by Kagro X
Thanks, Larry. May I call you Larry? OK, fine. Thanks, then, to Mr. Wilkerson, formerly chief of staff to Colin Powell, who himself was formerly chief pooper scooper and hand holder to Preznit George W. Bumblefuck. Thanks for opening the door a crack to let the light in.
When I wrote back in July that there was something seething beneath the surface of the Plame investigation, I fully believed it would remain beneath the surface, even as indictments were handed down and convictions entered on the record. I reaffirmed that assumption this month, when I worried that what I felt was the more serious rot within the federal government might go unaddressed, as it had with Iran-Contra.
But Wilkerson has changed my outlook a bit. Just a bit.
Why? Let's recap.
What I'm asking is, what's bigger? The lies the administration used to convince the country to go to war? Or the lie that the administration only fought the intelligence community after the fact, to cover its tracks when caught?
Is the administration covering up the lengths to which it went to prevent the exposure of its mistaken reliance on bad intelligence? Or is the administration covering up the lengths to which it went to promote intelligence developed by its own, parallel intelligence structure, a plan which required the simultaneous undermining and the destruction of the credibility of the country's established (read: authorized and legitimate) intelligence structure, which refused to give them what they wanted?
The answer to that question is the difference between "just politics," and "we're not kidding when we whisper the word 'treason.'"
That question was prompted by my own earlier musings on the applicability of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) to the targets of the Fitzgerald investigation, which applicability has fallen out of theoretical favor, somewhat. But only for a lack of imagination, in my view. And it's also my view that Patrick Fitzgerald's greatest asset in his work on the Plame case has been his ability to strip away the assumptions of legitimacy which the Bush "administration" has used to camouflage its actions, and examine the goings on in a purely legal context, without deference to "mandates" or the "normal" practice of "politics."
Is the IIPA still in play? Will Wilkerson's revelations reopen the question? Probably not in court, where the game may not be worth the candle, but in the realm of what we'll call the theory of governance, they should. Recall that one of the sticking points in the IIPA requirements was that the disclosures needed to be made, "with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States." A tall order, since it requires overcoming the assumption that American administrations always act, even if mistakenly, with the interests of the United States at heart.
But that's where the problem lies. The assumption is too broad. You can still give this particular "administration" the benefit of the doubt and assume they do have the interests of the United States at heart (despite the evidence), but does that necessarily mean they had the interests of "the foreign intelligence activities of the United States" at heart? No, not necessarily. And in fact, the only way you get to "yes" in answer to that question is if you're willing to permit the parallel intellegence operations set up by the "administration" -- the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, the White House Iraq Group, and all those implicated in what Seymour Hersh called "stovepiping" of cooked intelligence -- to stand in the shoes of the legitimate and Congressionally authorized intelligence community. A position of questionable legitimacy. And very thin ice.
We had an interesting exchange following the big lie question, with now-fellow TNHer Mimikatz noting:
Cheney and Libby led the charge. And Bolton was in the middle of it. Rove probably got in on the details only at the end, when they needed someone to smear Wilson to detract form the controversy over the 16 words and the fact that Wilson had showed they knew or should have known that the Niger uranium evidence (like the aluminum tube evidence) was bogus.
"The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell's former chief of staff and longtime confidant, said in a speech last week. "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."
Where things got hairy was when certain others with hands on the levers of power appeared to disagree. And from that point on, it seems the administration took its "mandate" to mean that it had carte blanche to cut corners when it came to overcoming its opposition. Rather than have a protracted policy battle which could take decades and would require many successive administrations in the control of neo-cons, they decided it was worth going for it all in one fell swoop. And that's what led them to explore admittedly faster, but extralegal, methods.
And why, other than being illegal, is that important? Wilkerson, again, this time via the LA Times:
I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. More often than not, then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal.
Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift — not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. This furtive process was camouflaged neatly by the dysfunction and inefficiency of the formal decision-making process, where decisions, if they were reached at all, had to wend their way through the bureaucracy, with its dissenters, obstructionists and "guardians of the turf."
But the secret process was ultimately a failure. It produced a series of disastrous decisions and virtually ensured that the agencies charged with implementing them would not or could not execute them well.
I prefaced the above quote using the phrase "other than being illegal," but a better description of what Wilkerson is telling us is why it's illegal. Not which statute or federal regulation is being broken which makes it illegal, but the reason that a sound theory of governance would give us for passing such a statute in the first place. In the vernacular, cabalistic bullshit within the administrations of nuclear armed global superpowers leads to fuckups of worldwide import. So, yeah, we tend to frown the practice.
How, formally speaking, do we "frown" on it? Wilkerson (in the same LAT article) takes us through the paces:
I knew that what I was observing was not what Congress intended when it passed the 1947 National Security Act. The law created the National Security Council — consisting of the president, vice president and the secretaries of State and Defense — to make sure the nation's vital national security decisions were thoroughly vetted. The NSC has often been expanded, depending on the president in office, to include the CIA director, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Treasury secretary and others, and it has accumulated a staff of sometimes more than 100 people.
But many of the most crucial decisions from 2001 to 2005 were not made within the traditional NSC process.
So we've heard. And Wilkerson anticipates and rebuts the "criminalization of politics" argument that Republicans hope will counter the sting of being found out:
Scholars and knowledgeable critics of the U.S. decision-making process may rightly say, so what? Haven't all of our presidents in the last half-century failed to conform to the usual process at one time or another? Isn't it the president's prerogative to make decisions with whomever he pleases? Moreover, can he not ignore whomever he pleases? Why should we care that President Bush gave over much of the critical decision-making to his vice president and his secretary of Defense?
Both as a former academic and as a person who has been in the ring with the bull, I believe that there are two reasons we should care. First, such departures from the process have in the past led us into a host of disasters, including the last years of the Vietnam War, the national embarrassment of Watergate (and the first resignation of a president in our history), the Iran-Contra scandal and now the ruinous foreign policy of George W. Bush.
But a second and far more important reason is that the nature of both governance and crisis has changed in the modern age.
Wilkerson goes on to say, essentially, that success in Texas politics notwithstanding, the problems of dealing effectively with the rest of the world are not games appropriate for petulent children. They are serious and require the kind of adult supervision not only sorely lacking, but indeed scorned and ridiculed in the Bush "administration."
Laughter and derision over the need for a "sensitive" in foreign policy. "Old Europe." "Bring 'em on." "With us or with the terrorists." You remember it well.
So ultimately, Bush's failure of leadership was multilayered -- a failure to lead within his own "administration" that led inexorably to a failure to lead United States foreign policy. And, of course, the foreign intelligence activities of the United States.
Wilkerson next reminds us why it's no substitute for institutional knowledge to surround yourself instead with effete theoreticians, even those who insist that studying under the exalted Leo Strauss makes them the smartest guys in any room:
Discounting the professional experience available within the federal bureaucracy — and ignoring entirely the inevitable but often frustrating dissent that often arises therein — makes for quick and painless decisions. But when government agencies are confronted with decisions in which they did not participate and with which they frequently disagree, their implementation of those decisions is fractured, uncoordinated and inefficient. This is particularly the case if the bureaucracies called upon to execute the decisions are in strong competition with one another over scarce money, talented people, "turf" or power.
Maybe W. has heard this one before: It's not what you know, it's who you know. Even your team of evil geniuses and their bag of dirty tricks wasn't enough to overcome every single career intelligence and diplomatic officer in the United States. Perhaps the lesson is that you didn't slit enough throats on Inauguration Day, 2001. Or maybe, just maybe, the lesson is that you never should have started down that path at all.
Today, we have a president whose approval rating is 38% and a vice president who speaks only to Rush Limbaugh and assembled military forces. We have a secretary of Defense presiding over the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of our overstretched armed forces (no surprise to ignored dissenters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki or former Army Secretary Thomas White).
It's a disaster. Given the choice, I'd choose a frustrating bureaucracy over an efficient cabal every time.
Yeah, Larry. (I'm gonna call you Larry, now. I feel closer to you.) You'd choose frustrating bureaucracy over an efficient cabal every time.
You, me, and the Framers, too. In fact, I'm pretty sure they did just that. Wrote it down, too.
Like I said, we're not kidding when we whisper the word "treason."