Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Iran-Contra scandal becomes general policy; oh, and another undercover CIA agent gets ratted out

With the Congressional confirmation process underway for considering the nominations of John Negroponte for intelligence czar and John Bolton for UN Ambassador, it's worth thinking for a minute about what Bush's second term foreign policy is likely to be.

Ivo Daalder is unfortunately likely to be correct when he argues that the media coverage of the alleged jockeying between "neoconservatives" and "realists" in the administration is missing the essential point: Nationalists Once Again Triumphant by Ivo Daalder, Center for American Progress 03/15/05.  He maintains that the differences between various tactical approaches within the administration is less important than their overriding nationalist approach, which remains the basic thrust of administration policy:

The nationalists' direction is clear: America is a great power that exists to do great things. America will use international institutions and abide by international law when they advance its great mission; but it will abandon institutions and ignore international laws if they constrain its freedom to act. America will deal with like-minded countries, but it will never rely on anyone else for its security. And America will never place its trust in tyrants or anyone else who opposes freedom.

Seen this way, the seeming contradictions in Bush's foreign policy vanish. We will support democracy, but we will not do much to promote the democratic aspirations of other people. We will talk nice to our friends and allies, but not actually change our policies in order to promote joint strategies. And when we do change course – as with Iran – the adjustment is tactical, designed to avoid being blamed by Europe if diplomacy fails to stop the mullahs' desire for nuclear weapons. For the administration neither hopes for nor expects negotiations to succeed.

The Bolton nomination only confirms the nationalist direction of Bush's foreign policy. Bolton has yet to meet an international institution or treaty he likes, and the only difference between him and many other top officials is that he is willing to say so out loud. But the administration's actions – like the decision to withdraw from yet another treaty – speak louder than words. They are neither realist norneoconservative. They're just destructive of America's true interests. (my emphasis)

This piece gives a glimpse at Negroponte's destructive role as a key player in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, which seems to be a basic template for the conduct of foreign policy in the current Bush administration: Papers Illustrate Negroponte's Contra Role Washington Post by Michael Dobbs 04/12/05.  Negroponte was Reagan's ambassador the Honduras, where the anti-Sandanista "Contra" forces were based, most of them drawn from die-hard members of the brutal National Guard of overthrown dictator Somoza.

The contrast with his immediate predecessor, Jack R. Binns, who was recalled to Washington in the fall of 1981 to make way for Negroponte, is striking. Before departing, Binns sent several cables to Washington warning of possible "death squad" activity linked to Honduran strongman Gen. Gustavo Alvarez. Negroponte dismissed the talk of death squads and, in an October 1983 cable to Washington, emphasized Alvarez's "dedication to democracy."

The cables show that the two men typically met once a week, and sometimes several times a week. Although the Honduran military had ostensibly turned over power to a civilian government headed by President Roberto Suazo, Negroponte and the U.S. Embassy viewed Alvarez as the go-to person on security matters. ...

Negroponte's support for Alvarez remained unwavering until March 30, 1984, when fellow officers ousted Alvarez from office, accusing him of corruption and authoritarian tendencies.

The following habit makes him an understandable candidate for a senior position in this administration:

The cables show that Negroponte enjoyed a close relationship with senior Washington policymakers, such as then-CIA Director William J. Casey, that was unusual for career diplomats. He used a back-channel system of communication through the CIA to send messages to Casey and others that he did not want widely distributed, offering advice on how to sell the "special project" to an increasingly suspicious and skeptical Congress.

The secret message traffic suggests that Negroponte was highly attuned to the political and public relations ramifications of embassy and State Department reporting. He occasionally berated colleagues for their lack of discretion and worked hard to maintain the fiction that Honduras was not serving as the logistical base for as many as 15,000 anti-Sandinista rebels known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN.

It's worth remembering that the Sandinista regime was voted out of power in Nicaragua and the Sandinista party remains as a competitive democratic party.  The Contras wound up playing virtually no role in later Nicaraguan governments.  They're mainly remembered for their habits of shelling elementary schools and things like that.

Bolton's first day of hearing on Monday showed the Democrats at least putting up some resistance to his nomination (U.N. Nominee, Democrats Lock Horns on His Record by Sonni Efron Los Angeles Times 04/12/05):

Democratic senators appeared most troubled by allegations that Bolton on two occasions sought to have intelligence analysts removed from their jobs for refusing to alter their assessments.

At a time when U.S. credibility has been damaged at the U.N. and around the world by claims about Iraq's weapons that were shown to be false, Democratic senators said the United States could not afford a U.N. ambassador who appeared to have tried to tailor intelligence assessments to his political purposes.

Bolton denied having done so. ...

Bolton has been accused by some nonproliferation experts of exaggerating intelligence showing that regimes hostile to the U.S. were working on weapons of mass destruction, while downplaying the proliferation sins of regimes friendly to the U.S.

The first analyst, Christian Westermann, was a career intelligence specialist, a decorated former Naval officer who specialized in biological weapons. Westermann worked for the State Department's intelligence office and was asked to approve language in a Bolton speech stating that Cuba had a biological weapons program. Bolton was to deliver the speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Westermann told Bolton's chief of staff that the language was unlikely to win clearance from the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and suggested some alternative wording. Bolton's chief of staff sent an e-mail to Westermann saying time was of the essence, and Westermann sent both Bolton's language and his own to the CIA for clearance.

Bolton was furious at this analyst because ... he tried to stop Bolton from lying to the public about an important foreign policy matter.

And this was a bizarre and very disturbing moment in the hearing:

Details of the case of the second analyst are not public. The official is an undercover CIA employee who clashed with Bolton while serving as the national intelligence officer in charge of coordinating all intelligence on Latin America.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate panel, revealed the CIA employee's name in open session Monday — apparently inadvertently — and senators subsequently referred to him as "Mr. Smith." The official may testify today in a closed session, Democratic staffers said.

What is it with today's Republicans that they think it's no big deal to feloniously expose the names of undercover CIA agents?  Do they think this is just a perk of being the ruling party?

The law that makes this a crime - a law that was promoted by Old Man Bush - recognizes that there might be cases in which an investigative journalist may have a legitimate news story that includes the revelation of an undercover agent.  This is why Bob Novak wasn't arrested immediately when he exposed Valerie Plame.

But are the Reps really so arrogant that they think they can just casually rat out undercover agents whenever they feel like it with no legal consequences?  Dick Lugar is one of the alleged Republican "moderates," although that doesn't seem to mean much more than that he occasionally grumbles about what a mess the Iraq War is.  If he had raised Cain about the torture scandal or insisted on a Congressional investigation of how Bush violated Congress' own war resolution in his invasion of Iraq, I might have taken his "moderate" label a bit more seriously.

Lugar should be investigated for a felony after doing this, if my understanding of that law is correct and if Efron's report is accurate.  Ratting out undercover CIA is a serious action, whether it's "senior administration officials" doing it to Valerie Plame for cheap political reasons or Dick Lugar doing it to "Mr. Smith" out of apparently careless arrogance.  Either way, it can endanger the lives of the agents as well as those of their contacts.

I'm amazed that the lead story of the day wasn't "Republican Senator Rats Out Another CIA Agent."  But I suppose I shouldn't be.  I guess members of God's Own Party figure they can do what they want.  And our alleged "press corps" will just yawn.

No comments: