Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Joke of the day, via the New York Times

Joke of the day, via this morning's New York Times:

Seeking to promote the ratification of the proposed Iraqi constitution without placing more of an American stamp on the process, the Bush administration is planning steps to encourage approval of the new charter while avoiding a specific endorsement or outright campaigning on its behalf, White House officials said Tuesday.

The stand ups are Elite Fluff Patrol squad members Richard W. Stevenson and David E. Sanger (from "U.S. Seeks to Aid Iraqi Charter, at a Distance").

To get the punch line, some background information may be required.

From Democracy Now!'s "Seymour Hersh: Bush Authorized Covert Plan to Manipulate Iraqi Elections:"

SEYMOUR HERSH: And so there was a concern that by making -- acceding to Sistani's request for one man, one vote, a nation-wide election with the Shiites so much in the predominance just in terms of popularity, population 60%, we were going to give over much of certainly southern Iraq to a Shiite government closely allied with Iran. And that was the issue.
So, they decided -- there was a lot of back and forth about it. There was -- I write about all the attempts made through various election groups, etc., monitoring groups that try and smuggle money into the non-Iranian election groups, election parties, which would, of course, be Iyad Allawi, essentially, who is our sort of strong man, Potemkin village guy, the man that was made, created as the, I guess, as the interim prime minister by us, and Allawi was our guy. And there was a tremendous effort all along to try and do what they can do increase his vote and increase his standing inside Iran -- Iraq, rather.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how exactly did it happen?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, I don't know how it happened. What I know is that after they tried to convince the various election groups, the NGOs, the American NGOs, sort of like the N.D.I., National Democratic Institute and others that were training poll watchers and others all throughout 2004, last year, before the election, there was an effort made to get those groups to funnel $40 million or $50 million into Allawi, and they refused.
The President eventually put out a finding, a highly classified finding -- covert finding that under the law, since the 1970s, any time the C.I.A. is authorized to do covert action, clandestine action, the Congress has to be notified, and that finding, by the way, is very broad. It not only referred to Iraq, it referred to sponsoring democracy anywhere in the -- you know, anywhere -- anywhere we thought it was important to do so.
And some people in Congress, particularly I write about Nancy Pelosi from California, the House Democratic leader, she grew up in Baltimore, it turns out. Her father was a -- for 12 years, he was mayor of Baltimore, D’Alexandro. Her brother was mayor later. She grew up in a very, very political family. And she just balked. She said, 'I'm not going to go along with a presidential finding that authorizes covert action to tilt the election. We -- you know, we didn't have all of these boys die so we can fix an election.' And Bush backed off at that point, rescinded -- so the White House says -- they rescinded that finding.
What I write is, 'Are you kidding?' What I write is that they simply went off the record, off the books on it. In other words, rather than deal with the C.I.A. and money that was appropriated by Congress, they took money -- I can't -- I don't know from where, one guess would be Iraqi oil money, which we had control of. They took money that had not been appropriated by Congress and put it to work using retired intelligence people and other probably retired military people and others to help generate votes for Allawi. Allawi was running at, oh, 3% or even lower in other polls. 3% during the year. And he improved at the end, because, among other things, the Saudis and the Brits were doing an awful lot right before the election to support him, but nonetheless, in the election, he got 14% or 15%, which was much more than anybody expected.
How did he do it? Well, three or four or five different ways. There was some direct intimidation by Iraqi police of people at the polls telling them how to vote. There was money. There were intelligence, former C.I.A. people who bragged after the election of stuffing ballots. There was also a lot of reports that -- as most people in the audience don't know, the way the election was set up, the Iraqi election, by us, there were 30,000 polling places around the country and only, at the most, 6,000 or 8,000 poll watchers. So there were a lot of places where there was nobody to monitor. And more importantly, really, there was no ability for the American or international press to go throughout the country. The security wasn't good enough, so you have thousands of polling places to which there were only government people and military people around. Anything could happen.
And what I was told is that the end -- the way it was set up, the poll results in each precinct were to be reported directly to a central headquarters. And after the election polls, you know, the doors closed, you would count the votes and report them. How easy would it be to take ten votes for Allawi and make it 100? This is also something that happened. So through a combination of means, so I was told, Allawi got more votes than he would have gotten normally.

Seymour M. Hersh is discussing his New Yorker article entitled "GET OUT THE VOTE: Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq’s election?" (July 25, 2005). From the article:

A Pentagon consultant who deals with the senior military leadership acknowledged that the American authorities in Iraq "did an operation" to try to influence the results of the election. "They had to," he said. "They were trying to make a case that Allawi was popular, and he had no juice." A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon’s civilian leaders said, "We didn't want to take a chance."
I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials that the activities were kept, in part, "off the books"--they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress. Some in the White House and at the Pentagon believed that keeping an operation off the books eliminated the need to give a formal briefing to the relevant members of Congress and congressional intelligence committees, whose jurisdiction is limited, in their view, to officially sanctioned C.I.A. operations. (The Pentagon is known to be running clandestine operations today in North Africa and Central Asia with little or no official C.I.A. involvement.)
"The Administration wouldn't take the chance of doing it within the system," the former senior intelligence official said. "The genius of the operation lies in the behind-the-scenes operatives--we have hired hands that deal with this." He added that a number of military and intelligence officials were angered by the covert plans. Their feeling was "How could we take such a risk, when we didn’t have to? The Shiites were going to win the election anyway."
In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush Administration's increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals. This allowed the Administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders.

Up to speed? Good. Now let's repeat the joke so that everyone can grasp the Elite Fluff Patrol's inside joke:

Seeking to promote the ratification of the proposed Iraqi constitution without placing more of an American stamp on the process, the Bush administration is planning steps to encourage approval of the new charter while avoiding a specific endorsement or outright campaigning on its behalf, White House officials said Tuesday.

And don't miss this wink to the in-the-know audience members:

Asked whether the administration would try to influence the Oct. 15 referendum or the election scheduled for December by covert activity, Mr. Hadley repeated the administration's policy of declining to discuss such action, but he immediately added that "Iraqi elections, including the referendum, should reflect the freely expressed will of the Iraqi people."

With Elite Fluff Patrol Squad Leader Elisabeth Bumiller having, for whatever reason, taken some R&R from the pack long enough to file actual reporting last week, the boys are left to take their production on the road, which means from Crawford to D.C., playing to in-the-know audiences only. It has a limited, specialized appeal, granted. It's not intended to fill a stadium (the way a Bruce Springsteen concert would) and is actually similar to an evening of cabaret with Bricktop but then the Times truly isn't meant for a mass audience.

Today on Democracy Now!:

Wed, August 31: On the last day of Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's estate in Crawford, Texas we look back at the day her son Casey was killed in Sadr City, Iraq on April 4, 2004.

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