To counter this Iranian tide, the CIA proposed a political action program, initially at roughly $20 million but with no ceiling. The activities would include funding for moderate Iraqi candidates, outreach to Sunni tribal leaders and other efforts to counter Iranian influence. A covert-action finding was prepared in the fall of 2004 and signed by President Bush. As required by law, senior members of Congress, including Pelosi, were briefed.It didn't exactly happen that way, if we are to judge by a piece written in July 2005 about this same incident by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker. He wrote that by fall 2004 the State Dept was already involved in handing out money to influence the election, but supposedly the President rejected that approach in favor of a more clandestine one. He writes:
But less than a week after the finding was signed, CIA officials were told that it had been withdrawn. Agency officials in Baghdad were ordered to meet with Iraqi political figures and get them to return whatever money had been distributed. Mystified by this turn of events, CIA officers were told that Rice had agreed with Pelosi that the United States couldn't on the one hand celebrate Iraqi democracy and on the other try to manipulate it secretly.
Ethically, that was certainly a principled view. But on the ground in Iraq, the start-stop maneuver had the effect of pulling the rug out from under moderate, secular Iraqis who might have contained extremist forces. (Asked about the withdrawal of the intelligence finding, spokesmen for Rice and Pelosi declined to comment.)
...in the same time period [fall 2004], former military and intelligence officials told me, the White House promulgated a highly classified Presidential “finding” authorizing the C.I.A. to provide money and other support covertly to political candidates in certain countries who, in the Administration’s view, were seeking to spread democracy. “The finding was general,” a recently retired high-level C.I.A. official told me. “But there’s no doubt that Baghdad was a stop on the way. The process is under the control of the C.I.A. and the Defense Department.” It is not known why the President would reject one program to intervene in the election and initiate another, more covert one.In any event, there was a signed Presidential Finding, according to both accounts. And both accounts say Pelosi, briefed on the Finding according to law, objected. But here's where the stories differ sharply. Ignatius says the operation was in fact stopped, CIA agents asked their Iraqi contacts for their money back, and "mystified" CIA officers were told the program had been halted because of objections from Pelosi and Condoleeza Rice. Not so at all, according to Seymour Hersh's account. Hersh wrote:
Sometime after last November’s Presidential election [Nov 2004 US presidential election], I was told by past and present intelligence and military officials, the Bush Administration decided to override Pelosi’s objections and covertly intervene in the Iraqi election. A former national-security official told me that he had learned of the effort from “people who worked the beat”—those involved in the operation. It was necessary, he added, “because they couldn’t afford to have a disaster.”In other words, the CIA attempt to covertly influence the outcome of that election went ahead (and was unsuccessful in any event). Which makes Ignatius' version of those events look like a crude piece of disinformation designed to make the Democrats in some sense responsible for the current chaos. The point being that yes, Pelosi did object to covertly buying elections, but in point of fact the objection was overruled and the vote-buying went ahead anyway. The Netroots exploded over this, with denunciations by Matt and Atrios, in addition to several lesser individuals, and even the great Markos himself, who says in his judicious way, "this is all horseshit being peddled by Allawi's expensive lobbying firm in DC".
We don't get that too often, the white-hot, extatic rage. But notice what the actual reasoning is. Ignatius has slanderously suggested that the Democrats' principled opposition to vote-buying was in any way effective. It wasn't! The manipulation went ahead as planned. Thus do the Netroots score a point for the Democrats. So it goes.
(I took down an earlier, much more confusing, rendition of this point. Apologies to commenter Dan, whose informative comment also got washed away in that).