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So You Call This Breaking News?

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  • ProudLiberal7@aol.com
    October 1, 2006 Op-Ed Columnist So You Call This Breaking News? By FRANK RICH IF your head hurts from listening to the Washington furor over the latest
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006
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      October 1, 2006
      Op-Ed Columnist

      So You Call This Breaking News?
      By FRANK RICH

      IF your head hurts from listening to the Washington furor over the latest
      National Intelligence Estimate, by all means tune it out. The entire debate is
      meaningless except as a damning election-year indicator of just how madly our
      leaders are fiddling while Iraq burns.

      The supposedly shocking key finding in the N.I.E. — that the Iraq war is a
      boon to terrorism — isn’t remotely news. It first turned up in a classified
      C.I.A. report leaked to the press in June 2005. It’s also long been visible to
      the naked eye. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted before any
      revelations from the N.I.E., found that nearly half the country believes that
      the Iraq war is increasing the terrorist threat against America and only 12
      percent thinks the war is decreasing that threat. Americans don’t have to
      pore over leaked intelligence documents to learn this. They just have to turn on
      the television.

      Tonight on “60 Minutes,” Bob Woodward will spill another supposedly
      shocking intelligence finding revealed in his new book: a secret government
      prediction that the insurgency will grow worse next year. Who’d have thunk it? Given
      that the insurgency is growing worse every day right now — last week suicide
      bombings hit a record high in Baghdad — the real surprise would be if the
      government predicted an armistice. A poll released last week by the Program on
      International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that about
      6 in 10 Iraqis approved of attacks on American forces. Tardy investigative
      reporting is hardly needed to figure out that the insurgency is thriving.

      “The insurgents know what they are doing,” Mr. Woodward is to say on CBS,
      according to an advance excerpt. “They know the level of violence and how
      effective they are. Who doesn’t know? The American public.” He accuses the
      administration of keeping such information out of sight by stamping it “secret.”
      All this, too, apparently comes as eye-opening news to Mr. Woodward three and
      a half years into the war; his new book’s title, “State of Denial,” has a
      self-referential ring to it. But the American public does know the level of
      violence all too well, and it also knows how the administration tries to cover
      up its failures.

      That’s why long ago a majority of that public judged the war a mistake and
      Mr. Bush a dissembler. It’s only the variations on the theme that change. When
      the president declared last month that “the Iraqi government and the Iraqi
      military is committed to keeping this country together,” reality was once more
      busily contradicting him. The Los Angeles Times reported that a third of that
      government wasn’t showing up to parliamentary sessions and that only 1,000
      Iraqi soldiers answered the American call for 4,000 reinforcements in the
      do-or-die battle to secure Baghdad.

      Against this ominous reality, the debate over the N.I.E. is but a sideshow:
      politics as usual on both sides. The president reluctantly declassified what
      had already been leaked, somehow hoping he could override the bad headlines
      with Pavlovian repetition of shopworn slogans. (He said America must “stay on
      the offense” four times in one speech on Friday alone.) Democrats are huffily
      demanding that the White House release more than a few scraps of the
      30-page-plus N.I.E., a debating point with no payoff. The N.I.E. is already six
      months out of date, and Americans can guess most of it, classified or not. In
      this war at this late stage, the devil can be found everywhere, not merely in
      the details.

      The facts of Iraq are not in dispute. But the truth is that facts don’t
      matter anyway to this administration, and that’s what makes this whole N.I.E.
      debate beside the point. From the start, honest information has never figured
      into the prosecution of this war. The White House doesn’t care about
      intelligence, good or bad, classified or unclassified, because it believes it knows
      best, regardless of what anyone else has to say. The debate over the latest
      N.I.E. or any yet to leak will not alter that fundamental and self-destructive
      operating principle. That’s the truly bad news.

      This war has now gone on so long that we tend to forget the early history
      that foretold the present. Yet this is the history we must remember now more
      than ever, because it keeps repeating itself, with ever more tragic results. In
      the run-up to the war, it should be recalled, the administration did not even
      bother to commission an N.I.E., a summary of the latest findings from every
      American intelligence agency, on Iraq’s weapons.

      Why not? The answer can be found in what remains the most revealing Iraq war
      document leaked to date: the Downing Street memo of July 23, 2002, written
      eight months before the invasion. In that secret report to the Blair
      government, the head of British intelligence reported on a trip to Washington, where he
      learned that the Bush administration was fixing the “intelligence and facts”
      around the predetermined policy of going to war in Iraq. If we were going
      to fix the intelligence anyway, there was no need for an N.I.E., except as
      window dressing, since it might expose the thinness of the administration’s
      case.

      A prewar N.I.E. was hastily (and sloppily) assembled only because Congress
      demanded it. By the time it was delivered to the Capitol after much stalling,
      on Oct. 1, 2002, less than two weeks remained before the House and Senate
      would vote on the Iraq war resolution. “No more than six senators and only a
      handful of House members got beyond the five-page executive summary,” according
      to an article last spring in Foreign Affairs by Paul Pillar, the C.I.A. senior
      analyst for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005. In a White House press
      briefing after the war started, an official said Condi Rice hadn’t read it at all,
      leaving that menial duty to her retinue of “experts.”

      When one senator who did read the whole N.I.E., the now retired Democrat Bob
      Graham of Florida, asked that a declassified version be made public so that
      Americans could reach their own verdicts on the war’s viability, he was
      rebuffed. Instead the administration released a glossy white paper that trumpeted
      the N.I.E.’s fictions (“All intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking
      nuclear weapons”) but not its doubts about much-hyped evidence like aluminum
      tubes and uranium from Africa. The only time the president cared about the
      N.I.E., a document he never wanted, was when he thought it would be politically
      useful in fighting growing criticism in 2003 that he had manipulated prewar
      intelligence. Then he authorized his own cherry-picked leaks, which Scooter
      Libby fed to Mr. Woodward and Judith Miller of The Times. (Neither wrote about
      it at the time.)

      As the insurgency continued to grow in the fall of 2003, the White House
      again showed scant interest in reality. The American military’s Central Command
      called for an N.I.E. instead. The existence of this second N.I.E. was only
      discovered in February of this year by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay of
      Knight Ridder Newspapers. It found that the growing violence in Iraq was “fueled
      by local conditions — not foreign terrorists — and drew strength from deep
      grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.” Yet the president ignored
      that accurate intelligence, refusing to raise troop levels and continuing to
      argue erroneously that the insurgency was mainly linked to Saddam and Al
      Qaeda. Three years later, he still makes that case rather than acknowledge that
      our troops are caught in the cross-fire of a civil war.

      Having ignored the facts through each avoidable disaster, the White House won
      ’t change its game plan now. Quite the contrary. Its main ambition seems to
      be to prop up its artificial reality no matter what the evidence to the
      contrary. Nowhere could this be better seen than in Ms. Rice’s bizarre behavior
      after the Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace slapdown on Fox News. Stung by the former
      president’s charge that the Bush administration did nothing about Al Qaeda in
      the eight months before 9/11, she couldn’t resist telling The New York Post
      that his statement was “flatly false.”

      But proof of Ms. Rice’s assertion is as nonexistent as Saddam’s W.M.D. As
      9/11 approached, both she and Mr. Bush blew off harbingers of the attacks
      (including a panicked C.I.A. briefer in Crawford, according to Ron Suskind’s “
      One Percent Doctrine”). The 9/11 commission report, which Ms. Rice cited as a
      corroborating source for her claims to The Post, in reality “found no
      indication of any further discussion” about the Qaeda threat among the president and
      his top aides between the arrival of that fateful Aug. 6 brief (“Bin Laden
      Determined to Strike in U.S.”) and Sept. 10.

      That the secretary of state would rush to defend the indefensible shows
      where this administration’s priorities are: it’s now every man and woman in the
      White House for himself and herself in defending the fictions, even
      four-year-old fictions, that took us into the war and botched its execution. When they
      talk about staying the course, what they are really talking about is
      protecting their spin and their reputations. They’ll leave it to the 140,000-plus
      American troops staying the course in a quagmire to face the facts.

      nytimes.com
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