Wednesday, September 27, 2006

War of The Worlds ~ It's The Credibility, Stupid

Two worlds clash!!

No, not the "freedom-loving" world of America vs. the world of "freedom-hating" fascist Muslim extremists. I'm talking about the far more dangerous battle we seem to waging amongst ourselves for the soul of the country. Odd that we seem to be so ferociously divided over that which we ostensibly should be unified.

Merely symptomatic but highly instructive & very timely is the battle between President Clinton and President Bush over who knew what, when they knew it & whether someone should have done more to prevent Osama Bin Laden from carrying out the attacks of 911. Yes. Still. Again. It's a well-overdue airing.

Clinton's appearance on Fox was just in time to remind us all how badly the Iraq war has been run from conception to present day. Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist problem initially; however, our fearless Administration, unwilling to appear to be doing nothing (as it had the previous 8 months) cooked up faux rationales & faux intelligence to match--ruthlessly taking out any opposition along the way--to lead us into a situation that is viewed in the Middle East as an unjustified occupation & has created the one thing we most feared, a "Terrorist Central Training Camp" where angry extremist Muslims can vent their rage on actual American troops & the private contractors we send into harm's way. Clinton has graciously refrained from saying anything too awful about the Bushco reign--er, Administration--so far, much as it must have pained him to watch. He clearly was agitated & fed up. As a lot of us are.

Bravo for him. The Radical Right which seeks to hang onto power in the November elections should be called to task & invited to explain where the hell they think they're taking us, at home & abroad. Nowhere better than with the event that made their political careers.

As for being Bill, after the ludicrous fictionalized "Path to 911, " I don't blame him for refusing to allow himself to be baited by "smirking" smarmy Wallace. I thought Clinton showed admirable restraint with the fatuous faux news-Fox journalist who talked condescendingly at Clinton (with his eyes rudely closed half the time he was posing questions).

So, the who-knew-what-when arguments continued yesterday with a rehashing of events that, on balance, leave Clinton's version the more credible of the two. (But y'all know I'm no fan of Bushco in the first place.)

Yes, Clinton knew that Al-Queda was supposed to be behind the attack on the USS Cole, but at a time when he had less than a month in office. He left behind Richard Clarke, who was a Republican & had served Bush I, as well as George Tenet in the CIA. Bush ran them both off--who needs continuity when you're blessed with bald arrogance?
In response, "Bush complained yesterday that Clinton was engaging in "finger-pointing" by attacking the current administration's actions before the hijackings. "I don't have enough time to finger-point," Bush said.

"But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did, calling Clinton's version of
events "flatly false." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) returned fire on his behalf, asserting that he would have paid more attention to intelligence warnings in the weeks before the attacks than Bush did."

About Bill's assertion in the interview "They had eight months to try," Clinton said. "They did not try. I tried:" Rice bristled at that in an interview in yesterday's New York Post. "The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false, and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," she said. "What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years."

"Hillary Clinton pointed to the intelligence memo presented to Bush in August 2001. "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team," she said.

"And Jay Carson, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, rejected Rice's contention: "Every single fact that President Clinton stated in his interview is backed up by the historical record -- including the 9/11 commission report. Everything President Clinton said was flatly correct."

"Some of Clinton's statements on Fox have drawn scrutiny. He said that after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan."

"The Sept. 11 commission, though, found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban, just more limited options such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel's report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.

"Clinton also asserted that the Bush administration "didn't have a single meeting about bin Laden for the nine months after I left office." In fact, the Bush team held several meetings on terrorism through the interagency group known as the deputies committee and one on Sept. 4, 2001, through the principals committee composed of Cabinet officers.

"What Clinton may have been referring to was counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's frustration that the principals disregarded his urgent calls to meet sooner because of a months-long policy review.

Rice came under fire for her assertion that "we were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda" by Clinton's team. In fact, Clarke sent Rice an al-Qaeda memo on Jan. 25, 2001, along with a strategy to "roll back" the terrorist network, but the Bush team decided to conduct the policy review."

A companion article by Dan Froomkin, also in the WaPo today ("Not So Tough on Terror?"), includes an extensively quoted interview by CNN's Wolf Blitzer of Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democrat & former prosecutor who interviewed Bush for the 911 Commission Report, accompanied by Cheney--at Bush's insistence, off the record, also at Bush's insistence. Thus what Bush had to say never made it into the 911 Commission's official report. (Cheney did not speak at all during the interview). The CNN interview marked the first time he has spoken publically about what transpired in that interview.

"Clinton said he came "closer to killing" Osama bin Laden in a 1998 missile strike on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan than anybody has since.

"I didn't get him," Clinton said. "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."

"White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, appearing on CNN yesterday afternoon with Wolf Blitzer, issued a classic non-denial denial.

"BLITZER: Let me go back to the first eight months of the Bush administration. We heard over the weekend former President Clinton suggests the CIA and the FBI had certified at the end of his administration that al Qaeda was, in fact, responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. That when President Bush came into office, he was told this, yet, he didn't do anything between the time he took office and 9/11 to go after al Qaeda, even though he knew that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack of the USS Cole. Do you want to respond to that?

"TOWNSEND: I do, Wolf. You know, the notion that anybody is not doing all they could do to combat the war on terrorism, to defeat al Qaeda and prevent the next attack is just offensive."

But the Associated Press reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, fired back yesterday with a more fervent (though similarly undetailed) defense: "'What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years,' Rice said during a meeting with editors and reporters at the New York Post .....

"'The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false--and I think the 9/11 commission understood that,' she said.

"Rice also took exception to Clinton's statement that he 'left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy' for incoming officials when he left office.

"'We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida,' she told the newspaper, which is owned by News Corp., the same company that owns Fox News Channel."

"Rice made it clear she'd rather be talking about something else: "'I think this is not a very fruitful discussion,' she said. 'We've been through it. The 9/11 commission has turned over every rock and we know exactly what they said.'"

To the contrary, by the way, Richard Clarke, appearing on Charlie Rose last night, confirmed that what Clinton had said on Fox was true. Apparently Bush, Cheney & Rice have agreed to present a united front in denying the existence of the plan turned over to them by the Clinton administration--which they ignored--by disingenuously quibbling over what it was officially called--a war plan, a plan for addressing the problem, or a strategy.

Seriously. PR over substance, after all. Too bad PR doesn't kill terrorists.

New Evidence

"Indeed, the 9/11 Commission Report very diplomatically concluded that both Bush and Clinton could have done more to prevent the terrorist threat.

"But up until now, it's remained a mystery what exactly Bush said to the commissioners when he grudgingly consented to an interview with them in the Oval Office, back in April of 2004.
Pretty much all we knew about that interview was that Bush insisted that it be held in private, unrecorded -- and with Vice President Cheney at his side. (See, for instance, my April 8, 2004, column , and this Tom Toles cartoon .)

"But yesterday afternoon, Democratic former commission member Richard Ben-Veniste dramatically broke his silence about that meeting in an interview with CNN's Blitzer. Here's the transcript . Forgive me for quoting so extensively, but it's fascinating stuff.

"BLITZER: All right. You, in your questioning in your investigation, when you were a member of this commission, specifically asked President Bush about efforts after he was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, until 9/11, eight months later, what he and his administration were doing to kill bin Laden, because by then it was certified, it was authorized. It was, in fact, confirmed that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole in December of 2000.

"BEN-VENISTE: It's true, Wolf, we had the opportunity to interview President Bush, along with the vice president, and we spent a few hours doing that in the Oval Office. And one of the questions we had and I specifically had was why President Bush did not respond to the Cole attack. And what he told me was that he did not want to launch a cruise missile attack against bin Laden for fear of missing him and bombing the rubble.

"And then I asked him, 'Well, what about the Taliban?' The United States had warned the Taliban, indeed threatened the Taliban on at least three occasions, all of which is set out in our 9/11 Commission final report, that if bin Laden, who had refuge in Afghanistan, were to strike against U.S. interests then we would respond against the Taliban.

""BLITZER: Now, that was warnings during the Clinton administration. . . .

"BEN-VENISTE: That's correct.

"BLITZER: . . . the final years of the Clinton administration.

"BEN-VENISTE: That's correct.

"BLITZER: So you the asked the president in the Oval Office -- and the vice president--why didn't you go after the Taliban in those eight months before 9/11 after he was president. What did he say?

"BEN-VENISTE: Well, now that it was established that al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole bombing and the president was briefed in January of 2001, soon after he took office, by George Tenet, head of the CIA, telling him of the finding that al Qaeda was responsible, and I said, 'Well, why wouldn't you go after the Taliban in order to get them to kick bin Laden out of Afghanistan?'

"Maybe, just maybe, who knows -- we don't know the answer to that question-- but maybe that could have affected the 9/11 plot.

"BLITZER: What did he say?

"BEN-VENISTE: He said that no one had told him that we had made that threat. And I found that very discouraging and surprising.

"BLITZER: Now, I read this report, the 9/11 Commission report. This is a big, thick book. I don't see anything and I don't remember seeing anything about this exchange that you had with the president in this report.

"BEN-VENISTE: Well, I had hoped that we had--we would have made both the Clinton interview and the Bush interview a part of our report, but that was not to be. I was outvoted on that question. . . .

"BLITZER: Now, you haven't spoken publicly about this, your interview in the Oval Office, together with the other commissioners, the president and the vice president. Why are you doing that right now?

"BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think it's an important subject. The issue of the Cole is an important subject, and there has been a lot of politicization over this issue, why didn't President Clinton respond?

"Well, we set forth in the report the reasons, and that is because the CIA had not given the president the conclusion that al Qaeda was responsible. That did not occur until some point in December. It was reiterated in a briefing to the-- to the new president in January....

"BLITZER: Well, let me stop you for a second. If former President Clinton knew in December. . . .

"BLITZER: . . . that the CIA and the FBI had, in his words, certified that al Qaeda was responsible, he was still president until January 20, 2001. He had a month, let's say, or at least a few weeks to respond.Why didn't he?

"BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think that was a question of whether a president who would be soon leaving office would initiate an attack against a foreign country, Afghanistan. And I think that was left up to the new administration. But strangely, in the transition there did not seem to be any great interest by the Bush administration, at least none that we found, in pursuing the question of plans which were being drawn up to attack in Afghanistan as a response to the Cole." ...

Recently Uncovered Evidence

"And let's not forget: It was only a few weeks ago that Ron Suskind revealed in his book, "The One Percent Doctrine," just how cavalierly President Bush responded to being briefed on the al Qaeda threat, just a month before the attack.

From Barton Gellman 's review in The Washington Post: "The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled 'Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.' Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: 'All right. You've covered your ass, now.'"

Reminds us of the moment when it was also revealed that he knew the levees were giving way during Katrina. We watched him watch the footage dispassionately.

We also watched him give an aw-shucks, I'm just a hapless guy performance shortly thereafter, where he denied having the knowledge.

It's not just the Bush v. Clinton worldview that's disturbing. It's not only the failure to act on information in a preventive manner, it's the choice of the target, means & methods used once action is taken. Again, what did Iraq have to do with anything initially? And what amount of expense & lives will it cost to get us out now that we've created a terrorist training ground?

But those of us looking on & wishing for a meaningful change after the repeated lies & PR stunts that have been fed to us in lieu of good government (while simultaneously wrecking American democratic government) do have cause to hope. By focusing the re-election efforts on the debacle that is Iraq, they invite critique and exposure.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.


Anonymous Casey said...

The best disinfectant is acting freely in the sun .

My take on finding freedom in this climate of lies is:

We need to act, not on the big things but upon ourselves and have that ripple out. I think its the only solution left, considering the terror bill just kicked our country down another step.

6:20 PM  

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