Sy Hersh just published this article in The New Yorker about a strategic shift in US policy in the Middle East toward more covert operations. The operations are designed, among other things, to undermine Iranian/Shia influence in the region. It is hard to read the article without concluding that the Bush/Cheney Administration is about to blunder into a war with Iran, notwithstanding all its denials. And the strategy is likely to increase the chances for sectarian war throughout the Middle East. Please read the full article.
Hersh also reports that the Bush Administration is secretly diverting funds Congress authorized for Iraq to Lebanon, where it is being funneled indirectly to fund and arm radical Sunni jihadist groups in Lebanon, so that they can oppose the Shiite Hezbolla in the event of a full scale Sunni versus Shia civil war in Lebanon.
Yesterday, Hersh was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer and you can watch the interview at C&L. Here's part of the transcript:
HERSH: My government, which arrests al Qaeda every place it can find them and send — some of them are n Guantanamo and other places, is sitting back while the Lebanese government we support, the government of Prime Minister Siniora, is providing arms and sustenance to three jihadist groups whose sole function, seems to me and to the people that talk to me in our government, to be there in case there is a real shoot-'em-up with Hezbollah and we really get into some sort of serious major conflict between the Sunni government and Hezbollah, which is largely Shia, who are basically — or as you know, there is a coalition headed by Hezbollah that is challenging the government right now, demonstrations, sit-ins.
There has been some violence. So America, my country, without telling Congress, using funds not appropriated, I don't know where, by my sources believe much of the money obviously came from Iraq where there is all kinds of piles of loose money, pools of cash that could be used for covert operations.
All of this should be investigated by Congress, by the way, and I trust it will be. . . .
We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way…
BLITZER: Your bottom line is that Negroponte was aware of this, obviously, and he wanted to distance himself from it? That is why he decided to give up that position and take the number two job at the State Department?
HERSH: He — that is one of the reasons, I was told. Negroponte also was not in tune with Cheney. There was a lot of complaints about him because he was seen as much of a stickler, too ethical for some of the operations the Pentagon wants to run.
As you know, this Pentagon has been running covert operations. I think Mr. Gates' job and one of the things he wants to do is get some control over it. But under Rumsfeld we were running operations all over the world with who knows what money and who knows what authority, because most of those operations were not briefed to the intelligence committees.
[UPDATE: The General has a perfect illustration of what Hersh is saying. (h/t Lou Costello)]
Spooky stuff, with echos of the Iran-Contra scandal, and that was just Sunday's big story. All week there were stories that suggested the world is becoming more and more dangerous, and US policy is either the cause, making it worse, or ineffective in dealing with it. A partial list:
First, despite repeated denials by some members of the Administration, we continued to see reports, applauded by the necons, that the US was either preparing to attack Iran or considering Israeli requests to let them do it (all denied by the Israelis), despite an LA Times report that the US has been relying on faulty intelligence of Iran's nuclear program.
Yesterday the TimesOnLine reported that senior generals in the Pentagon were threatening to resign if the Administration actually gave the orders to attack Iran.
Then to reassure everyone, Dick Cheney flew to Japan and Australia to say that all options for dealing with Iran were on the table, that stories of him losing influence were exaggerated, and that there had been remarkable achievements in Iraq.
We had Jordan's King Abdulla warning the Israelis that they were facing the last chance for peace, just days after Secretary Rice was apparently undermined by the White House in her efforts to get peace talks started between Israelis and Palestinians.
Earlier in the week, we saw a front page NYT article disclosing that Al Qaeda was making a comeback in the mountains along the Pakistan and Afghanistan border, creating a capability to undermine both regimes.
The journal Foreign Policy published essays from several foreign policy experts asked to name the 10 biggest winners from the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Among the top ten winners: Iran, Muktada al-Sadr, Al-Qaeda, the price of oil, and Arab dictators. Neither the US nor Iraq made the list of winners.
Back at home, we were told that the President's escalation plan will require more frequent rotation of the National Guard into the ME war zones, and that the rules for their deployment were making state governors very unhappy.
Early in the week, Tony Blair proved that he had more sense than George Bush, announcing that the UK would immediately begin drawing down British troops in Southern Iraq. Dick Cheney reassured us this was a sign of success.
You already knew about the decision upholding the Military Commissions Act and all the crimes sanctioned by the Act. But in the same week, another competent US Attorney — the eighth so far — was forced to resign under pressure from Attorney General Gonzales. It's like watching the movie Z unfold in your own country: Ignore the Constitution, sanction lawlessness, cover it up, shield the perpetrators and those responsible for ordering the crimes, fire the prosecutors.
That was a pretty awful week, even by Bush standards. The problems are so numerous and difficult that they may appear beyond resolution, but I am certain of one thing. There is a common cause and a common first step for dealing with them. We are not going to resolve any of these issues as long as the Bush/Cheney Administration remains in power. That regime is too dishonest for us to trust their statements; too reckless for us to believe they will make wise choices; too radical to obey the law; and too incompetent for us to rely on their assessments, planning or implementation of any strategy, even if it were the correct one. The greatest problem we face is not on the list of last week's horrors. The problem is the radical regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney and the extremist zealots that advise them.
In the Wizard of Oz, our heroes panicked for the wrong reasons: there was no real danger from lions, tigers and bears. But the friends were in real danger just as we are today. The danger was from an evil regime. Though a humbug, the Wizard knew that it was impossible to confront the risks to his community and meaningless to grant his petitioners' requests unless the evil power of the Wicked Witch was defeated.
I am not advocating throwing buckets of water on anyone, either metaphorically or otherwise, and this site wisely does not tolerate that, so we don't even go there. But it's time to let this regime know that all constutitional options are on the table. The media and Congress need to shine a lot more light, a lot faster, under all those rocks, and let the American people know the danger we're in. And I don't know how one escapes the conclusion that the country's number one priority should be to remove the current Administration from power, and failing that, to do everything we lawfully can to limit their ability to do even more harm than they have already done. If the Congress and media are not focused on this central issue, why aren't they? What else is more important?