OPINION Has Nancy Pelosi signed off on the George W. Bush administration’s covert CIA operations in Iran? Yes, according to Seymour Hersh’s July 14 New Yorker article, "Preparing the Battlefield." Late last year, the White House submitted a Presidential Finding, a highly classified document signed by the president, to be cleared with the leaders and ranking intelligence committee members of both parties in both branches of Congress a group that, by dint of her position as Speaker of the House, includes Pelosi.
According to a Hersh source, "Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding … the funding for the escalation was approved" noting that congressional leaders authorized up to $400 million for increased efforts to destabilize Iran’s government.
When some Democrats became uncomfortable with the prospect of approving "potential defensive lethal action by US operatives in Iran," they conferred with CIA Director Michael V. Hayden who, Hersh writes, "reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm."
Nothing more than to shoot their way out? If President Bush were to reveal evidence of Iranian agents dropped into this country and authorized to kill Americans, we can well imagine Pelosi speaking forcefully about the outrage she and the House delegation would feel about such an egregious breach of our sovereignty. But how in the world does the representative of perhaps the most antiwar city in the country sign off on the United States doing this to another nation?
Then there’s the question of whom we’re funding. According to a former Middle East CIA operative, one beneficiary, the Baluchis, a Sunni Muslim group in the majority Shiite country, are "fundamentalists … you can also describe … as Al Qaeda." Another, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, has been on the State Department terrorist list for more than 10 years.
That the Bush White House would resort to arming known enemies in its frantic effort to create new ones is bad. Democrats signing off on it is even worse. But the fact that a representative from San Francisco, a city that has time and again demonstrated its opposition to these sorts of policies, might approve them is about as gross a distortion of the public will as you’re likely to find.
Hersh quotes an aide to one of the four Democrats notified of the Finding predictably arguing that it was "just that notification, and not a sign-off on activities." But he accurately points out that Congress "has the power to withhold funding for any government operation," but chose not to.
The burden of persuading Nancy Pelosi that the Democratic Party should not approve such policies may lie primarily with her House colleagues. But if she, or they, think that this is what the Speaker needs to do, then she needs to leave that job behind because funding a covert war in Iran simply does not represent the interests or the will of California’s 8th Congressional District.
Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts state legislator who lives in San Francisco.