Seymour Hersh, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the Bush administration’s secret moves in Iran for “Preparing the Battlefield. Congress agreed to George W. Bush’s request of up to $400 million “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran… designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities… include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.”
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed.
The highly classified funding was approved by the Democratic members of the “Gang of Eight”: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes. “In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership… were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran”. Even though Bush’s funding request came at the same time the December 2007, National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was released ” that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003.”
The Pentagon, both the military and civilian leadership, has been pushing back against White House suggestions for military action against Iran. According to Hersh:
A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.”
Former head of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, was another critic of the Bush administration’s plans for a military strike against Iran. Fallon was forced to resign in March. He told Hersh:
“Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”
When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”
Nevertheless, Congress approved of the money for Bush’s covert war campaign and since these are covert military actions, unlike CIA operations, the Bush administration’s legal “interpretation” is that Congress does not need to be kept informed because it would interfere with the role of the commander in chief to direct combat forces. “As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used.”
“In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage,” but it is not yet known if American covert activities are responsible, nor is possible “to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership.” However, what is known is the White House is relying on “questionable operatives” and “possible lethal action inside Iran”.
Responding to the story, the Washington Post reports the Bush administration has “denied that U.S. forces were engaged in operations inside Iran.”
Four at Four continues with the capture bin Laden (or not), the business of war for oil, and the Great Lakes compact.
The NY Times reports Amid internal Bush administration policy disputes, al Qaeda grows in Pakistan. Despite after reluctantly creating a secret plan “to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda” in the mountainous tribal region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Bush administration has blocked its execution.
The new plan, outlined in a highly classified Pentagon order, was intended to eliminate some of those battles. And it was meant to pave a smoother path into the tribal areas for American commandos, who for years have bristled at what they see as Washington’s risk-averse attitude toward Special Operations missions inside Pakistan. They also argue that catching Mr. bin Laden will come only by capturing some of his senior lieutenants alive.
But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.
The Bush administration and Pakistani officials have claimed the recovery made by al Qaeda and their creation of a “haven in the tribal areas was in many ways inevitable”, but NY Times interviews and reporting “tell another story” a very different story.
The NY Times also reports the U.S. advised Iraqi ministry on oil deals. This is why Bush took America to war in Iraq. This is why he let bin Laden go free.
A small State department team “played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq… American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts” for the Iraqi Oil Ministry.
And of course, “the administration has repeatedly denied steering the Iraqis toward decisions.” But, “the new oil contracts have also become a significant political issue in the United States.”
Three Democratic senators, led by Charles E. Schumer of New York, sent a letter to the State Department last week asking that the deals be delayed until after the Iraqi Parliament passes a hydrocarbons law outlining the distribution of oil revenues and regulatory matters. They contend the contracts could deepen political tensions in Iraq and endanger American soldiers.
Criticism like that has prompted objections by the Bush administration and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who say the deals are purely commercial matters. Ms. Rice, speaking on Fox News this month, said: “The United States government has stayed out of the matter of awarding the Iraq oil contracts. It’s a private sector matter.”
Shorter Condi: ‘The war is just business.’
The AP reports Great Lakes compact focus shifting to Congress. A “deal to govern nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water is close to ratification at the state level” and the pact will soon move on to Congress for approval. Pennsylvania remains the last state holdout. The pact “would prohibit, with rare exceptions, piping or shipping Great Lakes water outside the system’s vast drainage basin”. There is one large loophole, however, it allows bottled water to be exported. So, while it prevents pipelines, the lakes could be drained one 500 ml plastic bottle at a time.