Politics & Policy

State of P.R.

Foggy Bottom spins.

The State Department’s campaign against President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy continues apace.

The folks at Secretary of State Colin Powell’s shop never did seem to get on board with the administration’s decision to liberate the country from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Through media leaks and other means they made no secret

of their displeasure in the lead up to war.

But now, more than six months after Baghdad’s fall, things have gone too far. State has kicked its campaign up a notch to a point where it is now working against the administration’s efforts to make the best of the situation in Iraq.

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date when Foggy Bottom decided to redouble its efforts, but it may have been October 9, the day PBS aired the season premier of Frontline, its acclaimed documentary series. State somehow convinced the show’s producers to produce something like a State Department infomercial.

Truth, War and Consequences,” billed as a critical examination of the Bush administration’s decision to go to war, the role of Iraqi opposition groups in that decision, and the troubled aftermath of the invasion, took Foggy Bottom’s view of nearly all the important events. It portrayed the Defense Department as the bad guys; promoted the false notion that the administration tried to paint Saddam Hussein as an “imminent threat”; cast exiled Iraqi opposition leaders, particularly the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, in a bad light; and so on. (See Jim Hoagland’s excellent article here for more detail on the Iraqi exile story.)

One of Frontline’s star interviewees was Greg Thielmann, an embittered former State Department bureaucrat whose view on Iraq lost the policy war. Thielmann bashed the Office of Special Plans, the small, misunderstood office at the Pentagon formed to fill an intelligence void created by the CIA’s incompetence. He also accused the administration of using what he called “faith-based intelligence” to make its case for war, meaning they only used the information that fit into their pro-war agenda.

Thielmannn, who was responsible for analyzing intelligence for Powell, reappeared to continue the crusade on the 60 Minutes II program last week with another explosive claim: that his former boss, Powell, knowingly misled the public with his speech to the United Nations in February by exaggerating intelligence claims. Powell, once a skeptic of war with Iraq himself, unequivocally maintains that the information used in the speech was the best judgment of the intelligence community at that time. (Note: Greg Thielmann has since continued his attacks, including an op-ed in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun attacking David Kay’s recent weapons report.)

Then there is State’s latest salvo, Sunday’s front-page “news” story in the New York Times about the so-called Future of Iraq Project. This now-lionized effort, in which State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs gathered exiled Iraqis into working groups to look at postwar issues like local governance, transitional justice, and media, apparently predicted much of the postwar trouble now being experienced in Iraq. But, the Times reported, their findings were “ignored” by Pentagon officials until recently. (The Pentagon claims the group’s work actually was taken into account.)

The Frontline documentary also addressed the Future of Iraq Project and joined in the glorifying effort by interviewing Edward Walker, an Arabist former diplomat and now president of the Saudi-funded Middle East Institute; and Laith Kubba, an Iraqi exile who had a falling out with the Iraqi National Congress and subsequently formed his own rival opposition group shortly before the war, the Iraq National Group. (Interestingly, Kubba did this while he was a paid employee of the U.S. government as a program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.)

The truth is that the Future of Iraq Project was little more than a public-relations exercise for the State Department. As Kanan Makiya, one of the brightest lights for the future of Iraq said on Frontline, “The State Department wanted to talk about how best we can collect garbage in the streets the day after liberation, or how can we recruit a thousand health workers to go to this or that area the day after… I’m sure there were people inside Iraq who would know much better than I how to go about doing these things.”

The Times also tries to deify one Tom Warrick, a State Department official who headed up the project. Warrick had a track record of working to undermine the democratic Iraqi opposition going back to the Clinton years. So if the Pentagon–the department charged by President Bush with responsibility for postwar Iraq–did ignore his work, they had good reason.

It is easy to point fingers after the fact about the inadequacy of prewar planning. But the death toll in Iraq is mounting. Whether the current troubles could have been prevented or not is a discussion for a later date. But Foggy Bottom’s spinning for what is likely the early stages of its attempt to establish Powell’s legacy is poorly timed and ill advised. It is also an enormous disservice to the soldiers putting their lives on the line in Iraq everyday.

Adam Daifallah covered the Iraqi opposition for theNew York Sun. He is now a member of the editorial board at Canada’s National Post.

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