September 28, 2006

He Said They Said on Terrorists

I don’t know if you followed the recent kerfuffle over Fox’s Chris Wallace/Bill Clinton interview. A summary for those that missed it:

Wallace interviewed Clinton (transcript at Think Progress)

Wallace asked a sharply-worded question “why didn’t you do more to get Bin Laden.”

It got Clinton’s dander up, for a number of reasons. Clinton insisted:

  • There is an anti-Clinton administration context on Fox and in the wake of the recent ABC docudrama regarding the government’s response to terrorism.
  • That context is based on distortions and falsehoods contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report, yet claimed to be sourced to the 9/11 report.
  • Republicans criticised Clinton for “wagging the dog” when he did try to get bin Laden. But now they want to say he didn’t do enough.
  • The Bush administration has never had to answer such a question from Fox on any efforts (or lack of efforts) to get Bin Laden in the months before 9/11/2001.

It was also refreshing to hear someone honestly admit that they failed in something. Clinton did fail to get Bin Laden, but as he pointed out, he tried pretty darn hard during a pretty difficult time in his presidency when others were more concerned with distracting him. Richard Clarke’s book makes that pretty clear, the efforts and the errors. But if you listen to conservatives on the radio, they dismiss Clarke for various ridiculous reasons. As soon as you write a book in this country, you’re a book huckster, to them, no matter whether you have facts behind you or not. If there’s a rumor you might run for president, there’s another strike against you. So, rumors can sink you, and you’re even worse off if you’re a credentialed expert who worked for (and was loyal to) four different administrations. You’re an expert on terrorism. Ah, but you wrote a book to share you’re experiences with the world. You’re off to the dismissal bin, sorry.

And, lest I forget, the crowning gem of right-wing logic about Richard Clarke, is the interpretation of the fact that Bush underused Clarke in the early days of the current administration. People seeking to discredit Clarke cast him as a spurned employee because Bush demoted him. Get this, I actually heard someone say that Clarke thought he had a “divine right” to an influential position on national security — forget that he was an expert and served three different administrations. Some people would call that proving oneself, earning respect.

The real story is that Bush was very concerned about Iraq when he came into office. I won’t rehash his interactions with Clarke over the vanity war in Iraq (read Clarke’s book, I urge you). And that he wasn’t interested in people with expertise built up over the years as much as he was interested in getting yes-men and think-alikes who would move the Iraq agenda forward. Whether taking the eye off the ball lead to disaster is a more complex question, but clearly Bush was less concerned about al Qaeda than Clarke thought he should have been, and Clarke struggled to get his concerns (concerns Clinton took seriously) heard. And they were not.

This clashes head-on with the Republican re-election message and the CLoW (Conventional-Lack-Of-Wisdom) of right-wing hawks. Such clashes with reality are common nowadays, and especially in election years, providing fodder for The Daily Show, etc.

Speaking of Condi Rice

But I really wanted to talk about Condi Rice, because she has problems of her own. Clinton made a statement she objected to:

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?

CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.

WALLACE: Right.

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.

So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

Rice responded:

“We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda,” Rice told a reporter for the New York Post on Monday. “Big pieces were missing,” Rice added, “like an approach to Pakistan that might work, because without Pakistan you weren’t going to get Afghanistan.”

This might sound familiar, because Clarke once had to face her claim that Bush never received any al Qaeda plan. Memos contradicted her claims in that case, and again now.

According to the Raw Story website, pesky memo evidence contradicts her. Plans specifically mentioned Pakistan.

The strategy document includes “three levers” that the United States had started applying to Pakistan as far back as 1990. Sanctions, political and economic methods of persuasion are all offered as having been somewhat successful. […] The memo sent by Clarke to Rice, to which the Clinton-era document was attached, also urges action on Pakistan relating to al Qaeda. “First [to be addressed,]” wrote Clarke in a list of pending issues relating to al Qaeda, is “what the administration says to the Taliban and Pakistan about ending al Qida sanctuary in Afghanistan. We are separately proposing early, strong messages on both.”

Details of the plan in the attached documents are redacted for national security reasons. Of course, now the semantic battle begins what’s a “plan” vs. a “strategy” vs. “a series of steps.”

It’s Republican Re-election time in Washington, and contradicting the CLoW is bad for re-election, especially when Republicans expected to portray themselves as saviors against terrorism rather than the bungling ideologues they’ve proven themselves to be.

To the luck of the reality-based American community, there is a whole ‘nother story about how the Republican game plan of fear mongering the country into their waiting arms is hitting a September Snag.

Dispute on Intelligence Report Disrupts Republicans’ Game Plan

Watching the president shuck and jive over the intelligence report deserves its own post, which I don’t have time to write.

But, in short, if you like more terrorism it turns out that the Iraq war was a really, really, really good idea.

Will Democrats effectively exploit plain facts and informed opinion to their political gain? Hey, fortune favors the bold, guys.

Posted by James at September 28, 2006 11:37 AM
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