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Real Threats, Real Candor By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 02, 2007


The Democrats’ script on national security, as it is being written for the 2008 elections, goes something like this.

Before Bush, the world was a stable place. The Cold War was over. America was at peace. No nation on earth could rival America’s might. There was no terrorist threat on the horizon. Even North Korea and Iran were under wraps.

 

But because of Bush’s obsession with Saddam Hussein, and his single-minded determination to finish the war his father started in 1991 and willingness to cherry-pick and falsify intelligence, we now face threats that no one could imagine just seven years ago. Bush lied, people died.

 

The Iraq war has become a breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Without the war in Iraq, no terrorists.

Many Americans have fallen for this facile misrepresentation of the facts. Until very recently, they have received tacit succor from an unusual source: America’s top intelligence officials.

 

But with the appointment of retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell, who replaced John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence in January, that appears to be changing.

 

During his remarkable “World threats” briefing before the Senate Armed Services committee on Tuesday, McConnell described a difficult world, full of threats to U.S. and world security. Despite repeated proddings, he held out no hope that changes of U.S. policy would significantly change the historic developments that have been set in motion over the past thirty years and that now confront us.

 

Yes, Iraq, has become a “cause célèbre” for terrorists, he acknowledged to the pleasure of the Senate Democrats. But no, if that war were resolved tomorrow, the threat from al Qaeda would not dissipate, let alone disappear.

 

“If we withdraw from Iraq, whether it’s a year, six months, two years, whatever number you want to pick,” asked South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham, “they’re coming after us. Am I wrong?”

 

“They have already attacked inside Saudi Arabia, as an example,” Adm. McConnell said “So yes, they will come wherever we are.”

 

“Is there any safe place for us to go in the Mideast without being attacked?” Graham asked.

McConnell answered without hesitation, “No.”

 

The Democrats tried repeatedly to get McConnell to say that al Qaeda was more powerful today than it had been before 9/11. Unfortunately for their 2008 game plan, the facts just don’t line up that way.

 

“First of all, just let me say that al Qaeda leadership, as it existed prior to 9/11 or prior to going into Afghanistan -- somewhere in the neighborhood of three-quarters of the leadership have been killed or captured,” McConnell said.

 

And then, there’s the little detail about the Afghan training camps that flourished under Taliban rule. “Now, when I looked at prior to going into Afghanistan, there were literally thousands of those forces in training with multiple camps. That's gone,” McConnell said.

 

Sure, al Qaeda is recruiting. And yes, Senator: they are a danger. “They are attempting to rebuild in the North-West Frontier of Pakistan,” he said. “But the numbers are not the same.”

 

An aide to McConnell was careful to stress that his testimony was virtually identical to that presented just a few weeks earlier to the Senate and House intelligence committees by his predecessor, John Negroponte. But he conceded that McConnell’s manner in answering questions was “possibly more direct.”

 

It was also substantively different in several key areas.

 

When asked about his views on whether Iran wanted to see a full blown civil war in Iraq, Negroponte had taken the State Department line.

 

“We – the judgment of the [intelligence] community in the past has been that Iran wants an Iraq that is not a threat to it; they want to support a Shi’a-dominated Iraq, and that they want a stable Iraq.

 

The don’t want it to fall apart. They don’t want to country to collapse by – that’s on its borders just to fall apart into various parts.”

 

Iran’s recent delivery of explosively-formed projectiles (EFP) had raised questions, Negroponte acknowledged. “And one wonders if their policy toward Iraq may not have shifted to a more aggressive posture than it has been in the past.” But that was as far as Negroponte would go, despite the fact that U.S. military commanders had seized Iranian-supplied weapons and Iranian intelligence officers, and were continuing to interrogate them in Baghdad.

 

But when Sen. Graham asked McConnell for his view of Iran’s goals in Iraq, he acknowledged that it was “absolutely not their goal to have a functioning democracy” in Iraq, because it would be a threat to their own theocratic government.

 

Then McConnell was asked whether Iran’s government was aware of the activities of the Qods force in Iraq. It was his “assessment” that they were.

 

That was too much for Michican Democrat Carl Levin, the committee chairman. “[T]hat’s very different from what the White House was saying the other day,” he sputtered.

 

This has become a key “gotcha!” moment for the Dems and the elite media. Even since Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace said there was “no evidence” that the Iranian government knew about the arms shipments to Iraq, the weasels have been accusing the Bush White House of hyping intelligence – “again.”

 

Even the President and White House spokesman Tony Snow were forced to back off from accusing the Iranian government of doing what everyone knows they were doing. To his credit, Adm. McConnell resisted that temptation.

 

Another key area where McConnell’s assessment different from that of Negroponte was North Korea.

 

Negroponte just skimmed over North Korea’s nuclear developments in his Senate and House testimony in January. McConnell, by contrast, called on his detail man – former CIA case officer Joseph DeTrani, now the North Korea mission manager under the DNI – to present a much-needed update on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program in an open forum.

 

DeTrani revealed that in October 2002, the United States “confronted the North Koreans in Pyongyang with information they were acquiring material sufficient for a production-scale capability of enrichment uranium,” in violation of the NPT as well as the 1994 Agreed. Framework. “We still see elements of that program,” he said.

 

In the Democrats’ playbook, the Agreed Framework – negotiated by Clinton – was a great success, whereas the Bush administration destroyed it by pushing the North Koreans too hard. In a front page story yesterday, the Washington Post misconstrued DeTrani’s testimony to make it appear he supported that view. “New Doubts on Nuclear Efforts by North Korea,” the headline claimed.

 

McConnell will have to make a number of politically-sensitive judgment calls in the coming months. Several of them were hinted at during this long but important hearing.

 

• He will have to provide the president with updated assessments of the insurgency in Iraq, and U.S. counter-insurgency strategies, to help determine if we are starting to turn the tide in Iraq.

 

• He will have to provide new assessments on Iran’s long-range ballistic missile programs and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, since the current assessments that Iran will be incapable of producing either a nuclear weapon or a missile to deliver it before 2015 are patently absurd.

 

• He will have to provide ongoing assessments of North Korea’s compliance with the latest nuclear agreement, which requires North Korea to take verifiable steps to shut down all its nuclear weapons programs, including a uranium enrichment program the Democrats and their surrogates in the elite media claim does not exist.

 

So far, McConnell has displayed a refreshing candor as he enters these political minefields. Let’s see how he does in a few months, once the weasels start working him over.

 

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).


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