Ever since Iraq Survey Group leader David Kay reported to Congress that weapons of mass destruction probably didn't exist inside Saddam's Iraq prior to the invasion, things have begun looking ugly for President Bush on the intelligence front. A majority of pundits, liberal and conservative alike, agreed that the president appeared defensive and unconvincing as he stumbled through an explanation of his rationale for going to war during an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering around the investigation into the White House leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity; Bush press secretary Scott McClellan and several former White House aides were hauled before a grand jury late last week.
And now, even some icons of the right-wing media are turning against Bush. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Fox News pit bull Bill O'Reilly, has retreated from his prior position of pumping up the war on Saddam. Apparently O'Reilly has grown displeased with the Bush White House for selling a U.S. invasion of Iraq with a deceptive case.
"The Fox News [anchor] said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons program poised an imminent threat," Reuters reported.
"'I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all, and I think all Americans should be concerned about this,' O'Reilly said in an interview with ABC's 'Good Morning America.'"
According to Reuters, a begrudging O'Reilly had promised rival ABC last year that he'd publicly apologize if weapons were not found.
"'What do you want me to do, go over and kiss the camera?' asked O'Reilly...
"O'Reilly said he was 'much more skeptical about the Bush administration now' since former weapons inspector David Kay said he did not think Saddam had any weapons of mass destruction."
Of course, a bona fide mea culpa from O'Reilly was probably a bit much to expect. In the end he fell back into line with the White House: It was all the CIA's fault.
"While critical of President Bush, O'Reilly said he did not think the president intentionally lied. Rather, O'Reilly blamed CIA Director George Tenet, who was appointed by former President Clinton.
"'I don't know why Tenet still has his job.'
"He added: 'I think every American should be very concerned for themselves that our intelligence is not as good as it should be.'"
Attention WMD shoppers: Welcome to "nuclear Wal-Mart"
Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and a regular columnist for the New York Post, is troubled about recent revelations that for years a top Pakistani scientist has been the nexus of the clandestine global nuclear arms bazaar. Brookes calls Pakistan a "troubling strategic partner" in the U.S. fight against terrorism and WMD proliferation. And while he acknowledges the Muslim nation's critical role in that fight, Brookes seems to think that the Bush administration is no longer striking the right political balance with Pakistan's ostensibly Western-friendly president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
"Pakistan has become the world's nuclear Wal-Mart. The father of the Pakistani bomb, jetsetter scientist A.Q. Khan, turns out to be the godfather of global nuclear proliferation. Perhaps more than any one person, Khan is responsible for the most egregious string of nuclear-proliferation transactions in recent history -- perhaps ever.
"Khan's televised mea culpa on sharing nuclear technology with Iran, North Korea and Libya is little consolation. Certainly it's not enough to warrant the pardon given by Pakistani President Musharraf. Even more disappointing is Pakistan's refusal to allow an independent probe of Khan's proliferation activity -- or that of others in Pakistan's scientific, intelligence or military circles."
But an independent probe notwithstanding, most analysts already agree Khan couldn't have passed along so many nuclear goodies without the consent of high-level Pakistani military and political leaders. The fallout, Brookes says, now reaches far beyond Pakistan's borders.
"What does all this mean? That the world's most destructive weapons have been placed in the hands of the world's most despicable regimes. Iran has extensive ties with terrorism, including considerable outright sponsorship of it. North Korea has amply demonstrated its willingness to sell ballistic missiles to the highest bidder.
"So the burning question is 'secondary proliferation': What might Iran and North Korea do with their newfound capabilities and knowledge, besides go nuclear themselves? Will an Iranian A.Q. Khan share nuclear technology with Syria? Will North Korea give atomic tips to Burma's junta, which already plans to build a nuclear research reactor?"
Brookes endorses the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative as part of the solution. Yet, though he's generally a staunch supporter of Bush, Brookes also seems to warn the White House, widely suspected of cooking WMD data to promote the war on Iraq, against exerting future political pressure on the U.S. intelligence system.
"In his Georgetown University address last week, CIA Director George Tenet identified some intelligence victories on nonproliferation, such as Libya. That's great. But these triumphs didn't prevent the Pakistani nuke blueprints from getting to Tehran and Pyongyang. The independent intelligence assessment called for by the White House must go beyond Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to improving all intelligence, but especially WMD and terrorism."
U.S. intelligence: A clean or messy business?
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, at first appears to buy the White House conclusion that the CIA is culpable for the intelligence failures in Iraq:
"Both zealous critics and supporters of President Bush's war against Saddam seem finally to have agreed on one thing -- the Central Intelligence Agency goofed. The president's own Iraq weapons sleuth, David Kay, now asserts that our intelligence on Iraq was simply wrong, that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction in 2003. This intelligence failure must be corrected, it is argued, lest we make fresh mistakes against the strategic weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. Hence, President Bush's announcement last week of a special panel to investigate our intelligence agencies' performance on Iraq.
"Implicit in all this is a belief that our government cannot succeed in its fight against proliferation of WMD unless our information on other countries' covert weapons programs is dramatically improved. 'Pristine intelligence -- good, accurate intelligence -- is a fundamental benchstone [sic] of any sort of policy of preemption to even be thought about,' as David Kay said. This seems plausible. What serious policymaker would insist on getting less intelligence?"
Then Sokolski's analysis takes an interesting turn: As CIA director George Tenet emphasized in his recent speech at Georgetown University on the Iraqi WMD debacle, Sokolski says intelligence is a murky, rather than "pristine" business. And an effective doctrine of preemption, he argues, doesn't hinge on military response to crisis-level threats, but rather courageous, forward-looking diplomacy.
"Ultimately, the clamor for more specific proliferation information is wrongheaded. Washington's problem isn't its sorry supply of good tactical intelligence on covert strategic weapons programs. Such intelligence has rarely been good and is unlikely to get much better. Instead, the challenge in nonproliferation has been the dearth of senior officials willing to respond to the generally sound strategic warnings our intelligence agencies produce years before any proliferation becomes a crisis. Far from heeding such warnings, policymakers often wish them away. This unwillingness to act on early intelligence warnings is the exact opposite of the problem everyone is now focusing on."
The $7 billion "October surprise"
It's a conspiracy theory as old as time itself: Powerful men will seek to control world financial markets to their own grand advantage. The latest version appears in the Florida right-wing news outlet NewsMax, but this time it's driven by purely political rather than financial gain. In fact, liberal multibillionaire George Soros may intentionally bankrupt himself, reports NewsMax staffer Jon E. Dougherty, with a plan to sink the stock market in October -- in order to oust President Bush in November.
"International financier George Soros is worth $7 billion -- and he so desperately wants to oust George Bush from the White House he says he would even give away his whole fortune to do so. Soros did not make this comment glibly, telling the Washington Post it would be a real consideration 'if someone could guarantee' Bush's defeat.
"The billionaire's zeal to unseat Bush has caught the notice of top policy-makers in Washington who worry that Soros would not need to risk his whole fortune to cause mischief. Here's the real worry: Could the master currency trader manipulate the financial markets to create a panic, collapsing the stock market or the U.S. dollar on the eve of the November election? The thought of such a scenario -- dubbed a 'Financial October Surprise' -- has some worried."
Conservative Republican Donald Luskin, a seasoned economist who arguably understands free market principles, chimes in to back the conspiracy theory:
"'Soros believes that if he can force the market down, he will have an effect in the real world,' Luskin says, according to NewsMax. "'If it happens on Oct. 31, people might go into the voting booth with fear in their hearts.'"
(So does Soros' nefarious plan mean that even Democrats should consider unloading their portfolios by summer's end?)
Can George W. Bush get anything right?
There is no shortage these days of angry Republicans who are convinced that President Bush has gone AWOL from the true conservative agenda -- an interesting trend, considering the degree to which liberals loathe Bush for what they view as his extreme right-wing agenda. But Venomous Kate, author of the Electric Venom blog, shows just how far and wide the sense of betrayal runs for conservatives. A self-described "martini-swilling, tobacco-smoking, SUV-driving, coffee-guzzling, card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy armed with a Smith & Wesson and a great pair of breasts," Venomous Kate (who also notes she's a 36-year-old former lawyer with a husband in the Army) first makes clear she has no love for any of the Democratic contenders. But it's Bush who gets a toxic dose of her frustration:
"Let me say that although I am a registered Republican, although I contribute regularly to the Republican National Committee and proudly display my personally-signed portrait of George and Laura Bush in my den, although I have voted Republican in every election since turning 18 ... I can't honestly say that I'm entirely pleased with President Bush's performance. The Republicans re-entered the White House under the guise of 'compassionate conservativism' and yet compassion seems to stop where Administration members' personal morality begins, to-wit: the President's notion of a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage while planning a billion-dollar drive to promote heterosexual marriages. In a nation where the separation of Church and State are held sacred (for lack of a better word), social progress demands an end to using the law as a means to disenfranchise a large, productive segment of our society. We, as Republicans, are failing there.
"I despise what I sense is our slow loss of personal privacy, all in the name of national security (read: "Big Government" under a different disguise). There was a time when I disregarded those who warned that the Administration would abuse its power. I've had to eat my words, an experience which left a bad taste in my mouth.
"The level of deficit-spending over the past four years shocks me, and the recent reigning-in is tardy, to say the least. The notion of amnesty programs for illegal alien workers, loans to the U.N. and thinly-disguised federal management of public school systems seems ... well, liberal. Where is the conservative President I elected?"
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