The idea that Negroponte, drenched as he is in Honduran and Nicaraguan blood, is the principled dissenter here should shock even the most cynical observer. But that isn't what I want to focus on either.
The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.
Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.
I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
Think about the Bush Administration's belief that it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants, and that it sees the Congressional power of the purse as an inconvenience, a problem best avoided. Think about the fact that high-level folks in the Bush Administration are reviewing the Iran-Contra debacle as a plan that mostly worked. Now put Hersh's story together with this one:
And, finally, this, from two years ago:
The Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said Tuesday.
The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Nearly $9 billion of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management, according to a watchdog report published Sunday.
An inspector general's report said the U.S.-led administration that ran Iraq until June 2004 is unable to account for the funds.
"Severe inefficiencies and poor management" by the Coalition Provisional Authority has left auditors with no guarantee the money was properly used," the report said.
"The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
I am second to no man in my lack of faith in the competence of this Administration. You can never dismiss out of hand the possibility that stories like these reflect sheer incompetence. But I am also suspicious of coincidences, and there are a few too many here. So I'd like to suggest a theory to tie the facts together: what if what we have isn't evidence of incompetence, but a scheme to address what Cheney saw as the real problem with Iran-Contra -- the pesky need to account for spending? What if the pallets of cash were not lost, but were set up deliberately to give the Administration a substantial off-the-books slush fund? Wouldn't that neatly explain their apparent ability to fund the very people they publicly claim are our sworn enemies? (Recall that we were generous patrons of Saddam before we were against him, and that bin Laden was America's BFF before he became our enemy, too.)
Congress would never approve of the spending Hersh mentions, and the Administration would never ask for it publicly. What that should mean is that it doesn't happen. But what should happen and what this Administration does have little to do with each other.