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November 6, 2005 - Who's Minding the Store While the Boss is in Argentina?

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If you follow national politics - who is doing what with policies, actions, appointments and all that sort of thing that eventually, and sometime immediately, changes our lives in some rather dramatic ways - the week just past was a series of tussles over who controlled the "big story."

Last weekend it was terrible polling numbers for the administration, and calls for apologies and resignations (Karl Rove would do). Monday the counter was to nominate a well-qualified by controversial fellow to the Supreme Court, followed Tuesday by a proposal to spend more than seven billion dollars we don't actually have at the moment to protect us all from the avian flu that may be coming to kill us all but may not get here any time soon. That was countered Tuesday afternoon by the Democrats in the senate shutting down the place, demanding some action on a promise to look into who was messing with us all with all that talk of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, hyping forged documents and ignoring the actually facts at the time, to get us into a war that might not have been necessary. And then Wednesday we learned our government runs a series of secret prisons where some people just disappear without a trace, there no record of anything, and where we practice "enhanced interrogation" - and we seem to be using the old soviet prisons to make the story even more bizarre. Add that the Office of the Vice President is working hard to make sure we don't have to follow any of that Geneva Conventions stuff.

Thursday the new polling was worse than ever, and that Libby fellow, former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, was arraigned on assorted felonies.

How bad is the new polling?

Washington Post (with ABC): Sixty percent disapprove of the president's performance, and fifty-five percent think the administration deliberately mislead country over Iraq. CBS: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of the president's performance, thirty-five percent approve (lowest ever), and only thirty-two percent think the administration is telling what they knew about the WMD facts. AP-Ipsos: Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the president's performance.

Read all about it here, here and here - or don't.

You get the idea.

What's a guy to do with all this bad news?

Leave town, fly down to Argentina for a summit to chat with other leaders. Yeah, Fidel Castro will be there, and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela, but you can look like a world leader. Castro is old and Chavez is nutty. This will play great on Fox News. Don't think about Nixon in Caracas in 1960 and his car getting stoned. This will look presidential.

Well, that didn't work out, as in Bush faces Latin fury as popularity sinks at home (Independent, UK) - your typical "you cannot run away from your problems" story - and as in Far from home, Bush can't escape political headaches (USA Today) - five questions from the press, and only one on the summit - and as in Summit protests turn violent in Argentina (AP) - pretty serious riots in the streets.

Scanning the media one sees this anti-Americanism in our own hemisphere (our "backyard" as James Monroe and his doctrine would have it) is seen with some pride on the right ("ungrateful wretches"), and some dismay on left ("we've made everyone hate us"), and general depression in the middle ("this is a mess"). One can find comment all over. Go to Technorati or Memeoradum and stomp around. You'll see.

Okay, things are not going well. And it only gets worse.

Remember Lawrence Wilkerson, the fellow who, on Wednesday, October 19, addressed the New America Foundation and said there was a cabal that was running this country - Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on - and implied the president was just out of the loop and generally clueless? (This was discussed last weekend in these pages here.) Okay, he is the former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, so he's grumpy. His "faction" in the first term lost out to the war-now plans-are-for-sissies idealists. He has an axe to grind. And he's grinding it, making it real sharp.

He's at it again. Thursday, November 3rd he was at it again. And Friday people were realizing just what it was he had said the day before - he said he had uncovered a "visible audit trail" tracing the practice of prisoner abuse by US soldiers directly back to Vice President Cheney's office - you know, actual documents.

He said this in an interview on NPR with Steve Inskeep (the audio is here) and since there is no transcript yet, this has been hard to quote. No one sits and tapes news shows on National Public Radio and then carefully transcribes what was said - but someone at the Washington Post seems to be paid to do that. And Dan Froomkin offers some of what was said in Another Thunderbolt from Wilkerson, posted just after noon, Eastern Time, on Friday, November 4 –


INSKEEP: While in the government, he says he was assigned to gather documents. He traced just how Americans came to be accused of abusing prisoners. In 2002, a presidential memo had ordered that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Wilkerson says the vice president's office pushed for a more expansive policy.

Mr. WILKERSON: What happened was that the secretary of Defense, under the cover of the vice president's office, began to create an environment -- and this started from the very beginning when David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions. Regardless of the president having put out this memo, they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we've seen.

INSKEEP: We have to get more detail about that because the military will say, the Pentagon will say they've investigated this repeatedly and that all the investigations have found that the abuses were committed by a relatively small number of people at relatively low levels. What hard evidence takes those abuses up the chain of command and lands them in the vice president's office, which is where you're placing it?

Mr. WILKERSON: I'm privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of State asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of Defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms - I'll give you that - that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We're not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here's some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

You just - if you're a military man, you know that you just don't do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that. There are those in the leadership who will feel so pressured that they have to produce intelligence that it doesn't matter whether it's actionable or not as long as they can get the volume in. They have to do what they have to do to get it, and so you've just given in essence, though you may not know it, carte blanche for a lot of problems to occur.


Is this a big deal? The Secretary of Defense under cover of the Vice President's office, "regardless of the President having put out this memo," began to authorize procedures that were undoubtedly illegal and created a mess for us around the world, one it will take generations to clean up, if it can be cleaned up. These directives flat-out contradicted the 2002 order from the president for the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture. Or so the man says.

Who is running the country?

So far only AFP (l'Agence France-Presse has run with the story (here). The Post item was in a general media round up, not a feature.

AFP adds this detail:


Wilkerson also called David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, "a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander-in-chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions."

On Monday, Cheney promoted Addington to his chief of staff to replace I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, who has been indicted over the unmasking of a CIA agent.

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending emails when they found out Cheney's staffers were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the US needed far more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.


Yes, the amusing parts are in bold.

It seems Uncle Dick has taken things into his own hands, sensing the president doesn't have the brains or the balls, or the experience, or even much interest in running the country.

Someone has to get things done.

Did he suggest the trip to Argentina to give the hopeless kid something to do, so the frat-boy could feel important, or pretend to be?

This is serious stuff. The word "coup" comes to mind. The former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell first says the war was devised and executed by a select group bypassing this rather worthless president, and now he has documents that the same group promulgated an illegal torture policy contradicting what the president said should be done, then implemented that policy behind his back. And there's a paper trail?

Holy cow!

Many on the left aren't surprised. They never saw the president as the sharpest knife in the drawer. And they've said this sort of thing all the time - the fellow was never up to the job and something else is going on here.

But now a former State Department bigwig says this, not Michael Moore?

And Friday night, November 4, the PBS "News Hour" broadcast is quoting the guy? And there's a panel discussion? The Bush defender is saying this is no big deal - saying everyone was frustrated with the State Department and CIA and all they rest, so they set up their own equivalents, to just work around the overly cautious, negative-thinking dinosaurs that didn't think boldly about what the nation had to do, these dreadful pessimists who wanted details and worried about things that might go wrong. The fellow is not addressing whether they also had to work around the inattentive and slow-on-the-uptake president.

Well, Richelieu ran France well enough. So why not? As mentioned in these pages April 11, 2004, in Richelieu in the White House, Sidney Blumenthal was already seeing this clearly


The story of the Middle East debacle, like that of the pre-9/11 terrorism fiasco, reveals the inner workings of Bush's White House: the president -aggressive and manipulated, ignorant of his own policies and their consequences, negligent; the secretary of state - proud, instinctively subordinate, constantly in retreat; the vice-president - as Richelieu, conniving, at the head of a neoconservative cabal, the power behind the throne; the national security adviser - seemingly open, even vulnerable, posing as the honest broker, but deceitful and derelict, an underhanded lightweight.


Ah, this then is not news, really. This is not the first time the word "cabal" has been used.

This is just when the perception moves from the world of left-side-loonies into the general conversation - not a tin-foil hat thing any longer, but something plausible, that may even have documentation.

It's not exactly "the great awakening" - but it will do.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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