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May 31, 2008

The McCain/Armitage Connection: On Nurturing Vipers

Once upon a time there was a serpent who was badly injured in a fight with another animal. It managed to slither away to safety but would have surely died if a benevolent man had not seen it suffering by the side of the road. The goodly man carefully wrapped the snake up and took it to his house, where he bestowed the kindest and gentlest care on the snake until it was healed and could return to the wild. Just as the man was releasing the serpent back into the grass, the ungrateful snake turned and bit him on the hand.

"What did you do that for?" cried the man, who knew that the bite of this particular snake was usually fatal. "Didn't I take care of you when no one else would?"

The snake shrugged (no small feat for a snake!) and replied to the benevolent--and now doomed-- man, "What did you expect? You knew I was a snake when you picked me up."

- CWCID: Dr. Sanity

As the Scott McClellan debacle continues to implode, John McCain may wish to reconsider the wisdom of clasping vipers to his bosom:

The worry about Mr. McCain is centered among a group of foreign policy realists who have long been close to him and who lost out to the hawks in the intense ideological battles of the first term of the current White House. The group includes former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush.

Notably, it was Richard Armitage who was the leaker of Valerie Plame's so-called "secret identity". It was Armitage who, knowing full well he had been the leaker, allowed the White House to become embroiled in the Plame scandal after his boss George Bush called for anyone with knowledge of the affair to step forward. In this he was aided and abetted by one Colin Powell.

But that is not the last of his offenses. Armitage had previously shown himself to be a less than reliable member of the administration. Clarice Feldman explains:

Washington offers numerous opportunities for high officials bent on undermining the Will of Congress, as well as the Chief Executive and his explicit, lawful directives. Richard Armitage, as we now know, ignored an express Presidential Directive in the Plame investigation when he failed to notify the White House that he was the source of the leak to Bob Novak.

But that was not the first time Mr. Armitage has disregarded the President's explicit orders.

Rumors abounded for years that he and Secretary of State Colin Powell regularly undermined the Administration and its plans in countless other ways respecting Iraq. Most of those claims are not capable of proof because they consisted of anonymous information supplied to reporters and others. But one case breaks that mold: the killing of Liberty TV.

Legislation was passed funding Liberty TV, a channel to be aimed at Iraqi and other Arab audiences. The President signed the budget authorizing it to start spending the Treasury's funds. The political branches of government had spoken. Yet Liberty TV never saw the light of day.

I have offered the Department of State an opportunity to explain why the appropriated funds for this program were never spent and have received no reply. Relying on a GAO report, documents, contemporary news accounts and interviews, I have reconstructed what happened.

Feldman's investigation into the affair reveals shocking behavior on the part of Armitage:

On January 18, 2002, Richard Armitage was working to cut off all funds to finance Liberty TV. In a meeting with representatives from the Near East Affairs Office (NEA) of the State Department (Mr. Krajeski and Ms. Lempert and Portz), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the State Department, NEA's Deputy Director announced they were cutting off all funds to the INC.

The only basis for concern on the record was a minor audit issue (about $14,000 spent to rent an office in a residential apartment not permitted under the grant) which was quickly resolved. (The accounting rules of these grants are fairly arcane, and it is far from unusual for grantees to have some audit issues at the outset. In any event, the INC quickly resolved this single issue, adopted a sound accounting program and was fully compliant after the initial utterly minor problem.)

The Inspector General's Berman expressed shock at the suggestion.

'During the interim period after the report is issued—we don't do this to other grantees (cut off funding until all recommendations are completed).' He also observed that 'other grantees take years to make implementations and the funding continues.'

More, he told the Near East Affairs, He 'didn't think' that politically the funding could be cut.

Ms Ropella of the OIG added that the INC response showed they were making a 'good faith effort' at compliance with the audit requirements.

Nevertheless, Krajeski said that the Deputy Secretary (Armitage) 'makes all decisions' and that 'he'd make the final decision.' Though he acknowledged that 'Congress loves Liberty TV' and that 'the newspaper (produced by the INC) is pretty good'.

So desirous was NEA of getting the OIG to do the dirty work of cutting off the Liberty TV funding, Lempert resurrected an accusation by an INC rival which had been reported to the Department in 2001, fully investigated and found baseless. OIG reported in due course that this allegation had been found baseless and detailed the thoroughness of the investigative process which had established that conclusion.

By April 5, 2002, the Department of State's Near East Office (Dave Pierce, Tom Krajeski and Yael Lempert and Anna Mary Portz) made it clear in a meeting with OIG that Richard Armitage bore animus to Ahmed Chalabi and the INC and his representatives at the meeting announced

'If the OIG recommended to discontinue funding, then Armitage would discontinue it.'

This was in effect a directive to OIG to falsely state that the INC had failed to abide by the Department's audit rules. The GAO wrote,

'Although several accounting and internal control weaknesses were identified, OIG officials said that they found no evidence concerning the prior accusations of fraud. An INCSF representative acknowledged that it had financial management and accountability weaknesses in the early stages of the agreements. However, the representative believed that INCSF made significant improvements in late 2001 and early 2002 to correct the weaknesses and to respond to the OIG audit.'

Two more meetings on this topic occurred in May with representatives of the NEA and OIG.

In the May 17 meeting NEA's Lempert asked the OIG for assistance with 'NEA's desire to 'shut down the INC''

In a follow—up meeting on May 21, Ms. Lempert described action Armitage had taken with respect to cutting INC's funding. He was angry that INC would not reveal the names of those involved in the INC's Intelligence Collection Program. Chalabi refused to do that because in the past when he had, these sources were killed. The amendments to the grant with Armitage imposed, placed the INC Liberty TV operation on a month—to—month basis, making it impossible to plan, hire, or obtain equipment as it was attempting to establish itself.

In sum, by imposing intolerable funding restraints, Armitage condemned Liberty TV to failure.

Ms Lempert never faced Congressional scrutiny for her attempt to induce the OIG to falsely allege auditing irregularities and thwart the will of Congress that the program be funded. She was shifted to Baghdad to work on the reconstruction, and was promoted to the staff of Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, a critical witness against Scooter Libby in the pending Plame case.

Her boss Krajeski was named US Ambassador to Yemen.

But it gets even better. Several Senators personally intervened after the invasion of Iraq to try and reinstate Congressionally-mandated funding for Liberty TV (let's keep in mind that Richard Armitage had now single-handedly thwarted the will of Congress):

Members of the Senate tried repeatedly without success to overturn Armitage's actions and get Liberty TV up and running.

On March 27, 2003, Senators Brownback, Santorum, Kyl, McCain and Coleman wrote to the President emphasizing how urgent was the full funding of the INC. The Senators reported:

Despite several assurances from the highest levels of the State Department that this issue would be resolved, including the most recent appearance of Secretary Powell before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just weeks ago, TV Liberty—the main vehicle for broadcasting into Iraq, remains off the air due to lack of funds.

So Secretary Powell either aided and abetted Armitage as he did in concealing Armitage's role in the Plame leak (which was going on during this same time frame) or he proved unable to control his direct subordinate. Either way, the funding for Liberty TV was not reinstated:

The Senators received word that the President had directed Armitage to release the funds, but he did not release them all, and the restrictions he placed on the INC effectively put the INC on such a short leash that it was impossible to carry out Liberty TV's operations.

Many readers have wondered why I have such a low opinion of Colin Powell. He continues to be revered in the media.

A man who covertly undermines his direct superior while refusing to resign his position, in my book, has surrendered any claim to integrity or professionalism. Richard Armitage is worse.

The question is, why would John McCain seek this man's advice on anything?

Posted by Cassandra at May 31, 2008 10:52 AM

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Look at McCain clearly. He isn't a big loyalty guy. He's a big bipartisan guy. Doing what you think of as correct even though it undermines your side, your team, your supporters, etc., is just how McCain normally operates. That's why support for him among conservatives is as lukewarm as it is, given his war record, sense of humor, etc.

I imagine he sees in Armitage someone very much like himself -- a man who does what he thinks is right, in any given instance, without regard to what anyone else thinks. If it hurts the team, whether that team is Republicans or Conservatives or whatever -- well, tough. You do what you think is right.

I suspect McCain would tell you Armitage is exactly the kind of person he wants. Having spent so long in the Senate, I doubt he sees "direct superior" as the hard line you do; I imagine he thinks more in terms of political party. If McCain will break with the Bush administration on this or that because he thinks it is the right thing to do, well, why would it bother him if Armitage did?

I understand, by the way, why you think it was wrong -- you needn't try to convince me. I'm just saying, McCain doesn't see things quite the way you do, or I do. He's proven that many times. That doesn't make him bad, but don't expect him to value loyalty or teamwork. Expect him to value, ah, "mavericks."

Posted by: Grim at May 31, 2008 11:51 AM

If McCain thinks insurgency type tactics works for those out of the direct succession of power the same way it works for those directly in the succession to power, he's going to encounter the cold hard reality.

The fault with all revolutions is not that they can succeed in overthrowing the status quo, but in the fact that they continue to bring chaos out of order instead of order out of chaos. Overthrowing a government or being "independent" from central authority may have been a requirement in rejecting, obstructing, or overthrowing the status quo, but once you are the status quo, then you will be put in a position of fighting what you once were. And if you cannot make that shift from revolutionary to statesman and government leader, then another revolution will take hold and they will have an easier time of it given your example.

In the end, it is not a good precedent to set to ignore the chain of command and conduct things solely to aid your group of friends, allies, and factions. Nations are not built from doing what you think is right for yourself, nations are built on who has been proven to be correct. Those that have not been proven to be correct, share the fate of benedict Arnold, who himself thought he was doing America a favor by ending the war with Britain sooner and in Britain's favor.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 1, 2008 03:32 AM

Btw, Grim, have you not just done a psychological profile of McCain, when you have protested the profiling of Bush in the same exact manner that you have done for McCain?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 1, 2008 03:33 AM

Ironically, Grim, that is exactly how I tend to approach life.

I value principle above tribalism (boy is *that* an oversimplification!). But in general, I generally try to do what I think is right without regard to who it benefits or hurts; mostly because those things pull you in the opposite direction.

What bothers me about Armitage is that he did not do what was right in either case, I don't think.

In the case of Liberty TV, he disobeyed an order from the executive branch to reinstate funding and made his own boss (Powell) look like a liar for going to Congress and promising it would be restored. Also, if the IG didn't find any serious accounting irregularities and it wasn't standard GAO practice to cancel programs even when they DID find irregularities (but to work with the program) then why did Armitage strangle Liberty?

Answer: because he was determined to regardless of the IG's findings. That's not being a maverick. That's malfeasance.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 1, 2008 07:37 AM

When you have a set of principles and others have the same set of principles, what you have is a tribe. An organization of people, not necessarily related by blood, that works together under the same fundamental assumptions about life, ethics, and enemies.

Armitage, however, if he has any principles, does not hold to the same principles that you do, Cassandra. And neither does McCain given his positions on domestic bills and policy decisions.

then why did Armitage strangle Liberty?

Probably because Chalabi didn't have anybody he could bribe or blackmail in Congress, which is what the usual standard operating procedure is in Congress if you want votes. Bribe somebody, blackmail somebody, or make people repay the favors you did them before.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 1, 2008 02:12 PM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 06/02/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at June 2, 2008 11:28 AM


No. I'm just telling you what I think of him.

Psychology is dangerous because of its pretense to science. I'm not claiming I've "diagnosed" him according to any sort of formal theory. I'm just telling you what kind of man I think he is. You're free to disagree; and since I'm claiming no false expertise by describing myself as a scientist, anyone can speak on equal terms.

That's why psychology is poisonous. Not because it's wrong to judge; but because it's wrong to pretend to be something you aren't. Psychologists are not scientists; but I really am a guy with an opinion.


Like I said, I think Armitage thought he was doing right, and damn the torpedos -- any naysayers were just getting in the way of doing the right thing.

I don't agree with him either. I just think that's likely how he saw himself. Most people seem to think they're right and moral, most of the time, even in the face of pretty clear evidence.

Posted by: Grim at June 2, 2008 12:24 PM

You could be Wright... err... right :p

Posted by: Cassandra at June 2, 2008 12:29 PM

So Armitage must think impersonating a Navy SEAL for over 30 years is the right thing to do.

Armitage is a dickless fraud with not an ounce of integrity. I would put that fat wuss in full body traction and gladly do the time with a big grin.

Posted by: Joe Twelvepack at June 10, 2008 06:48 PM