Saturday, October 16, 2004

You don't have to go as far back as Vietnam to remember how different Bush and Kerry's foreign policy experience and views are. E.g. remember the late 1980s/early 1990s: while Bush was off at Camp David snorting cocaine, Kerry was up on Capital Hill trying to nail the death squads (Contras) that profited from selling that coke.

Robert Parry was one of the first reporters to uncover the Iran-Contra scandal and the original (1980) October Surprise -- the plot hatched by Wm. Casey (Reagan's campaign manager and CIA chief), George H.W. Bush and others to influence the election by making a deal with Iranian hostage-takers to hold them until after the election.

Parry is a seasoned investigative journalist who once worked for AP (where he and Brian Barger broke the Iran-Contra story) and then Newsweek, where he encountered resistance in tracking the scandal up the chain of command. After being forced out of Newsweek, he ended up producing a show on Iran-Contra for Frontline and then another on the October Surprise.

After the New Republic and Newsweek ran major hatchet jobs that backed Casey and Bush's flimsy alibis (i.e. that they could not have been in Paris for a meeting with the Iranians during the 1980 campaign because they were off at Bohemian Grove -- you know, that right wing antithesis of those Robert Bly retreats in the woods, where they get drunk and George Schultz reveals the tatoo on his ass, as they run around the fire naked, ghoulishly cackling cryptofascist chants with jack-o-lantern grins) ... but just about everyone but Parry dropped the case.

Years later, Parry went into a dusty storage space under one of the Congressional office buildings to look through the files of the closed Congressional investigation (careful not to copy too many pages in order to not attract too much attention from his minder) where he found a few smoking gun documents, including a Russian intelligence report that confirmed that Bush and Casey were in Paris during the final weeks of the campaign -- a vindication that would make a good spy novel scene.

Throughout the book there is a lot of lost history being recovered. And thankfully, the tone throughout the book is anything but conspiratorial, though it will be treated as such.

Also, underlying the thread of the story explores the question of whether there is a real difference between Kerry and Bush on foreign policy. After all, people say Kerry voted to authorize the war and the Patriot Act, has not come out and said he's against establishing 14 permanent bases in Iraq, and is a Sharon supporter and Free Trader.

All true, but apart from Kerry's nuanced explanation of his votes (which I've found is not enough for the tin-plated ears of my Nader-supporter friends) there is something else here: the historical trajectory of both men. Recall that while Bush was (according to Kitty Kelly) off snorting cocaine at Camp David while his daddy was President, Kerry was on Capital Hill leading an investigation into the Nicaraguan Contras’ ties to cocaine kingpins which, if Lee Hamilton had had any spine, might have resulted in nailing Bush Sr. (It must have made many cringe to learn that Hamilton was co-chair of the 9-11 commission).

And although people dismiss Kerry's record in Congress as unremarkable, in fact he has taken on and led a few of these politically difficult investigations, which have have been particularly embarassing for certain members of the Democratic establishment, such as the investigation into BCCI (the "Bank of Crooks and Commerce"), which could not have endeared him to Clark Clifford and friends. Let alone the radical right.

But “despite the attacks from the Washington Times and pressure from the Reagan-Bush administration to back off, Kerry’s contra-drug investigation eventually concluded that a number of contra units – both in Costa Rica and eventually concluded that a number of contra units – both in Costa Rice and Honduras – were implicated in the cocaine trade."

“It is clear that individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the contras was used by drug trafficking organizations and elements of the contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers,” Kerry’s investigation stated in a report issued April 13, 1989. “In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately thereafter.”

And Bush?

The Kerry Commission nvestigation represented an indirect challenge to Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had been named by President Reagan to head the South Florida Task Force for interdicting the flow of drugs into the United States and was later put in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System. In short, Bush was the lead official in the U.S. government to counter the drug trade, which he himself had dubbed a national security threat.

(Funny that this was around the same time that Kitty Kelly reports W. was snorting coke at Camp David.)

Spencer Oliver, the Democratic staffer whose phone was bugged in Watergate and who later became chief counsel of the House International Affairs Committee, came to believe that former CIA Director Bush and CIA veterans attacked to the White House were the hidden hands behind all facets of the Iran-Contra scandal: the Nicaraguan contra operation, the Iranian arms initiative and the propaganda-driven “Project Democracy.” The key players, Oliver believed, were not the government officials who became household names during the scandal – Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, John Poindexter, etc. – but the ex-CIA men, the likes of Donald Gregg and Walter Raymond, who coalesced around Vice President Bush’s office and mostly stayed out of the spotlight.”

(Raymond ran a domestic propaganda campaign to keep Iran-Contra from bringing Bush down. I remember one of his operatives coming to a church in our suburb of Chicago to make a presentation that had absolutely no connection to the reality on the ground in Nicaragua. I recall being so apoplectic that I had to leave after objecting and calling him a "liar" and finding not a sympathetic person in the room, no surprise for such a Republican audience. The guy was there for damage control, not to debate. And if people there were skeptical, they would hardly cross over to the ranks of international solidarity movement, with all its Sandalistas and liberation theologian purists.)

Also, most of us have forgotten that Bush was helped into office by the Moonies and helped out after he retired when they paid the ex-president millions in return for lending his imprimatur to its expanding operations. Estimates of his fee for one appearance in Buenos Aires alone (where he vouched for the Moon-affiliated news organization when it bought a major paper there, calling the Washington Times a voice of “sanity”) ran between $100,000 and $500,000. One source told Parry that Bush stood to make as much as $10 million total from Moon’s organization (which in turn was reportedly funded by Japanese yakuza).

So it shouldn't surprise people that the guy who produced the new attack movie on Kerry that Sinclair announced it will run used to work for the Washington Times (though they say for less than a year). See Parry's web site, Consortium News for more on Moon.

Also, reading Parry's book suggests we should pay closer attention to the emerging scandals surrounding the nest of spies in the Pentagon that are being investigated for passing state secrets on to Iran (the same Office of Special Plans run by Douglas Feith coordinated the awarding of no-bid contracts to Halliburton before the war). The people go back a ways. Michael Ledeen, for example, was involved in the October Surprise.

But if Bush gets elected, it'll all be swept down the memory hole.

Americans owe Parry a debt of gratitude for the persistence that results in an historical narrative that ties a lot of isolated events together:

"Many of the events may seem on the surface disconnected, although many of the central characters have reappeared throughout the course of the drama and others were understudies of earlier characters, carrying on their mentors’ tactics and strategies. ... Viewed as a panorama of 30 years, a continuity becomes apparent. What one sees is an evolution of a political system away from the more freewheeling democracy of the 1970s toward a more controlled system in which consensus is managed by rationing information and in which elections have become formalities for the sanctioning of power rather than a valued expression of the people’s will. ...Privately – and sometimes publicly – Bush insiders celebrated this transformation of the United States from what George W. Bush used to call a “humble” nation into a modern-day empire driven by a quasi-religious certainty in its own righteousness."