inviting the United Nations or other countries to take a
bigger role in the effort is increasingly being
attributed to the White House's desire to pass along the
goodies to its supporters back home.
treating contracts as prizes to be handed to their
friends, administration officials are delaying Iraq's
recovery, with potentially catastrophic consequences,"
warned Harvard economist Paul Krugman on Tuesday in a
New York Times column that charged the administration's
beneficiaries with "war profiteering".
disclosed that a group of businessmen closely linked to
Bush, his family and other top officials - including his
2000 campaign manager - have set up a consulting firm to
advise companies that want to do business in Iraq.
The news followed a report last month that a
former Israeli law partner of Douglas Feith, the senior
Pentagon official in charge of postwar planning in Iraq,
was also advising companies on business opportunities in
Iraq in association with the nephew of the
Pentagon-backed leader of the Iraqi National Congress
(INC), Ahmad Chalabi. The nephew, Salem Chalabi, is
advising the 25-member, US-appointed Iraqi Governing
Council on reconstruction.
Added to these
concerns is the lack of transparency, a potential new
scandal that surfaced this week when a Florida newspaper
reported that Rumsfeld's office had asked the Special
Operations Command in Tampa to "park" US$40 million for
eventual use by the secretary. The diversion, which was
disclosed by a "whistleblower" in the Pentagon, was
never reported to Congress and is now being investigated
by an internal auditor. The Washington Post on Tuesday
called the investigation "explosive", in major part
because lawmakers have long complained that Rumsfeld has
kept them in the dark on many issues.
Evidence of sheer
incompetence both in the postwar planning and in its
implementation has now become the dominant view in
Washington, particularly since Bush himself implicitly
admitted that things were not going according to plan by
asking Congress to approve $87 billion for expenses in
Iraq and Afghanistan over the coming year.
only did postwar planners fail to anticipate the armed
resistance that has killed at least one US soldier every
36 hours, but they also completely underestimated the
frailty of Iraq's infrastructure. Compounding the
problem has been the preference of the big US companies
that grabbed the reconstruction contracts for importing
expensive new equipment that may not be compatible with
the existing system, over seeking out older spare parts
that would get basic systems up and running much more
quickly and cheaply.
And, while the
administration still insists that it doesn't need any
more than the 130,000 US troops currently deployed in
Iraq, top commanders say they cannot begin to control
Iraq's borders through which, it is believed, hundreds
of Islamist and other fighters are being infiltrated.
Worse, they have also been unable to secure literally
thousands of munitions sites containing tens of
thousands of tonnes of weapons and ammunition and will
be unable to do so for years, according to an account in
Betrayal, if not
This concern arises from this week's big
scandal: the apparent involvement of "two senior White
House officials" in leaking the name of a CIA agent in
retaliation for her husband-diplomat's role in
discrediting Bush's contention in last year's State of
the Union Address that Iraq tried to buy uranium
yellowcake from Niger.
The case revolves around
retired ambassador Joseph Wilson, who traveled to Niger
in 2002 at the CIA's behest to check out the story
(which turned out to be based on forged documents). His
conclusion - that the story was a fraud - was reported
back to the CIA many months before Bush gave his
address. After the Iraq invasion, he published an
article in the Times that recounted both his trip and
his conclusions, noting also that he had been told by
the CIA that Cheney had explicitly requested that the
story be investigated.
Shortly after the
appearance of Wilson's article, at least six reporters,
including right-wing columnist Robert Novak, were
informed by "two senior White House officials" that
Wilson's spouse, whom they identified by name, was a
covert CIA agent working on non-proliferation issues who
had urged that her husband be assigned to Niger.
The apparent intent was to discredit Wilson,
although Wilson has said it was designed to demonstrate
to other former and serving officials that they would
pay a price for crossing the administration. Wilson, who
has very good contacts within both the State Department
and the CIA, has also claimed that Bush's top political
adviser, Karl Rove, "at a minimum condoned" the effort
to expose his wife, and may even have been one of those
two "senior White House officials". Rove and Novak, who
ironically opposed the Iraq war, have long been close.
Under a 1982 law, however, identifying a covert
CIA agent is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.
The CIA filed a complaint invoking the law with the
Justice Department shortly after Novak's column
appeared, and three weeks ago turned in the paperwork
required for the investigation to proceed. The Justice
Department announced on Tuesday that an investigation
had been launched.
Democrats are already
demanding that, given Attorney General John Ashcroft's
status as an administration appointee, the case should
be handed over to an independent prosecutor, demands
that so far have been rebuffed. But, based on what is
already known by the press - including the reporters who
were contacted by those two, still-unnamed, "senior
White House officials" - there appears little doubt that
a very serious felony has been committed and that a
major scandal is in the offing.