Monday, March 31, 2008

Timmeh Lets Hayden Off The Hook

The following exchange on yesterdays Meet The Press made me yell at the T.V. when I watched it.
MR. RUSSERT: This is an article, Friday's paper: "[Iraqi] Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ... decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that, `we can't quite decipher' what is going on. It's a question, he said, of `who's got the best conspiracy' theory about why Maliki decided to act now." The United States was not informed by the Iraqis that we--he was going to do this?

GEN. HAYDEN: I, I don't know what on--what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation. I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister and personally by the prime minister, and that he's relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you aware of it?

GEN. HAYDEN: I was--in terms of being prebriefed or, or having, you know, the, the normal planning process in which you build up to this days or weeks ahead of time, no. No, I was not.

MR. RUSSERT: You didn't know it was going to happen?

GEN. HAYDEN: No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did.
This exchange was a huge dodge by CIA Director Michael Hayden. In fact a close reading of his answer makes it appear that the CIA did not plan the operation which touched off all the fighting, but was very much informed what was coming up. As were Dave Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, apparently.

Tim Russert is supposed to be some sort of tough bull dog type interviewer, but in this case his quick pivot from the Hayden dodge to other matters was frustrating. When the CIA director ends the response with "No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did", any self respecting interviewer should absolutely probe as to what Petraeus and Crocker knew in that case. It was an obvious followup which left the audience hanging, and me yelling "so what did they know?!" at the screen, when Russert moved on.

As to the question which Hayden dodged (when did the Iraqi's inform the Americans they were moving into Basra?) I don't pretend to be an expert in such affairs, but it hardly seems surprising that the director of the CIA would not be involved in actually planning an Iraqi military operation. That would be the purview of military planners, like Dave Petraeus. In fact I would hardly expect the head of the CIA to personally give a briefing on the situation in Basra relating to such an operation, even if CIA intelligence did play a role.

If there is one word I would use to define the Hayden dodge that word would be truthy. Truthy answers are technically correct, but intrinsically misleading. No one can accuse Hayden of actually lying, but his answers are hardly responsive to the question at hand. Russert really should not have allowed the topic to drift after such an obvious dodge.

There must be a reason for the truthy answer given by Hayden, and I think Congress has a chance to get to the bottom of the matter by asking the pertinent questions to one of the people which Hayden mentioned. General Petraeus visits Congress later this week to give his regular report on the progress of the surge. I do hope Congress sees fit to ask him the questions which Russert would not ask Hayden. The last time Petraeus made the Congressional rounds he brought Ambassador Crocker with him. So if Crocker is going to tag along maybe Congress could get his take on this as well.

The question I have is this: What would be wrong with the Americans being forewarned of a move into Basra. In fact I would rather expect such a high stakes military operation to be expressly signed off on by the ruling military power of Iraq. We can't have thousands of troops and all that equipment moving about the countryside without America knowing about it or someone might get injured, or even killed by mistake. *snark*

So there must be a reason why the administration is out there acting like they were completely caught off guard by the Basra operation. I can think of two reasons. Or to be more precise, I see two extremes of the same reason.

1st is the benign outlook that the operation truly was a wholly Iraqi endeavor and the administration does not want to leave the slightest impression that Americans were involved in operational planning. Under this kinder and gentler explanation, we would have been given the details solely for the purpose of not having Americans bomb and strafe and otherwise molest the Iraqi convoys as they moved to Basra.

The other option has a more conspiratorial outlook, which is fitting when we consider that the administration itself has invited conspiracy theorists to speculate on why Maliki chose to move now. Americans, for obvious reasons, did not want to leave the impression that they were actually the instigators behind this operation. They intended to show the world that the Iraqi government was starting to gain the ability to handle itself. Under this theory the Bush administration would have pushed Maliki to make his move at a politically strategic time: immediately prior to the next report on the surge to Congress by Petraeus and leading in to the general election, providing fodder to McCain in claiming that Iraq was showing progress. If this outlook is true, we have witnessed a mirror image of the Bush administration instigated Israeli/Hezbollah debacle: Washington pushed Maliki to plan it himself and then carry it out, and the results were hardly what we were hoping for.

It may well be the case that the truth lies in the middle of the extremes. Maybe we would have claimed foreknowledge for informational purposes alone, but then everything went sour with the operation. The administration would want to completely forswear anything which would unfairly implicate them in yet another military adventure gone wrong, ala the American instigated Israeli invasion of Lebanon to root out Hezbollah which went so horribly awry.

For what it's worth, I tend to side with the more conspiratorial outlook.

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