Saturday, November 8, 2008

President-elect's Queries to Briefers

A Good Piece
By Ray Mcgovern

"......The president-elect needs to start asking hard questions. Now. Here are some he might want to select for his next briefing:

1. The lead story in Friday's New York Times undercuts the claims of Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili that he was acting in self-defense when he ordered his troops to fire artillery and rockets at the city of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. The new information comes from international monitors of the highly respected Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and, oddly, is much closer to the Russian version of what happened.

Task: A two-page memo on who started the fighting and why? Deadline: Monday

2. A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced last November concluded that Iran's work on the nuclear-weapons part of its nuclear development program was suspended in mid-2003. National Intelligence Council director Thomas Fingar repeated that judgment publicly on Sept. 4, 2008.

I want to know how that squares – or doesn't – with the claim by neoconservative icon Norman Podhoretz, just hours after the NIE's key judgments were made public, that Iran is "hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons," and why Podhoretz would go on to charge that the intelligence community was trying to "undermine George W. Bush." I notice, incidentally, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has parroted Podhoretz's "hell-bent" phraseology, and that your boss, CIA Director Michael Hayden, has also publicly volunteered his "personal opinion" that this is so.

Task: A memo updating the judgments of the Nov. 07 NIE, as necessary. Deadline: Nov. 14

3. My aides have been telling me that, when speaking of the recent decrease in violence in Iraq, I have been mis-overestimating, so to speak, the success of the surge while mis-underestimating factors like the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, the decision to pay Sunnis not to shoot at U.S. forces, and the decision of Muqtada al-Sadr to hold Shia fire pending the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which the Shia see as just a matter of time.

Task: A memo ranking the reasons for the downturn in violence in order of relative importance. It should address all these factors; it should also explain why the U.S. has several thousand more troops in Iraq now than were there before the surge came and went. Deadline: Nov. 19

4. Confusion reigns with respect to what is likely to happen when U. S. forces withdraw from Iraq. That administration officials and U.S. Army generals know better what to expect than the Iraqis themselves strains credulity. It has become increasingly clear that the Iraqi government and people believe they themselves can handle whatever comes once we depart, and that they consider the large U.S. troop presence part of the problem, not the solution.

Task: A memo addressing why the Iraqis are more relaxed about a U.S. troop withdrawal than most U.S. officials and pundits. Deadline: Nov. 21

5. No outsiders have been able to prevail in Afghanistan. What makes us think the U.S. can, no matter how many troops it chooses to recruit and insert?

Task: A formal National Intelligence Estimate on prospects for Afghanistan. Deadline: Jan. 9, 2009 ........

8. My advisers tell me that senior intelligence officials, including the principal deputy to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, have been briefing the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a creature of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Task: Please ask McConnell to let my staff know what other policy advocacy institutes his subordinates have briefed. Deadline: Nov. 10

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