May 17 2009

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Pelosi Tales

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Nancy Pelosi is rapidly becoming the gift that keeps on giving.

As the fallout from the Obama administration’s release of Justice Department memos regarding enhanced interrogation techniques continues to spread, the Speaker of the House of Representatives finds herself unexpectedly in the hot seat for her intemperate remarks.

If the great Tennessee Senator Howard Baker was still in public life, he might ask, “What did the Speaker know, and when did she know it?” In this instance,   when did the future Speaker become aware of the interrogation techniques being utilized against high value terrorists, through CIA briefings to congressional leadership?

Despite the obvious damage to her credibility in pursuit of self-vindication, Mrs. Pelosi seems determined to keep on answering the question with a stream of incomplete or even contradictory remarks, unable to square her own story. In her May 14th press conference, the Speaker finally defaulted to form and blamed the CIA for “misleading Congress” on the interrogation techniques.

It is one matter to represent your own recall of briefings that occurred seven years in the past. And reasonable people can differ, barring the existence of a certified transcript.

But to turn a personal recollection that has drawn public doubt and criticism into a charge that it was the policy of the the nation’s intelligence agency to intentionally “misle” Congress is another matter entirely, and, needless to say geometrically more consequential.

Recognizing the damage, at least in part, Pelosi issued a statement saying:

We all share great respect for the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community who are deeply committed to the safety and security of the American people. My criticism of the manner in which the Bush Administration did not appropriately inform congress is separate from my respect from those in the intelligence community to work to keep us safe.”1

So there you have it.  It wasn’t the CIA’s fault; it was the Bush administration’s fault.  This line of reasoning is the intellectual equivalent of spa waters for the Speaker.  The Bush administration is Pelosi’s personal phantasm upon which all distasteful issues or unresolved challenges can logically be placed.

But there is a problem with this sanctimonious line of reasoning.

First, the CIA isn’t a “political” agency.  According to the Plum Book, the quadrennial publication listing all political appointees in the Executive branch, the CIA has only three; the Director, the Inspector General and the General Counsel. This is out of a total of over 20,000 employees.2

The people that were briefing Congress were no doubt skilled and experienced CIA professional staff, not abstract political hacks taking orders from Karl Rove, which Pelosi no doubt believes.

What is more, what is the basis for the CIA to withhold information, even as the Bush administration was in power?

Consider that in September 2004, Robert Novak wrote a column about a virtual guerilla war between the Bush administration and the CIA over estimates on Iraqi WMD and the likelihood of post invasion chaos, with the CIA clearly not working off the Administration’s talking points.3  This is hardly the agency that would seek to “misle” Congress.  If anything, the Agency would have every reason to be forward-leaning in its briefings, if for no other reason than classic Washington CYA.

That is why CIA Director Leon Panetta’s comments should thoroughly unsettle and alarm the Speaker and her team. Panetta, who through his service in the House and the Clinton administration built and maintained a reputation for honest dealing and common sense – no small feat in Washington — came to his Agency’s defense, rejecting Pelosi’s charge and maintaining that the CIA briefed lawmakers on all interrogation techniques in 2002.  “It is not our policy or practice to mislead,” Panetta said.4

Just so that we are clear, that was a Democratic appointee of the CIA and former Democratic House Budget Committee Chairman, disputing the assertions of the Democratic Speaker of the House on actions taken during a Republican administration.

Fiction writers would have a hard time making this stuff up.

But beyond “he said-she said,” what is the importance here?

Based on Panetta’s strong defense of his agency, Pelosi has set herself up in one of two unflattering reflections.  Either she is a moron who could not grasp what was being briefed to her, or she was indifferent to it. Giving the Speaker the benefit of the doubt here, indifference is perhaps the larger sin, as it makes the Speaker a hypocrite.

Where was the outrage in 2002/03? Congress controlled the purse strings.  Even in the Minority, Member objections could affect funding. If Pelosi and the Democrats honestly believed that American law was being broken, they had a duty and obligation to step up and stop it, either behind closed doors or in public as necessary.

But they didn’t.

That speaks volumes when you consider all the smug and unctuous comments from the Speaker and her supporters on issues related not only to enhanced interrogation, but to the War on Terror in general.  It becomes hard not to conclude that Pelosi and a great number of Democrats spoke only when the fear of 9-11 had subsided and when criticism of Bush terror policies was safe and even politically advantageous. A position made possible, ironically, by the policies they were criticizing.

It is hard to find a better example of the 9-10 mindset that many have ascribed to the Democratic leadership, unwilling to recognize that we are at war, politicizing war policy to curry domestic favor and power.

Their power now at its zenith, Democrats must reconcile their craven and feckless policy prescriptions with the real world of terrorists and terror-sponsoring states for which talk of understanding and mutual interest is laughable.

For our collective safety, we must wish them the best of luck, now that they are responsible.

As far as Pelosi, she should resign.

Not to do so would leave a committed conspiracy theorist second in line to the presidency. Her increasingly desperate attempts at validation have embarrassed the Party, and she is no longer a credible critic on terror policies when Netroots and the Left keep pushing for some form of Truth Commission to oversee all terror policies from the Bush years.

The current Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer of Maryland is a seasoned and grounded politician who would be a more difficult lightening rod for criticism that the easily caricatured San Francisco Pelosi.

As for President Obama, the man who during the campaign had no problem throwing people under the bus as a necessary evil, the Pelosi dust up offers an opportunity. Hoyer is no less focused and supportive of Obama’s policies than Pelosi, but he offers a more moderate face.  A woman to the Supreme Court as Pelosi exits?

Obama has so far not picked sides in the war of words between Pelosi and the CIA.  If he does, who is willing to wager that he’s going to let it ride on Pelosi?

Me neither.

1. Washington Post, May 16, 2009, A12

2. Plum Book, GPO 2008

3. Novak Column, 9-27-04

4. Washington Post, 5-16-09


1 comment

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