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The architect of the war is its weakest defender

The Star-Ledger, NJ
by John Farmer
Friday, July 01, 2005

Dick Cheney is by far the most fascinating figure in the Bush administration, the force behind its hard-right ideology and the principal proponent and defender of the war in Iraq. So when his office called the other day I was, naturally, intrigued.

Seems the veep had a beef. Something I wrote about reports that he and his staff hounded CIA analysts to provide intelligence supporting the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Not true, said a spokeswoman in Cheney's office, who cited the Silberman-Robb Commission report as having pronounced the administration clean as a hound's tooth. And, in truth, it found no evidence that analysts were pressured by the administration.

For that matter, neither did Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. But since his committee also postponed any deep look into the White House's use or misuse of intelligence on Iraq, its work could be viewed as bearing a heavy coat of whitewash. Indeed, the Knight-Ridder wire service on Oct. 31, 2003, reported that staffers in Cheney's office urged Roberts to block any probe of whether the White House misused intelligence on Iraq. Blame the CIA, they reportedly advised.

But alas, that's hardly the whole story about whether the Bush administration -- and Cheney in particular -- had cooked the books on Iraq.

The most dramatic claim that the administration manipulated evidence to justify the war came from George W. Bush's best buddies, the British. The Downing Street memo, an account of a July 23, 2002, meeting of Tony Blair's Cabinet -- marked "SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY" -- reports that the head of Britain's foreign intelligence service, identified only as "C," believed the Bush team had indeed cooked the books.

The London Sunday Times said the memo noted that "C" (actually Richard Dearlove, the MI6 spy chief) reported on his recent talks in Washington to Blair. The memo had C saying that "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The memo went on to note that the Bushies had "no patience" with the United Nations and little interest in "the aftermath of military action." But the eye-grabber was C's conclusion that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The question naturally arises: Who "fixed" the facts and intelligence? The memo mentions no names. So why is Cheney so often mentioned as the most likely culprit? In part because of his known eagerness to attack Iraq. But also because people associated with the intelligence community around Washington, either publicly or anonymously, tend to finger him as the villain.

Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, has written frequently about the visits of Cheney and his surrogates, notably his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to the CIA to talk with analysts about intelligence findings on Iraq. The visits, according to McGovern, were unprecedented and intended to influence intelligence judgments. McGovern is an unapologetic critic of the vice president, which may or may not be reason to discount his charges. But Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA officer, backs McGovern's charges.

Cannistraro, citing current CIA analysts, maintains that the Bush White House pressed the agency to produce evidence linking Saddam to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden -- a clear misuse of the 9/11 tragedy. Cheney and Libby visited midlevel analysts at CIA headquarters, seeking support for a war in Iraq, according to Cannistraro. Cheney, in particular, he has written, "insisted that desk officers were not looking hard enough for the evidence."

Cheney, for all his shrewdness, has become a liability as a spokesman on Iraq, not only because of suspicions about his relations with the CIA and its analysts but because of his long list of lousy judgments.

They began with his claim that Saddam had "reconstituted" his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. There was his prediction that U.S. troops would be greeted as "liberators." Later he found -- no one else has -- "mobile laboratories" for making chemical and biological weapons. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary -- the 9/11 commission report, for one -- Cheney regularly has implied that Saddam was somehow implicated in 9/11: "There was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda that stretched through most of the 1990s," as he told one interviewer.

More recently, a day before some 30 Iraqis were killed in car bombings, he pronounced the insurgency as in its "last throes." Bad timing, that.

The sad part of Cheney's tattered credibility is that one claim he makes incessantly is the absolute truth -- that if we lose in Iraq we will fuel the fires of terrorism. Sure it was the Bush-Cheney war that made Iraq a recruitment poster for terrorism. But that doesn't diminish the truth of his warning. Trouble is, he's damaged goods as a spokesman for the cause.

What it all adds up to is this: Dick Cheney or someone on his staff was unhappy with my first account of his role in fashioning the intelligence product used to justify the war in Iraq and wanted a more balanced version. Now they've got it.

John Farmer is The Star-Ledger's national political correspondent.



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Good work, John. Dispassionate, organized facts. That is what will bring this administration to justice. As they say: Truth is the Daughter of Time. Our time is coming.

Victoria Love

Cheers Victoria, and Thank You John.

John Farmer says that Cheney is right about losing in Iraq. It will fuel the fires of terrorism. I don't believe that is right.
Will the war end when every terrorist is dead? We are making more terrorists than we can kill , so that can't happen. Will the war end when Iraq can govern themselves? Paul Bremmer has laid out a list of laws that prohibit the Iraqis from governing themselves. So, exactly how can we 'win' this war? Remember we are there to free the Iraqi people not extirminate them.

I'm impressed with this John Farmer fellow for giving a big middle finger to the Administration trying to pressure journalists. That's one gutsy article.

"John Farmer says that Cheney is right about losing in Iraq. It will fuel the fires of terrorism. I don't believe that is right."

In complete agreement, Anonymous - Well noted.

Though I'm glad Farmer resisted WH strongarming, to the extent that he did, I couldn't disagree more with his assertion that continued aggression in Iraq will do anything more than fuel the fires of hatred for America, and provide recruitment, and the best real-world training possible, for whatever numbers of 'terrorists' actually exist.

[....As for the vast majority of the 'insurgency' in Iraq - They are overwhelmingly Iraqi citizens - not 'foreign terrorists' as the corporate media would have us believe. Their various reasons for fighting will be more clearly understood by us all as time progresses - but the idea that the opposition to US forces there is made up primarily of foreign 'terrorists' is ridiculous and not supported by the available facts.]

Good for you.... and to Cheney...can we borrow your famous quote on the Senate floor directed at the distinguished Senator from Vermont to let you know what we think of you and what you have done to this country and Americans, not to mention Iraq and its people?

Mr. Farmer, I hope you continue to write... if nothing else, to reassure us that you haven't been "disappeared" by the powers that have grown so arrogant that they don't try very hard to disguise their lies and deception.

One thing I wonder is WHERE in CONGRESS is the opposition that has the spine to play hardball with these goons. We are routinely expected to send our sons and daughters to fight this illegal action (and where are THEIR children, by the way?), yet the very people who are supposed to represent OUR interests worry about the destruction of their political careers. I have to state here that anyone in Congress who is willing to do what it takes to bring this corporate consortium to account for what they have done has my full support and respect and any campaign funds that I donate.

I'm tired of my taxes being treated as a cash cow to fund anything that crosses this administration's fascist mind. I was sickened to see funds to the Veteran's Administration cut so that the care we are honor-bound to provide to the very people who are fighting this action is nearly non-existent. No wonder the military is hemmhoraging its best people. Their first oath is to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and many of them feel betrayed and forsworn because that Constitution is being gutted before their eyes. Those officers who obey their orders, yet speak the truth about what's really happening are being replaced with "yes-men". God help us.

I wonder if Cheney's secret energy meetings included plans to occupy Iraq and take over their oil production.

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