Commentary Magazine


Topic: C.I.A.

Did Intelligence Tell WH There Were Protests in Benghazi?

The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

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The White House has clarified Vice President Biden’s comment that he wasn’t aware of security requests, saying he was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the State Department. But they still haven’t explained Biden’s even more troubling claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters outside the Benghazi embassy:

MS. RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on for weeks?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Because that’s exactly what we were told —

MS. RADDATZ: By who?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: — by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.

When the Obama administration rolled out its initial “blame the video” storyline in the days after the attack, they strongly implied that there was a protest outside the Benghazi consulate, but usually avoided stating it explicitly. If you listen to Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, they tended to use vague words like “spontaneous reaction” and “unrest.” When they did use the word “protests,” it was usually in reference to the demonstrations across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.

This is because the CIA intelligence at the time didn’t support the idea that there was a protest outside the consulate. By cherry-picking the initial intelligence report, the administration could provide some flimsy cover for its claim that the terrorist attack was a “spontaneous reaction” to the Cairo demonstrations over the video. But no amount of intelligence manipulation can create a protest where none existed.

Biden’s unequivocal claim that the intelligence community told the White House there were protesters is simply not credible, and, worse, it glues the administration to its failed initial narrative. White House spokesperson Jay Carney had spent weeks slowly backing away from the protest story, and Biden has now made that impossible.

There are also risks to scapegoating the intelligence community, as FP’s Peter Feaver writes:

Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.

So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat. Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security — and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.

Benghazi was reportedly teeming with CIA operatives; a top State Department official has testified that she monitored the entire attack in real time; and there were survivors who were able to piece together a tick-tock of the attack for the media. The CIA should would have easily known if there was or a protest outside or not, so Biden’s comment is a blatant accusation of incompetence.

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What About the Other CIA Witchhunt?

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

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Funding Corruption in Afghanistan

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

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Holder Under the Bus?

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

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Are Michiko Kakutani and Michael Scheuer An Item?

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

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Ahmadinejad the Blogger

Today’s New York Times reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a blogger.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to touch on most issues that concern him. He has written about freedom in Iran, referring to the protest of students against him a year ago at Amir Kabir University in Tehran as an example of its existence in Iran. “It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president of people fearlessly amid a majority,” he wrote, without referring to the fate of the students, many of whom are in prison now.

Cherry-picking like that could get Ahmadinejad a regular spot at The Huffington Post. The Iranian president spends fifteen minutes a week updating readers on everything from his views on Washington to the role of Islam in government. These may be the most valuable fifteen minutes of his time. The U.S. hasn’t been on the winning side of a P.R. war since Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcast into the Soviet Bloc. Rulers like Ahmadinejad, with no substantive credibility, are master manipulators of public perceptions.

From The New Times: “He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them.”

Only this year, he used one such instrument, Mike Wallace, to extraordinary effect as his media liaison to the West. Former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey said that the State Department should enlist Southpark creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to create pro-American propaganda. That’s the kind of bold strategizing the U.S. is going to have to employ to catch up to its enemies on the P.R. front.

Today’s New York Times reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a blogger.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has tried to touch on most issues that concern him. He has written about freedom in Iran, referring to the protest of students against him a year ago at Amir Kabir University in Tehran as an example of its existence in Iran. “It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president of people fearlessly amid a majority,” he wrote, without referring to the fate of the students, many of whom are in prison now.

Cherry-picking like that could get Ahmadinejad a regular spot at The Huffington Post. The Iranian president spends fifteen minutes a week updating readers on everything from his views on Washington to the role of Islam in government. These may be the most valuable fifteen minutes of his time. The U.S. hasn’t been on the winning side of a P.R. war since Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty broadcast into the Soviet Bloc. Rulers like Ahmadinejad, with no substantive credibility, are master manipulators of public perceptions.

From The New Times: “He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them.”

Only this year, he used one such instrument, Mike Wallace, to extraordinary effect as his media liaison to the West. Former C.I.A. Director James Woolsey said that the State Department should enlist Southpark creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to create pro-American propaganda. That’s the kind of bold strategizing the U.S. is going to have to employ to catch up to its enemies on the P.R. front.

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The C.I.A. Tapes and The NIE

Why is it that when a copiously decorated general offers his firsthand account of a current war, he’s treated with a mixture of resentment and cynicism so profound as to lead Senator Hillary Clinton to all but call him a liar, but when the U.S. intelligence community releases an assessment of Iranian nuclear capabilities, the mysteriously synthesized report is accepted as the last word?

And will such willful gullibility undergo revision in light of the latest C.I.A. catastrophe?

On Thursday we learned that the C.I.A. took it upon themselves to destroy videos showing the severe interrogation of al Qaeda suspects. Today, we find out they did so despite warnings from the Justice Department, the White House, and Congress. This roguish maneuver casts long and dark shadows on the NIE made public only days earlier. The New York Times reports: “The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision ‘made within C.I.A. itself’ to destroy the videotapes.” One wonders what other decisions have been “made within the C.I.A. itself,” and how we’d find out.

It’s obvious why full transparency is impossible in matters of intelligence gathering, but given this latest example of both the incompetence and politicization of the C.I.A., it would be unwise to give them the benefit of the doubt on matters of global security—particularly when they’re urging us to give that same benefit to the regime in Tehran.

Why is it that when a copiously decorated general offers his firsthand account of a current war, he’s treated with a mixture of resentment and cynicism so profound as to lead Senator Hillary Clinton to all but call him a liar, but when the U.S. intelligence community releases an assessment of Iranian nuclear capabilities, the mysteriously synthesized report is accepted as the last word?

And will such willful gullibility undergo revision in light of the latest C.I.A. catastrophe?

On Thursday we learned that the C.I.A. took it upon themselves to destroy videos showing the severe interrogation of al Qaeda suspects. Today, we find out they did so despite warnings from the Justice Department, the White House, and Congress. This roguish maneuver casts long and dark shadows on the NIE made public only days earlier. The New York Times reports: “The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision ‘made within C.I.A. itself’ to destroy the videotapes.” One wonders what other decisions have been “made within the C.I.A. itself,” and how we’d find out.

It’s obvious why full transparency is impossible in matters of intelligence gathering, but given this latest example of both the incompetence and politicization of the C.I.A., it would be unwise to give them the benefit of the doubt on matters of global security—particularly when they’re urging us to give that same benefit to the regime in Tehran.

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