Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 27, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Clarke Star Crashing

Some controversies, you can't blog halfway, and with so many people blogging on the Clarke thing and so much new dirt on the guy every day, it's been pretty pointless for me to try to keep up even if I hadn't been swamped at work all week. One thought, on his easily disproven whopper about Condi Rice: there's no older cliche in the political book than disgruntled insiders claiming people they met with didn't know what was going on. Hell, they tried that with George Washington.

For what it's worth, here's my link-free, bottom-line take on what I think we know thus far about the propriety of blaming Clinton and/or Bush for September 11 (I may or may not go back and dig up the supporting links on this some other day, but it's all out there):

1. With the benefit of hinsdight, it's now clear that Clinton's people screwed up our anti-terror policy, beginning after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, through too much caution about committing to use military force and by a law enforcement-centered approach, despite having regularly considered more aggressive approaches.

2. In so doing, they were largely unchallenged by the GOP and not sufficiently challenged by the conservative press.

3. Had Clinton moved more aggressively, he would have had qualified support from some on the Right and the center-left, but the public appetite for a military response wasn't there, and would have been difficult for Clinton to generate without a major attack. It would have been a test of even Clinton's powers of persuasion.

4. Clinton's people knew well how bad the overall threat was, and warned Bush's people about the nature of the threat.

5. On the other hand, they didn't hand over any kind of a strategy or plan to do anything about it other than a continuation of the prior insufficient efforts.

6. Clinton also recognized the Saddam problem -- that the 'containment' regime's premises had collapsed and the status quo was ultimately unsustainable -- but similarly didn't hand over any strategy to do anything about Saddam.

7. Bush & Gore both recognized in the 2000 campaign that the status quo with Iraq needed to change, and both would have headed towards a clash with Saddam even without 9/11.

8. Neither Bush nor Gore said much about bin Laden or terrorism in the 2000 campaign. It was not an issue and didn't even come up at the debates.

9. The Bush Administration, like its predecessor, did nothing of significance on terror or on Iraq for its first 8 months in office.

10. However, the Bush Administration appears to have been developing strategies to deal with both problems (bin Laden and Saddam) by early September 2001, albeit without the urgency we'd want, with hindsight, to have seen from both Bush & Clinton.

11. The Bush Administration also seems to have had some warnings about Al Qaeda using airplanes as a weapon - in fact, I checked and there were widespread press accounts in June 2001 of Al Qaeda reportedly plotting use airplanes as a weapon at the G8 summit in Italy that summer - but never got more specific information, in part because of pre-Patriot Act restrictions on law enforcement's ability to connect the dots.

Bottom line: yes, in hindsight, both the Bush and Clinton Administrations, with more foresight, could have done more on both counts. Yes, they should have done more. Yes, I hand Clinton the larger share of the blame, at least as far as the failure to develop a long-range offensive strategy is concerned - whereas it appears that Bush was at least thinking in that direction. On the defensive question (i.e., having the homeland on alert), there's less to fault Clinton and a bit to question about Bush, but I regard the failings as mostly institutional - the problem was the inability to pursue evidentiary leads and get urgent warnings up the ladder, rather than a failure of leadership.

But the blame isn't, in my view, the important question - as I said, none of it is entirely damning, and it's bipartisan in nature. The important question is what's been learned. The Bush Administration, of course, is famously unwilling to throw red meat to its critics by admitting error (witness what happened when they gave an inch on the State of the Union), but its actions have shown a willingness to re-evaluate U.S. military doctrine and law enforcement practice in numerous ways since. The Democrats . . . not so much. I really don't have confidence that John Kerry, who's been busy blasting Bush for being too eager to go to war and who's campaigned against the expanded law enforcement powers of the Patriot Act, has really learned anything.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 AM | Politics 2004 • | War 2004 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Mr. Crank-

I hate to break this to you Clarke's claim is not "easily disproven." This idiots poorley written blog post does not disprove Clarke's claim. Rice didn't use the term al qaeda in the radio interview. This is especially important because of what Clarke says in the book "As I briefed Rice on Al Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard of the term before...". This was Clarke's personal observation and even if it is proven false Clarke doesn't have to appologize because our personal observations are never 100% accurate. She didn't use the exact term in the radio interview and because of that fact the claim is not unproven.

There is little substance to these attacks on Clarke. First Dick Cheney said he was out of the loop, which was false because there are pictures of Clarke meeting with top administration officials in the days after 9/11. Other White House officals told the truth contradicting Cheney's claims. Then the White House put out statements he gave to the press in confidence. These releases proved nothing because don't we all try and put things in the best light possiable light when asked to do so by our employers? I guess those releases only prove the White House's willingness to break journalistic ethics. On Friday Bill Frist speaking, from the Senate floor, accused Clarke of lying under oath, but later admits he himself is the liar. Frist didn't actually know if Clarke delivered two contradictory statements under oath, but made a serious accusation without viewing any evidence himself.

Posted by: andrew R at March 27, 2004 4:41 AM

You forgot to add:

12. Any military action by Bill Clinton against Al queda or Iraq would have been preceived by the GOP and the media as an attempt to distract the country away from Monica effectively handcuffing the president.

Posted by: andrew R at March 27, 2004 4:56 AM

Man, that is one truly Clintonian parsing of Rice's statement. Saying that he wasn't lying even though his statement was obviously false is a pretty weak defense.

I'll admit that Cheney misstated Clarke's role, but "statements he gave to the press in confidence" is pretty much an oxymoron.

As to #12, I did mention that Clinton would not have had full GOP support, but part of the problem was that Clinton chose the absolute height of his personal crises - the week of impeachment and the day of his grand jury testimony - to launch the strikes on Saddam & bin Laden. . . maybe if he'd been threatened with impeachment more often, he'd have done more.

Posted by: The Crank at March 27, 2004 10:52 AM

3. Had Clinton moved more aggressively, he would have had qualified support from some on the Right and the center-left, but the public appetite for a military response wasn't there, and would have been difficult for Clinton to generate without a major attack. It would have been a test of even Clinton's powers of persuasion.

I'm not so sure about that. I there is one thing that the Iraq war has tought us, it's that if a president wants to go to war it's not all that hard to find a body of evidence to support that war. Has a president who stated the need to go to war ever been turned down by congress or the American public?

Posted by: Richard at March 28, 2004 3:53 AM

Come on Richard! If there's one thing Iraq taught us its that anything was possible in the name of patriotism...after 9/11.

And even with that, the patriotism and 9/11, the body of evidence was the flimiest aspect of Bush's call to war and its the biggest aspect being questioned now.

Posted by: C Giddy at March 29, 2004 11:23 AM

Now being the key word. The war in Iraq had plenty of support from the public and the left during the run-up, despite Bush's "flimsy evidence." And there are other examples (President Johnson and Tonkin Gulf comes to mind) throughout American history. If a president wants a war, he gets a war.

Posted by: Richard at March 29, 2004 2:17 PM
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