A conservative-leaning friend of mine had to needle me when I was griping about current defense issues - he said, hey, be careful what you ask for
June 9, 2010


A conservative-leaning friend of mine had to needle me when I was griping about current defense issues - he said, hey, be careful what you ask for, these are "your" progressives. I had to shoot back a response, in essence, saying no, these were not "my" progressives because I didn't see any progressives in the White House. I don't think I have to elaborate to anyone that the progressive movement is bitterly disappointed with the Obama administration and Congress.

"Progressives have grown ever more dissatisfied, and for good reason," Robert Borosage, the conference organizer, said at the start. "Our hopes or illusions were shattered: escalation in Afghanistan, retreat on Guantanamo, no movement on worker rights or comprehensive immigration reform, dithering on 'don't ask, don't tell,' reverses on choice, delay on climate change and new energy."

There's nothing so much as the Obama administration's willingness to retain former Bush administration officials that emphasizes this fact. Let's leave SecDef Bob Gates and FBI director Robert Mueller alone for now, and look at former Lt Gen James Clapper, nominated to be the next Director of National Intelligence. Now I don't really care that this administration keeps on pushing retired general/flag officers into public service, although others do (I think it's Obama's attempt to influence Republicans from blocking his nominations). I'm more disturbed by Clapper's former record on intelligence issues, notably when referencing Saddam's alleged WMD program in 2003.

The idea that Saddam hid his WMD stockpiles and programs by secretly shipping them to Syria has been popular for years among some of the most avid supporters of George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, lengthy and expensive investigations by the Iraq Survey Group, a special team set up by Bush to look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, found only traces of them. The inquiry concluded that Saddam had largely destroyed his WMD stockpiles and production infrastructure years before the invasion, retaining only the ability to restart the program if it became possible. Experts affiliated with both the Republican and Democratic parties now say the Iraq Survey Group’s evidence shows overwhelmingly that Saddam’s WMD programs and stockpiles were eliminated well before the U.S. invasion. Claims that Iraqi WMDs might still be hidden in Syria are now regarded as no more than a fringe conspiracy theory.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, confirm to Declassified that Clapper supported the theory. One of the officials says Clapper was a fairly enthusiastic proponent of the idea, but three others say they don’t remember his being a bitter-end advocate of the notion; they suggest he probably abandoned it after the Iraq Survey Group reported its conclusions. One of the officials says Clapper was "not much of an ideologue."

Nevertheless, he apparently stuck with the theory for at least six months after the invasion. The Washington Times’s ace defense reporter, Bill Gertz, described Clapper in an Oct. 29, 2003, story as telling a group of defense journalists at a breakfast that spy-satellite images of vehicle traffic indicated that material and documents related to the WMD programs had been shipped to Syria. "Those below the senior leadership saw what was coming and I think they went to extraordinary lengths to dispose of the evidence," Clapper was quoted as saying.

I heard these rumors, never saw any evidence that supported movements of MWD materials and munitions to Syria. I'd like to think that Syria wouldn't be so stupid as to support this move, and if it had done so to benefit its own WMD program, well, that's just prudent politics. But the facts remain that Saddam's WMD program was not active at the time of the invasion, that he did not have a stockpile of munitions that he was preparing to give to terrorists, and that a preventive invasion was a really bad solution to that threat. So why keep Clapper in the administration? Has he repented? Does he accept the Iraq Survey Group's findings?

I'm quite enjoying Matt Yglesias's book Heads In the Sand, where he explains this inexplicable tendency of old-school Democrats to actually apply their energy and agenda in the same direction as right-wing conservatives, even though, time after time, we've seen this strategy backfire on them. This administration is showing the same tendencies that Yglesias points out, and it's damned frustrating. We deserve better than this. We campaigned for a progressive platform, and we didn't get the progressive positions that we wanted. We're nearly out of time to influence this administration to change for the better - if the Repubs win at the mid-terms, Obama will be forced to compromise even more to the right, and the progressive positions will just vanish in 2011-2012.

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