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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 29, 2004

 
Shameless

Frankly, a lot of us didn't take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11, so I'm not sure there's any great shame in all this. Still, the Bush White House should quit smearing Clarke and own up to the truth: terrorism wasn't a top priority during their first few months in office. 9/11 was a wakeup call for them, just as it was for the rest of the country.



Kevin Drum keeps taking that position and I don't understand it. According to all the people who Kevin cites in his post as backing up Clarke, the Clinton administration took terrorism much more seriously. And you don't have to rely on the "impressions" of civil servants because actual real world results show even to those of us not privy to the classified documents that the Clinton team had terrorism as a top priority. They did, after all, thwart the millenium plots.

Even according to Kevin himself in a previous post:

Clarke surely knows that it would have helped his credibility if he had treated the Clinton and Bush administrations more evenhandedly, but he obviously thought the differences between them ran too deep to do that. During the Clinton years the problem was one of turning a battleship, but he felt that at least everyone took it seriously and helped to push.


The way he phrases that leads me to believe that he may not completely share Clarke's view. Or perhaps he's internalized the old political saw that says there's not a dimes worth of difference between the parties or something. In any case, credibility is not determined by some phony "even handedness." This man's credibility rests on his history as a nonpartisan career civil servant and the facts and witnesses that back up his claims.

As kevin notes he does not say that Clinton was a one man terrorist wrecking crew. He and everybody else were slow off the mark as the terrorist threat emerged in the mid 90's. But, it is indisputable that by January of 2001 the professional national security establishment KNEW that al Qaeda was a huge threat and within months they were warning of a major attack. Unlike Clinton two years before (and from whom they could have learned a thing or two) the Bush team chose to keep their fingers crossed rather than raise the issue to the top of their list of priorities.

Our bi-partisan tradition of foreign policy has meant that a new administration depends upon career civil servants like Clarke to keep national security running smoothly over changes of parties in the White House. They are non-partisan for that reason. He and others had made forward progress in getting the Clinton administration to make terrorism a priority and it was naturally expected that once it had hit the top of the threat food chain it would stay there until it was either defeated or proved to be mistaken. You just don't drop national security threat assessments for partisan ideological reasons.

That is what happened. The Bush team ignored the warnings of the Clinton appointees and they also ignored the warnings of the permanent national security establishment, all of whom had experienced the rise of the terrorist threat during the preceding eight years and who were not kidding when they warned them about it.

Clarke admits that we will never know if we could have prevented 9/11, but it is clear that if the Clinton administration (and probably the Gore administration) had been in office during the summer of 2001, they would have treated the intelligence they received more seriously. It is shameful that the Bush administration failed to take the threat of terrorism at least as seriously as the previous administration did and it is even more shameful that they have resisted any attempts to change the way they do business, as amply illustrated by their misguided adventure in Iraq.

They are not responsible for 9/11, but they most certainly are responsible for the mistakes they made leading up to it. They should feel some shame for not having having taken the advice of those who warned them. That's what that whole "grown-up" thing was supposed to be about.


Liberal Oasis has more on this topic

And for some serious "evenhanded" pooh-poohing about "futile recriminations" and 9/11's inevitability, Gregg Easterbrook takes the cake:

It has taken two and a half years to get to the carnival of futile recriminations about September 11, 2001, but we're now at that point, and it's time for the futile recriminations to stop. No one, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, knew September 11 was coming. Looking back, all that matters is what was said before September 11, not afterward, and, while many before that day offered generalized cautions about terrorism, no one made a firm warning about what actually happened. That's because no one knew what was coming.



Easterbrooks' straw man is very smug, but he's wrong. Nobody says that there was perfect information that was ignored. But we know that there were dots that could have been connected as Colleen Rowley and other in the FBI prove. Clarke, the consummate bureaucrat, says that the way to get the behemoth federal government to move on an urgent issue is to shake the trees from the top down and flush the information to the top. The Bush team refused to do that. He believes that it may have been possible to put together some of the clues that we know existed and take some action. It is simply not true that nothing could have been done.

Perhaps this is one of those cases where believing that something could have been done and wasn't is rejected because it's too bad to be true.




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