Bernstein: Investigate the Administration Now

[front-paged at Booman Tribune]

Carl Bernstein makes a case for rigorous Congressional investigations in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

...a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.

Typcially, for Bernstein, he gets right to the point. What is the single biggest crime of the Bush administration?

...most grievous and momentous is the willingness--even enthusiasm, confirmed by the so-called Downing Street Memo and the contemporaneous notes of the chief foreign-policy adviser to British prime minister Tony Blair--to invent almost any justification for going to war in Iraq (including sending up an American U-2 plane painted with U.N. markings to be deliberately shot down by Saddam Hussein's air force, a plan hatched while the president, the vice president, and Blair insisted to the world that war would be initiated "only as a last resort").

The basic facts are no longer in dispute. Not really. The Bush administration decided to use 9/11 to attack Iraq on 9/11.

With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." - meaning Saddam Hussein - "at same time. Not only UBL" - the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden.

Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn't matter to Rumsfeld.

"Go massive," the notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

The next day, Richard Clarke told us about the President's attitude.

"Later, on the evening of the 12th, I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room.

"Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all ...but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this."

"I know, I know, but ... see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred."

"Absolutely, we will look ...again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty (from the Office of Emergency Response) stared after him with her mouth hanging open.

Also on the twelth, Cheney's personal stenographer, William Safire already had the message.

The Pentagon's rebuilt fifth side should include a new Department of Pre-emption...The next attack will probably not be by a hijacked jet, for which we will belatedly prepare. More likely it will be a terrorist-purchased nuclear missile or a barrel of deadly germs dumped in a city's reservoir.

By September 24th, Safire had taken up Cheney's standard and was hard-charging against Colin Powell.

"We're looking for links" between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist group and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, said Colin Powell yesterday. So far, our secretary of state can see "no clear link" between bin Laden's forces in Afghanistan and the America-hater publicly laughing at our grief in Baghdad.

Powell does not want to acknowledge any evidence of sponsorship of bin Laden by Iraq because that would demand a crushing blow at an Arab state. It might limit the diplomatic convoy of consensus he is assembling, which will travel at the rate of its most grudging member.

The clear link between the terrorist in hiding and the terrorist in power can be found in Kurdistan, that northern portion of Iraq protected by U.S. and British aircraft from Saddam's savagery.

On October 22nd, Safire began linking Mohammed Atta to an Iraqi intelligence officer.

this summer's observed contacts of Al Qaeda's suicide-hijacker Mohammed Atta with Iraqi spies under diplomatic cover in Prague

And he continued an attack on Brent Scowcroft that he had begun on October 15th.

What about a connection between Osama bin Laden and Iraq's Saddam Hussein? Because the Scowcroft set at the National Security Council is still in denial about its blunder a decade ago that permitted Saddam to stay in power, the C.I.A. professes to see no collaboration in Baghdad.

Thus, by late October all of Cheney, Bush, and Rumsfeld's arguments for war had been seeded into the national discourse. None of it was true. But, it hardly mattered. Once we were in Iraq the Establishment was committed for the long haul. As Washington Post editorial chief Fred Hiatt said last fall:

...dwindling public support could force the United States into a self-defeating position, and that defeat in Iraq would be disastrous for the United States...

Back then Hiatt was concerned that Democratic efforts to investigate the lies that led to war would undermine the war effort. Today, Hiatt is complaining about retired generals criticizing Rumsfeld.

What Hiatt and the rest of Washington's enablers fail to understand is that the damage has already been done. Our defeat in Iraq is already disastrous. But our moral defeat is even more stunning. Bernstein has it right.

Karl Rove and other White House strategists are betting (with odds in their favor) that Republicans on Capitol Hill are extremely unlikely to take the high road before November and endorse any kind of serious investigation into Bush's presidency--a gamble that may increase the risk of losing Republican majorities in either or both houses of Congress, and even further undermine the future of the Bush presidency. Already in the White House, there is talk of a nightmare scenario in which the Democrats successfully make the November congressional elections a referendum on impeachment--and win back a majority in the House, and maybe the Senate too.

But voting now to create a Senate investigation--chaired by a Republican--could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House.

The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency.

The quicker we face reality and punish the perpetrators of this betrayal, the sooner we can begin to heal as a nation.

Tags: 9/11, Carl Bernstein, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Hiatt, George W. Bush, Iraq, mohammed atta, prague, william safire (all tags)

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