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Bush loyalists keep jobs, despite errors

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2003

WASHINGTON In the rising controversy over how the Bush administration built its case for war in Iraq, one curious fact stands out. Some who gave President Bush unwelcome information that turned out to be accurate are gone. Those who did the opposite are still around.

Former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki voiced concerns about the expense, aftermath and forces that would be needed concerns now proving to be true. These men are no longer in the picture.

By contrast, nobody so far has come under apparent pressure to resign in the events that led up to the president's mention in his State of the Union address in January of a British intelligence report that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. That claim was based on forged documents and challenged by the CIA.

Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to get his hands on nuclear weapons was an important part of Bush's case.

CIA Director George Tenet and Stephen Hadley, the president's deputy national security adviser, both had information in October that the Iraq-Africa report was unreliable. Both have since publicly apologized for not doing more to keep it out of Bush's Jan. 28 speech.

''I failed in that responsibility,'' a grim-faced Hadley said last week.

Some political observers have expressed surprise that Tenet and Hadley appear to be surviving the flap, which has embarrassed the president, distracted his senior advisers and provided a big opening to Democrats.

But both have so far passed the loyalty test, deemed very important to Bush, White House aides said.

Tenet has an added big advantage. While owing his job to former President Clinton, he is well liked and respected by a particularly influential ex-CIA chief: the first President Bush.

Although the current president keeps his frequent phone conversations with his father strictly confidential, Republican advisers close to both Bushes said the younger Bush puts a particularly high premium on his father's views on intelligence matters.

Hadley served in the first Bush administration, as did national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Rice and Hadley were both sent an October 2002 CIA memo challenging the Iraq-Africa report. White House officials said last week that Rice did not recall the memo.

Rice has sought to blame the CIA for what happened. ''The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,'' she asserted.

Powell, a retired four-star general who was chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the first Bush administration, has suggested he always had doubts about the Iraq-Africa connection.

While Bush cited the allegation in his address, Powell did not mention it in his otherwise exhaustive presentation on Iraq to the U.N. Security Council a week later.

Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have pounced on the matter, demanding hearings, documents, even resignations. ''There ought to be some accountability somewhere,'' said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While resignations may yet come, all the major players in the drama have expressed strong loyalty to Bush, noted Stephen Hess, a scholar with the Brookings Institution. ''And it's pretty hard to lose much by being loyal to the boss.'' Meanwhile, the naysayers on Iraq are becoming an endangered species.

Lindsey, while chair of Bush's National Economic Council, suggested in September that the cost of war with Iraq could range from $100 billion to $200 billion. The White House openly contradicted him, saying that figure was far too high. He was eased out in a winter shake-up of Bush's economic team.

But his estimates are bearing out.

Congress in April passed an initial $62.4 billion measure to pay for the fighting. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently put the cost at $3.9 billion a month. Also, L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator of Iraq, last week said $29 billion will be needed just to repair Iraq's electricity and water systems.

Zinni, a retired Marine general who was Bush's Middle East mediator, angered the White House when he told a foreign policy forum in October that Bush had far more pressing foreign policy priorities than Iraq and suggested there could be a prolonged, difficult aftermath to a war. He was not reappointed as Mideast envoy.

Shineski, then-Army chief of staff, told a Senate committee in February that a military occupying force for postwar Iraq could amount to several hundred thousand troops. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz immediately denounced that level as ''wildly off the mark.'' Nearly 150,000 U.S. military personnel are in Iraq now.

Shineski retired in June.

Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.



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