Jun. 24th, 2003

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at least we've eliminated -fessional.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of the Washington Times and United Press International, was determined to land an interview with Saddam Hussein.

So determined, in fact, that he told the Iraqi leader 21/2 years ago he hoped such a sit-down "would lead to a reappraisal of American policy toward Iraq."

The veteran foreign correspondent also used an Egyptian arms dealer as a conduit to pass copies of his articles to Hussein's government in hopes of winning the interview.

In a Jan. 11, 2001, "Your Excellency" letter -- recently retrieved from Iraqi intelligence files -- de Borchgrave said he could "guarantee" that an interview with him "will have worldwide resonance as well as two entire newspaper pages in The Washington Times, the newspaper of choice of the Republican establishment."

De Borchgrave said last week that he was using the question of U.S. relations with Baghdad as a "hook" and that "changing our policy toward Iraq was the last thing on my mind.

"You don't get an interview by saying, 'I think your policy stinks, you're an SOB and please give me an interview,' " de Borchgrave said. "That would be ridiculous. You obviously try to ingratiate yourself. How did I get major interviews with foreign leaders over the years? Clearly, not by insulting them."

In the letter, de Borchgrave reminded Hussein that he "had the honor of interviewing you" as a Newsweek correspondent in the 1970s. The election of George W. Bush, he suggested, made his request particularly timely:

"I wrote to you last year to respectfully suggest that the time was ripe for a major interview with the hope that it would lead to a reappraisal of American policy toward Iraq. With the new U.S. Administration about to enter the world stage, the matter is more urgent than ever. I have been known throughout the Arab world as a journalist of integrity who has always faithfully reflected the views of heads of state and government for the past 35 years."

De Borchgrave wrote the letter on his stationery as president and chief executive of UPI, which is owned by the Washington Times's parent company, days after he had relinquished the job to become editor at large...
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"Sidney Blumenthal titles his account of his White House days "The Clinton Wars," but it could just as easily be called The Blumenthal Wars." Reviewers have called him a Clinton "courtier," "Sid Vicious," a "lady-in-waiting" and, by the strongest of implications, a liar. Yet to actually read the book brings another term to mind: "mad." This is what Washington was during the Clinton years.

I do not mean all of Washington. After all, many Democrats fought valiantly for Bill Clinton -- or, if not for him, then against Ken Starr, the moralistic prig of a special prosecutor. Ditto some members of the press, who realized that no matter what Clinton did, what was being done to him -- and the presidency -- was far, far worse...

...Starr was preceded by Robert Fiske, who was removed from office by Republican judges on account of a disabling conflict of interest -- experience as a prosecutor, fair-mindedness and estimable professionalism. Starr, in turn, was succeeded by a third prosecutor, Robert Ray, another pro. The FBI was in the hands of Louis Freeh, who loathed Clinton. Various congressional committees were run by the likes of Al D'Amato, who -- in the manner of naming a nunnery after Hugh Hefner -- just got his name put on a Long Island courthouse. As for the news media, they went after both Bill and Hillary Clinton full time. The result? Zip.

I know Blumenthal. He was my Post colleague. But I also know most of the people who have criticized his book. They are honorable people, but many of them use the book to pick up where they left off. They have no second thoughts, no backward glance to see the mess they made or to wonder how investigative reporting and commentary went right off a cliff and into a sewer. The real scandal for the news media is that no scandal ever materialized.

So we get accusations that Blumenthal spun this or that event. What's missing is not just an overview but a sense of astonishment. Isn't it just plain mysterious that Newt Gingrich continues to get respectful media attention when, really, on a given day he is half-mad and almost always blowing smoke? The same could be asked of Tom DeLay, who revived impeachment when the effort flagged for lack of compelling evidence and was determined to smash Clinton -- never mind what else he would destroy in the process. Yet he and other Clinton-haters wander the streets of Washington, unscarred, uncensored but, nonetheless, unhinged...

...the book's reception reminds me of the events it chronicles -- a warped obsession with this or that tree when Ken Starr and his Republican allies were clear-cutting much of the forest. Blumenthal's book, describing what a madhouse Washington became back then, has for some reason been given to the inmates to review.
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U.S. special forces crossed into Syria last week in hot pursuit of what they believed were former Iraqi leaders and exchanged fire with Syrian border guards, seriously wounding three of them, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Details of the episode remained sketchy, and some U.S. officials said the strike could turn out to be a case of mistaken identity.

The U.S. troops, backed by an AC-130 gunship, attacked a convoy of three to seven sport utility vehicles near the western town of Qaim last Wednesday. The convoy was apparently headed toward the Syrian border when the strike occurred, killing an unknown number of people that U.S. officials believed to be former Baath party leaders and security forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.

The Syrian border guards were injured when U.S. special forces soldiers on the ground chased at least one person who tried to flee the charred trucks through a border checkpoint, according to defence officials who received second-hand reports from the field about the incident and asked not to be identified.

The officials said the Syrians were being given U.S. medical attention and would be repatriated to Syrian authorities.

It was unclear who fired first, or if the Syrians were trying to help the members of the convoy, which apparently did not stop despite U.S. attempts. The Syrian government had previously agreed to seal off their border to Iraqi officials wanted by the United States...

Also, starting next month, we're arming Baathists.


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