Joe Conason's Journal

The most disturbing recent Iraq story you haven't read about in most newspapers. Plus: Scowcroft under attack, and more ill-advised bombshells from a certain blonde.

Published August 21, 2002 3:56PM (EDT)

Three weeks in August
Some conservatives are still whining about what they regard as attempts to manipulate public opinion on Iraq by the editors of the New York Times. It's nonsense -- the Times has been reporting real news, such as the public dissent of a former national security adviser who happens to be a close confidant of the president's father, and the House Majority Leader of the president's own party.

But the most disturbing Iraq-related story seems unfit to print in most of the nation's leading, allegedly liberal-biased newspapers (or at least I couldn't find any sign of it via Nexis). Papers from the Guardian to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Milwaukee Journal covered this remarkable story: A retired three-star Marine general quit in the middle of this month's $250 million, three-week Pentagon war game -- the most expensive and ambitious ever -- claiming that the experiment had been rigged for an American victory. (Does this remind anyone of the missile defense tests.) Retired Gen. Paul van Riper, who commanded the "Red" or enemy forces in a simulated conflict in the Gulf, quit because he was denied the opportunity to use all of his weapons and tactics to win against the "Blue" or American team. In its original Aug. 16 story, the AP quoted former Ambassador Robert Oakley, who played someone a lot like Saddam in the war game, as saying that Van Riper sank most of the Blue Forces ships after they sailed into the Gulf. "Oakley said Joint Forces Command officials had to stop the exercise and 'refloat' the fleet in order to continue." Uh oh.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tried to knock the story down at his briefing today, but Van Riper's outrage may well be another sign of the rift between the military brass and the Pentagon's civilian leadership.

Sunburned Scowcroft
For Brent Scowcroft, being vilified by the New York Sun probably upsets him somewhat less than finding yet another piece of junk mail on his doorstep. The city's conservative broadsheet is still struggling to find an original style, an attentive audience and a raison d'etre. On Monday, the paper led with an editorial headlined "Who is Brent Scowcroft?" That's a direct ripoff of the Wall Street Journal editorial page's trademarked assassinations (most memorably "Who is Vince Foster?"). Scowcroft displeased the Sun editors -- along with other more influential advocates of instant war on Iraq -- by voicing his doubts on the Journal's editorial page. In response, they exhaled a lengthy discourse on the former national security advisor's business interests, which involve "foreign investors" and "energy." They hint that this information about potentially sinister influences on Scowcroft was concealed by the Journal editors, for reasons unclear. (The Sun's sleuths seem not to have uncovered any specifics about Scowcroft's business dealings -- or perhaps what they found wasn't damning enough to mention.) The same complaints, of course, could be made against Henry Kissinger, and probably will be if it turns out that the old gangster is on the same side as his friend and former business associate Scowcroft.

She admires the late Joe Kennedy because, like her, he was a big fan of Joe McCarthy. She's pleased that true Americans "hate New York," even though she lives there. In fact, she wishes Timothy McVeigh had driven his exploding van to West 43rd Street instead of Oklahoma City. Oh, and she regards herself as a spokeswoman "for the American people." Guess who.
[2:45 p.m. PDT, August 21, 2002]

That's all, folks!
That Loony Tunes primary in Georgia was supposed to be close, but in the end Rep. Bob Barr -- and the entire gang of cartoon conservatives who showed up to help him -- suffered a landslide defeat. The final results reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Barr with only slightly more than half as many votes as Rep. John Linder, the more sober Republican forced into a primary by redistricting. (In the same Georgia primary Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat who was in some ways a mirror image of Barr, was defeated by a candidate less inclined toward picturesque "radicalism." Republican crossover votes apparently helped to take McKinney out.)

Barr is the third House impeachment manager to go down to defeat, following Jim Rogan in California and Bill McCollum in Florida. His involuntary retirement is even more humiliating when the primary campaign's finances are factored in: Barr outspent Linder by 2-to-1. His heavy schedule of vicious television advertising clearly convinced many voters to support his opponent. Personal hypocrisy also became a recurring theme in the debate between Barr and Linder, who couldn't help mentioning that the current Mrs. Barr is the third unfortunate woman to hold that title.

Barr was actually a minor figure, despite his concession speech hyperbole about achieving "more than any other congressman accomplishes in an entire lifetime." Yet he did represent something larger than himself as the instrument of a broader effort that sought to destroy Bill Clinton's presidency. It was Barr who first proposed to impeach Clinton, months before the exposure of the Lewinsky affair, at a meeting of right-wing pundits and lobbyists during the fall of 1997. It was Barr who turned up as a friend of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the white supremacist successor to the old White Citizens Councils of the early civil rights era. And owing to this habitual extremism it was Barr, not Linder, who attracted the support of ultra-conservatives and Christian rightists from Ralph Reed, the Georgia GOP chairman, and moralist William Bennett, to G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North and, of course, Kenneth W. Starr. At a $250-per-head fundraising dinner a week ago, the former independent counsel praised Barr as a great statesman ''willing to stand up and be heard even when it might be more comfortable to stay quiet," a remark that offers more insight about Starr's psyche than Barr's abilities. Starr revealed that he regarded himself and Barr as ''co-laboring with our different respective roles" during impeachment.

In other news, the Clintons celebrated the former president's 56th birthday with wine-swilling friends on Martha's Vineyard, while it was reported that CBS may offer him as much as $50 million a year to host an afternoon network talk show. No word yet on Barr's future career prospects, though I would hope for nothing less than a regular column appearing on Do you think Dick Scaife will still take his calls?
[8:20 a.m. PDT, August 22, 2002]

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