Making Progress in Iraq

My, what a full plate we have here as a result of President Bush's primetime press conference. Most importantly, the president believes in freedom. Also, we are trying to change the world (did we sign up for that? did the rest of the world? I thought we were trying to catch terrorists). And glorious news: We may yet find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Someone unearthed 50 pounds of mustard gas on a turkey farm. Oh, and another thing, some of the president's critics say "brown-skinned people" can't create democracies.

Who are those dreadful critics? They're in the famous category of "some." Just like the Republican National Committee ad that says, "Some are attacking the president for attacking the terrorists." Oh, those awful "some."

There are always moments of cognitive dissonance in listening to President Bush, when you realize that what he is saying simply does not accord with any known version of reality. By way of good news, he proudly bragged that "we" created the Department of Homeland Security -- that would be the department whose creation he opposed all those months. Also, he is looking forward to the report of the 9-11 Commission -- that would be the same commission he so vigorously opposed for all those months.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the administration has announced its intention to make John Negroponte our first ambassador to postwar Iraq, to take up residence in what will be the world's largest embassy after June 30. Negroponte was one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal, the cockeyed plot that sold American arms to Iran and used the money to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua. So, our first ambassador will be a man who armed Iraq's enemy during that war.

Negroponte speaks no Arabic, he is a specialist in covert operations in Latin America, and he has no Middle East experience aside from the Iran-Contra insanity. He is, however, a bona fide, certified, chicken-fried neo-con. Is anyone else appalled?

I find this appointment terrifying, and it leaves me afraid the administration is contemplating something I have heretofore dismissed as a loony-left conspiracy theory. Could it possibly consider handing over Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 to any combination of Iraqis that includes Ahmad Chalabi? Chalabi is the convicted crook, demonstrated liar, purveyor of false intelligence and con man who so charmed Dick Cheney and the other neo-con hawks that they still half-believe him. He is now on the Iraqi Governing Council, earning an enviable reputation for corruption.

On the matter of Bush's chronic inability to admit mistakes (we have a crude expression for this in Texas that was used about Bush years before he became president), I think he and Rove are making a mistake-mistake. I've never thought apologizing for errors was a mistake (I make them with some regularity myself). Former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's most famous line is probably, "When I make a mistake, it's a beaut." Janet Reno didn't sound weak when she said, "I take responsibility" for the longstanding communications failures with the FBI. The FBI sounds like Dysfunction City, by the way.

Meanwhile, over at the 9-11 Commission, you may recall there was a difference of opinion between former Clinton honchos and the CIA as to whether Clinton had issued an order to kill Osama bin Laden or merely capture him. Lo and behold, what should turn up in the Clinton documents that were being withheld by the Bush White House but the very order to assassinate bin Laden. Perhaps the most impressive witness this week was the former director of the CIA's counterterrorism section, Cofer Black, clearly a spook's spook. You could tell he was furious when he said quietly, "We didn't have enough people to do the job, and we didn't have enough money, by magnitudes."

I think this is where the disconnect between Bush's strategy and reality is the most critical. He has been led astray by his own rhetoric about the war on terrorism: War is conducted by the military -- ergo, send in the Marines. Actually, fighting terrorism is closer to a cross between a criminal investigation and traditional spook work. What we need most is good intelligence married to good detective work married to undercover penetration and then precise military strikes. We also need, most critically, international cooperation, which is precisely what has been damaged by Bush's contemptuous treatment of our allies.

One trouble with Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric -- he never changes his mind, he never backs down, what a macho guy he is, etc. -- is that he does change his mind, often, (why do you think Condi Rice testified?), but you can't tell if he realizes it.

Maybe he thinks rigidity is reassuring, but anyone who doesn't change strategy when the facts change on the ground is going to wind up toast. Flexibility is not a pejorative word, whereas the neo-con ideological fixations are a real handicap.

As long as we're playing the blame game, the Republican Congress might want to step up to the responsibility plate. It spent more time in the '90s trying to bring down Bill Clinton than trying to bring down Osama bin Laden. Cofer Black sure could have used the $64 million Ken Starr spent investigating Whitewater.

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