Slick Talk

The administration's propaganda machine is grasping at implausible theories to gain support for war in Iraq.

The latest invention of Bushspeak is the so-called reverse domino theory, which allows the president to reach well beyond the goal of disarming Iraq toward transforming the entire region. As Bush put it in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute last week, "A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region." Almost as an afterthought, the administration suggests that a reverse domino effect could lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board and apparently a principal architect of Bush foreign policy on the region, explained to Arab journalists in London last week that transformation of Iraq could lead to regime change in Iran, Syria and Libya. "Change is needed in all those three countries and a few others besides," he said.

This doesn't necessarily mean armed intervention. "I think Iran can be changed by the action of the Iranian people," Perle said. "I believe that Syria, too, can organize change from within." As for Libya, "it is a weird case," Perle said. "For the time being, it is out of world reality. But the colonel knows that we have our eyes on him." One controversial briefing paper prepared for Perle's Pentagon advisory board advocated seizing Saudi oil fields in retaliation for that nation's alleged support for terrorism. Among other things, this paper proposed that a "Grand Strategy for the Middle East" should concentrate on "Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot, and Egypt as the prize."

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As always, the purpose of propaganda is to distract the public from the facts, which means denying that oil has anything to do with our intentions in Iraq. The administration has hammered away at this, with designated dove Colin Powell declaiming, "The oil of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq." Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense, said on Fox News on Feb. 25, "This is not a war about oil. This is going to—if we have to use force, it's going to be to liberate Iraq, not to occupy Iraq. The oil resources belong to the Iraqi people." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "An Iraq war has absolutely nothing to do with oil." And on Meet the Press on Feb. 23, Perle, in a retort to presidential aspirant Dennis Kucinich, said, "Allow me to say: I find the accusation that this administration has embarked upon this policy for oil to be an outrageous, scurrilous charge for which, when you asked for the evidence, you will note there was none. There was simply the suggestion that because there is oil in the ground and some administration officials have had connections with the oil industry in the past, therefore it is the policy of the United States to take control of Iraqi oil. It is a lie, congressman. It's an out-and-out lie."

Four years ago, Perle was singing a different tune. On Jan. 26, 1998, Perle, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, along with several others, signed a letter to then-President Bill Clinton that said, "It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will all be put at hazard."

The key player now in the dreary Democratic primary dwarfdom stakes is sleeper candidate Senator Robert Graham of Florida. Recovering from extensive heart surgery, Graham, 66, had Gwen Logan, his daughter, file papers last week to form a presidential campaign. Not that he's likely to win the nomination or even run as John Edward's VP in hopes of shoring up the North Carolina airhead hunk. That's not the point. By jumping into the race, Graham's putting down a marker on the battleground state's primary votes. If he can hold on through a primary or two and not look like a complete dodo, Graham can help force the party into a brokered convention in Boston next summer. In that circus atmosphere, anything goes. If, for example, Bush's war drags on, the fortunes of the so-called front-running little people (i.e. Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards), all of whom have shuffled around supporting Bush, will decline, while those of outside insurgents such as Kucinich and Dean will go up. Who knows, Atari Democrat Gary Hart might even make it back to the center ring.

A former two-term governor, Graham's a popular three-term senator and hasn't been beaten since he first ran for the legislature in 1966. Graham voted against the Iraq war resolution and was openly "outraged" by the nation's shabby intelligence system. He occupies a pivotal niche in national politics. The senator is loaded, and with billionaire Warren Buffett as a pal, the sky's the limit. Florida is a huge source of funds for Dems. Party candidates in 2000 raised $2.8 million from the state's citizens. Soft-money contributions to both political parties in 2000 ran to $23 million. New legislation may curb that this year, but Graham can hurt candidates like Joe Lieberman, who raised $350,000 in two days in South Florida recently. Graham could also put a damper on candidates such as Gephardt and Kerry trying to raise money there. Florida is the fourth largest state and, after all, was the decisive factor in the bitter 2000 election.

Last but not least, as brother-in-law of the late Katherine Graham of The Washington Post, he is the uncle of Donald Graham, now the paper's boss.

Among the residents of Washington nervously awaiting attack, there is at least one happy camper. He is Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the man in charge in the event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack. Unlike most of his employees, Thompson and his top aides can scurry across the hall to safety inside a newly constructed $3.5 million command center. Probably unique in the city, this HQ has a special ventilation system that will keep Thompson and his ilk safe and sound even if anthrax or gas seep through the rest of the building. Space is also reserved for big shots from the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security Department. As for the rest of Thompson's employees, they're pretty much on their own. "It's a combination of face-to-face communication and loudspeakers," said HHS spokesperson Marc Wolfson, describing the evacuation system. "There are what we call 'essential employees,' and essential employees are briefed ahead of time and know where they would have to go." For the rest, Wolfson added, "in general, the information would be passed to employees at the time of the event." Additional reporting by Phoebe St. John and Rebecca Winsor.

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