Browsing the archives for the National Security category.

GOP Brand X

National Security, Republican Party

One of the great marketing success stories of all time is the way that the Republican Party somehow came to own national security issues after the World War II era. If you consider actual history there’s no evidence that they deserved their reputation as THE foreign policy/defense party. But the idea that Republicans are “tough” on security while Democrats are “soft” came to be one of the most solid and enduring truisms of modern American politics.

For decades, Republicans packaged themselves as the party that knew how to stand up to enemies. Further, it was believed Republicans were born with a gene that allowed them to understand All Things Military better than Dems, whether they had any military experience or not.

But the pro-military aura — we might call it the Republican Military Mystique — seems to have worn off, at least among the public. Maybe they finally caught on they were being played for fools by Dubya and his War on Terra. But exit polls taken after the November elections showed that voters trusted the Democratic nominee over the Republican one on national security, for the first time in three decades.

Of course, Mitt Romney gives the impression that the only time he gets tough is when he’s taking bread from orphans. Further, the fact that the GOP just plain forgot to include the traditional Salute to War in their convention last year tells us they’ve lost focus. Well, focus on anything other than how much they hate President Obama.

The “sequestration” included massive cuts to defense spending that, theoretically, Republicans could not countenance. Well, turns out defense spending cuts are being countenanced. John Boehner is saying Republicans will not support a sequestration deal that does not balance the budget in ten years without tax increases.

See also Ezra Klein, “Clint Eastwood and Barney Frank Attack the Pentagon.”

Now that certain Republican senators are done with their male dominance displays regarding Chuck Hagel, word is votes will be switched and the nomination will be approved next week. But it’s all been too much for Fred Kaplan, who says Republicans can’t be trusted on national security.

It’s been clear, at least since the 2012 election, that the Republican Party has abrogated its role—really, abandoned any interest—in shaping or seriously discussing American foreign policy. But only recently has this indifference shifted into toxic territory, and on Tuesday the fumes formed a poisonous cloud, the likes of which hadn’t been witnessed in decades.

Republicans were a bunch of isolationists before World War II, and they’ve finally gone full circle. All that most of them know about foreign policy is Iran Bad, Israel Good. Their idea of an exotic foreign country is Honolulu. Or maybe Manhattan.


Sorry We Missed You

Bush Administration, National Security

If you like Halloween, you’ll love this. Drop a few of these around your right wing neighborhood:

Sorry We Missed You

Much less funny is this video of AT&T whistleblower and former technician Mark Klein explaining how AT&T was copying all internet traffic coming across its cables:

…It affects not only AT&T’s customers, but everybody….and so they’re basically tapping into the entire internet. If they’re doing what they say they want to do – look at international traffic – none of this makes any sense. ….these installations only make sense if they’re doing a huge, massive, domestic dragnet on everybody in the United States. These companies know very well what’s legal and illegal – they’ve been dealing with this for decades…this is why Qwest refused the NSA’s approaches because they weren’t shown any legal justification for it – they did the right thing and said No….

And yet, Feinstein backs legal immunity for telecom firms. Will we hear more of her brilliant “Mukasey is not Gonzales” logic? Perhaps she can arrange for the immunity law to require telecoms to drop a friendly "Sorry we missed you" e-notice into our inboxes.

h/t to Avedon Carol.


It’s Pat!

abortion, National Security, Republican Party

I’ve been living away from the Bible Belt too long to claim that I have my finger on the pulse of the Jesus vote. So I can’t say if Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani is the gift-wrapped advantage for Hizzoner some pundits seem to think it is. Perhaps it is, but Robertson’s influence peaked nearly thirty years ago. Today Robertson is mostly a media sideshow freak whose celebrity endures even as memory of whatever he was originally celebrated for fades away. Sort of like Britney Spears.

Gail Collins:

Even within the ranks of the social conservatives, Robertson is regarded as a tad over the top. Who among us will forget the time he claimed that the special protein shake he was marketing had enabled him to leg-press 2,000 pounds? Or the time he said God had given Ariel Sharon a massive stroke because he let the Palestinians run Gaza? (He did apologize for saying the United States should assassinate the president of Venezuela.)

My impression is — and I could be wrong — that these days Robertson claims a following only among a particular subset of Radical Christendom: those who hate Muslims even more than they hate women.

Robertson’s backing will surely give Giuliani a leg up among voters who believe that God sends natural disasters to punish Americans whose school board members believe in the theory of evolution, or who have the bad luck to live near an inclusive amusement park. (He warned Orlando that when Disney World welcomed gay patrons it was letting them in for terrorist attacks, “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”)

Yesterday, Robertson said that America’s Mayor had won him over because “to me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists.” (So much for judicial activism.) “Our second goal should be the control of massive government waste and crushing federal deficits.”

Now this is the part that I have never been able to get. When did government spending become part of the divine agenda? Is there something in the Bible about smiting down federal bureaucrats?

Keep it straight: Religious righties don’t look to the Bible to learn what to believe. They look to the Bible to justify what they believe.

Steven Thomma and Matt Stearns of McClatchy Newspapers say the Robertson endorsement has “fractured” social conservatives. The Robertson endorsement is significant because it shows the social conservative movement has not coalesced around any one candidate. I suspect this “fracturing” is mostly at the top. As I’ve written before, I think the rank and file of the movement would coalesce around Mike Huckabee if left to their own devices, but the “leadership” is determined to pull their followers in other directions. I can only guess why.

I suspect television bobbleheads, few of whom have ever attended a tent revival, will seize the Robertson endorsement as proof that Giuliani’s support for abortion rights (and his three marriages, and his proclivity for cross dressing, and his gay friends) will not matter to social conservative voters, even though those things probably do matter and Robertson isn’t speaking for anyone but Robertson.


The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran

Bush Administration, National Security

In the November issue of Esquire, two former high-ranking policy experts from the Bush Administration say the US has been gearing up for a war with Iran for years, despite claiming otherwise.

In the years after 9/11, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann worked at the highest levels of the Bush administration as Middle East policy experts for the National Security Council. Mann conducted secret negotiations with Iran. Leverett traveled with Colin Powell and advised Condoleezza Rice. They each played crucial roles in formulating policy for the region leading up to the war in Iraq. But when they left the White House, they left with a growing sense of alarm — not only was the Bush administration headed straight for war with Iran, it had been set on this course for years. That was what people didn’t realize. It was just like Iraq, when the White House was so eager for war it couldn’t wait for the UN inspectors to leave. The steps have been many and steady and all in the same direction. And now things are getting much worse. We are getting closer and closer to the tripline, they say.

What comes through in the article is how Iran and other countries in the Middle East have been making overtures to the US for years, to solve the regions’ many problems and its differences with the United States. Everett and Mann were at the center of many of these efforts, but were continually rebuffed by the White House.

Read the full article here. Read also how they’ve been silenced.


Everything Old Is News Again

Bush Administration, National Security, September 11

We’re having Boiling Rice day at The Mahablog. In the last post we discussed how millions of dollars of aid for New Orleans was wasted because the Secretary of State was too busy shopping for shoes to do her job. Now let’s continue the further adventures of the worst National Security Adviser/Secretary of State ever.

In his new book George Tenet allegedly claims that he told then-National Security Adviser Rice in July 2001 of an “urgent threat” from al Qaeda. Further, he says he said “We need to consider immediate action inside Afghanistan now. We need to move to the offensive.”

Faiz at Think Progress writes that today,

On CBS’s Face the Nation, a perplexed and stunned Rice said, “The idea of launching preemptive strikes into Afghanistan in July of 2001, this is a new fact.” Rice then said, “I don’t know what we were supposed to preemptively strike in Afghanistan. Perhaps somebody can ask that.”

That there was such a briefing given to Condi in July 2001 is not news. In fact, I think this is about the third time around for this “revelation.” The last time the July 2001 meeting made news was last fall, when Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial hit the shelves. Woodward described a presentation made by George Tenet and Cofer Black on July 10 that warned of an imminent al Qaeda attack, possibly on U.S. soil. Rice, who failed to follow up on this information, denied then that such a meeting took place. But White House records revealed the meeting did take place.

And then, when the record proved there had been a meeting, Condi claimed she had been given no warning of an attack within the United States. But on the October 2, 2006 Countdown, Roger Cressey told Keith Olbermann that he had seen the same Tenet-Black presentation that was shown to Condi Rice on July 10, and Cressey confirmed that the presentation was mostly an explicit warning that al Qaeda was about to carry out a major terrorist attack, very possibly in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director at the time. From the transcript:

OLBERMANN: My first question, you‘re now consulting within a firm with Richard Clarke, who was at that meeting on July 10, on the central question of whether Rice was warned then of an attack on the U.S. Do we know who‘s right here, Woodward or Secretary Rice?

CRESSEY: Yes, she was warned. I mean, there was a meeting. It was George Tenet, Dick Clarke, another individual from the agency, Cofer Black, and Steve Hadley. And what it was, Keith, was a briefing for Dr. Rice that was similar to a briefing the CIA gave to us in the situation room about a week before, laying out the information, the intelligence, laying out the sense of urgency. And it was pretty much given to Dr. Rice and Steve Hadley in pretty stark terms.

OLBERMANN: The $500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden, would have read like crazy talk if that had been presented to her as Woodward describes it?

CRESSEY: Not crazy talk, but because in some respects, that‘s what we did after 9/11, although, as much as I love and respect Cofer, I don‘t think we would have been able to bring his head back in a box then, because, frankly, all the CIA sources in Afghanistan stunk, and that was part of the problem.

But that type of aggressive, robust covert action is ultimately what was implemented after 9/11.

The “$500 million Cofer Black action plan against bin Laden” is, I believe, the famous plans to go into Afghanistan and take out bin Laden and other al Qaeda leadership that had been handed off to the Bushies by the Clinton Administration. My understanding is that this plan was put together after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. The Clinton Administration didn’t carry out the plan because the intelligence guys did not confirm that al Qaeda was behind the Cole attack until right after the Bush II inauguration in January 2001. In spite of impassioned pleas by Richard Clarke and others to step it up, the Bushies took their sweet time circulating the plan. The plan finally hit President Bush’s desk on September 10, 2001.

I’ve written about this before, such as here. This same issue has come up periodically since the spring of 2002, and every time Condi denies ever having heard of it. As I understand it, the plan involved a lot of covert special ops stuff in cooperation with the Northern Alliance — pretty much what the initial action in Afghanistan looked like.

Via Think Progress, here’s a snip of the 9/11 Commission Report:

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own [which] incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. … A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.” [p. 197]

Since “al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets” were mostly in Afghanistan, one might conclude that’s where the military action was to take place.

This business about the preemptive strike into Afghanistan isn’t news. Richard Clarke wrote about it; Bob Woodward wrote about it. Bleeping Al Franken wrote about it. I’m sure I knew about it by 2002, because I remember reading about it in Time and Newsweek. Yet this is the first Condi has heard of it. Amazing.

Just for fun: Here’s Dan Froomkin, October 2, 2006, while Condi was still denying the July 10 meeting had taken place —

On Sunday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett issued a new rebuttal on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Here’s the video ; here’s the transcript .

Speaking for Rice, Bartlett said: “I spoke to her this morning. She believes this is a very grossly mis-accurate characterization of the meeting they had.”

Stephanopoulos: “So this didn’t happen?”

And here’s the money quote from Bartlett: “That’s Secretary Rice’s view, that that type of urgent request to go after bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn’t happen.”

Get that? In her mind, it didn’t happen.

One wonders what does happen in Condi’s mind.


Black Holes

Bush Administration, Congress, corruption, FEMA, Hurricanes, National Security, Republican Party

Spencer S. Hsu writes for The New York Times,

The Bush administration unconstitutionally denied aid to tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and must resume payments immediately, a federal judge ordered yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency created a “Kafkaesque” process that began cutting off rental aid in February to victims of the 2005 storms, did not provide clear reasons for the denials, and hindered applicants’ due-process rights to fix errors or appeal government mistakes.

“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Leon, a D.C. federal judge, wrote in a 19-page opinion.

“Free these evacuees from the ‘Kafkaesque’ application process they have had to endure,” he wrote.

With FEMA, it’s hard to know how much of this nonsense is incompetence and how much of it is a deliberate strategy to avoid paying money. Possibly both.

As of June, Congress had allocated more than $107 billion “to provide emergency support and assist in longer-term recovery in the Gulf Coast,” according to the Brookings Institution. If you google for information on what has happened to that money, the words waste, fraud, and Byzantine pop up abundantly. In June, Eric Lipton wrote in the New York Times that

Among the many superlatives associated with Hurricane Katrina can now be added this one: it produced one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion. …

… The estimate of up to $2 billion in fraud and waste represents nearly 11 percent of the $19 billion spent by FEMA on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as of mid-June, or about 6 percent of total money that has been obligated.

Awhile back the Justice Department established a Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force. Browsing through their news releases gives the impression that the task force is focused exclusively on fraudulent claims for assistance, and certainly there’s plenty of that to keep them busy. Fraud on the part of government contractors, however massive, seems not to be a concern. And the Republican-controlled Congress seems to have done little more than go through the motions of providing oversight.

Let’s hope that’s about to change.

Meanwhile, via The Talking Dog, we find that Homeland Security misdirector Michael Chertoff has admitted that maybe Homeland Security funds are not being allocated sensibly.

Remember how this summer, the Department of Homeland Security reduced the amount of anti-terror funding NYC would get? Sure, NYC was still getting most of the funding, but funds were being increased in less risky areas with, well, influential politicians. And then the press had a field day with how Homeland Security didn’t think there were any national monuments or major buildings at risk? And then Homeland Security claimed that NY State and NYC didn’t file their request properly?

That’s pretty much what FEMA said about the people who’d had their rent aid cut off.

Well, now Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has come out and tacitly stated – though not outright admitting – that the DHS was wrong. The Post reports that at a grand-writing [grant-writing?] conference, Chertoff offered a mea culpa:

    “We’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there was a little too much bean counting and a little less standing back and applying common sense to look at the total picture,” Chertoff told a grant-writing conference.

    “And I’ve heard the complaints about it, looking like we’re playing kind of a pop-quiz type of game with local communities,” he said.

    “They have to try to guess what we’re looking for – and if they guess wrong, they don’t get the money that they think they’re entitled to, and that they may be entitled to.”

The DHS was quick to say that Chertoff isn’t admitting the funding allocation was a mistake, but that “He’s pretty much just saying that this year we will apply some common sense [and] look at the risk in the city.” … Remember, he’s the same man who said that a terrorist attack on a subway is less catastrophic than a terrorist attack on an airplane, because it’s not like subways are connected to large stations or terminals or anything.

From here, it’s hard to know how much tax money given to the DHS (including FEMA) is actually being applied to homeland security, and how much is being sucked into a black hole. It’s also hard to know how much of the bureaucratic “bungling” is really a cover for payoffs, kickbacks, and other less-than-savory uses of taxpayers’ monies.

But I do get a strong impression that a whole lot of that $107 billion meant for Katrina relief and recovery got lost somewhere between Washington DC and the Gulf Coast.

The way the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress budgets and allocates money makes it damn hard to follow that money. The over-use of “emergency” supplemental appropriations has made the official budget something of a joke. Veronique de Rugy writes for Reason Online:

Supplemental spending, “emergency” spending in particular, has become Washington’s tool of choice for evading annual budget limits and increasing spending across the board. Funding predictable, nonemergency needs through supplementals hides skyrocketing military costs and allows Congress to boost regular appropriations for both defense and nondefense programs, thereby enabling the spending explosion of the last five years. …

… The Bush administration has used supplementals to hide the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years in, the Iraq war can hardly be called an emergency or an unpredictable event. This is especially true since one of the largest expenditures goes to the salaries and benefits of Army National Guard personnel and reservists called to active duty. Yet each year President Bush leaves out all war costs when he presents his budget to Congress, knowing that he will be able to secure the funding later through the supplemental process. This year Congress will appropriate nearly 20 percent of total military spending via supplementals.

“Emergency” supplemental spending bills have included monies for hurricane relief and recovery. Congress critters hate to vote against hurricane relief and recovery. But we have no way to know how much of that money, if any, is actually being spent on hurricane relief and recovery.


Vulnerability Gap

Bush Administration, Democratic Party, National Security

R.J. Eskow discusses a new book by Clark Kent Ervin:

Ervin’s book, “Open Target,” describes an Administration that’s all but indifferent to protecting the American people from further terrorism. Its sole concerns appear to be to use DHS to dole out political pork, create politically attractive news releases, and spin failure so that it looks like success.

This is not news. But notice who Clark Kent Ervin is:

Ervin is the conservative Texas Republican who came to Washington as a personal friend of the President’s after serving in his gubernatorial administration. He became Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and refused to look the other way at the Administration’s incompetence in fighting terrorism.

Yes, another former Bushie tells all. But what got my interest in Eskrow’s piece was Ervin’s use of the phrase vulnerability gap. Computer network security people have been using this phrase for a while. I think the Dems ought to pick it up and run with it.

Once upon a time, boys and girls, a Democrat named John Kennedy used the phrase “missile gap” to discredit Republicans on national security and win a presidential election. The Dems generously larded speeches with missile gap and drizzled the phrase liberally on the electorate. It reminded voters of an allegation — which was not true — that the Eisenhower Administration (including Vice President Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s opponent) had somehow allowed the Soviets to acquire more nuclear missiles than we had.

The phrase vulnerability gap ought to work nicely, too, and it has the advantage of describing truth. Eskow continues,

Ervin dissects the self-serving and misleading statements made by Bush, Ridge, and Michael Chertoff. He’s especially withering on their boasts that the fact we haven’t been attacked on US soil since 9/11 is proof that DHS is effective. He compares it to French confidence in the Maginot Line, the most foolish defense attempt in history, and points out that terrorists operate on a long line. Five years, as he observes, is not a long time to Al Qaeda.

He describes the TSA as a boondoggle gone awry, and his analysis of our ongoing vulnerability to nuclear attack is chilling. Equally frightening are his descriptions of the government’s drastic underfunding of our anti-terror defenses. (He quotes from Congressional testimony in which a DHS intelligence official admits he can’t hire more staff as required because there is no money to pay for their office space.)

Ervin also details the vulnerability of mass transit, schools, and other “soft targets.” He’s fair enough to admit that you can’t defend every possible target, but thorough enough to describe what could be done (and isn’t) to improve their safety.

Vulnerability gap, vulnerability gap, vulnerability gap. The connotations are all there; vulnerability conjures the sensation of being unprotected and exposed. Gap makes us visualize breach or broken, perhaps also left behind or separated from something. Vulnerability gap. While the Bush Administration sends our National Guard overseas and dumps $2 billion bleeping collars a week into Iraq, vital infrastructure and other soft targets are left unguarded here at home. Vulnerability gap.

If the Dems can’t club the Bushies to death with that, there’s no hope for ‘em.



Bush Administration, National Security, September 11, War on Terror

Earlier this week I cited an article by Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff, “What Went Wrong,” from Newsweek, May 27, 2002. The Hirsh-Isikoff and other news stories that appeared in late spring of 2002 revealed that the Bush Administration had received copious warnings about the September 11 attacks and had failed to act on them.

Much of what would later be found by the September 11 commission was in these articles. We saw Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke explicitly warn the incoming Bush Administration that they must give the threat of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden the highest priority. We learned that the Bush State Department and National Security Council decided to put al Qaeda low on their priority list, in spite of the warnings. We learned that the Bushies didn’t bother to use unarmed drones, as had the Clinton security team, to gather intelligence in the critical summer of 2001. We learned that President Bush had been given an explicit warning of a terrorist attack involving hijacked airplanes on August 6, 2001 (although it would take the 9/11 commission to pry the title of the warning, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,” out of Condi Rice). We learned that the Bush team had not followed up on this warning.

Righties quickly stepped in and declared that there wasn’t anything the Bush Administration could have done, because the Bush team had not been given the day, the hour, the airports, the targets, the exact plan. We’ve since been treated to a blow-by-blow description of what went on at NORAD and the FAA on September 11. It was not pretty. Every ball that could have been dropped, was dropped. Although there is no excuse for the inability of NORAD and the FAA to work together in this time of crisis — that’s part of their jobs — it is obvious neither agency had been given so much as a hint to be alert to anything extraordinary. By the time the managers at the FAA and NORAD realized the nature of the crisis, it was pretty much over.

Had they been better prepared, had they been on a higher alert, had even one hijacker crew been stopped, had even one tower been spared, hundreds of lives might have been saved. And that failure is the fault of the federal executive branch that existed in 2001 — the Bush Administration. Yes, many of the slip-ups originated in the intelligence agencies. But had Bush rattled cages to make al Qaeda a priority, it might have made a difference. We’ll never know.

Michael Hirsch wrote in the May 17, 2002, Newsweek, in an article titled “What Did He Know?”:

George W. Bush has been all but untouchable in the war on terror, and he has the poll ratings to prove it. Now, for the first time, doubts are surfacing publicly in Washington-and knives are being sharpened-over what Bush knew about the threat from Osama bin Laden and when he knew it.

Most of the questions center on a recently disclosed intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which the president was warned that, among other threats, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists might try to hijack an airliner. Considering that, at about the same time, FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis were raising suspicions about Middle Easterners taking flight lessons in the United States and the intentions of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged “20th hijacker” who had been arrested, the revelations have opened up a credibility gap for a White House that prides itself on giving things straight to the American people. The reason is simple: Bush and his top officials insisted in no uncertain terms after September 11 that they had no inkling of the attacks beforehand.

The Bush administration, which faces a series of hearings on Capitol Hill, is mounting a stout defense. National-security advisor Condoleezza Rice, at a White House briefing on Thursday, said the hijacking threat that Bush heard about a little over a month before the attacks was not linked to any specific threat. It came during an “analytic” briefing and only “mentioned hijacking in the traditional sense,” she said-in other words, the use of passenger planes as hostages, not missiles. “This government,” she said, “did everything it could in a period when the information was very generalized.”

In truth, the question of whether the Bush administration was paying enough attention in general to the terror threat is what is really at issue-far more than what the president specifically learned on Aug. 6 or at other briefings. The new disclosures could open a Pandora’s box of questions about just how focused the Bush administration was on deterring and disrupting bin Laden before September 11.

Newly emboldened Democrats on the Hill, for instance, and even some Republicans, might think to ask why an administration that blamed its predecessor for failing to deter bin Laden ignored, for nearly eight months, hard evidence linking the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole in Yemen to Al Qaeda. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld both suggested publicly that the Clinton administration had left America with a weak image abroad. As Bush told The Washington Post in January, “It was clear that bin Laden felt emboldened and didn’t feel threatened by the United States.” But the new administration mounted no retaliation of its own, despite what seemed to be a clear casus belli.

I want to emphasize that these words were published in a major national news magazine in May 2002. Yet more than four years later, we are still struggling to bring these facts to the nation’s attention.

Instead of being held accountable, President Bush was wrapped in a cult of personality that protected him from criticism. The nation was persuaded that President Bush was uniquely, almost supernaturally, qualified to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. What should have been the Bush Administration’s shame was spun and exploited into an unbeatable political asset.

What happened to “the series of hearings” Hirsch spoke of? In fact, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees had announced a joint inquiry in February 2002. This was after President Bush and Vice President Cheney had personally asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to limit the investigation. The hearings began in June, 2002.

From The Memory Hole:

From June to October 2002, the Intelligence Committees from the US Senate and House teamed up to probe, more or less, 9/11. Of course, the Joint Investigation ran into all kinds of roadblocks. It took Congress five months to even announce the inquiry and another four months before it got started. Bush and Cheney each personally asked then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to keep the scope of the probe narrow. Republican Senator Richard Shelby openly complained of the lack of cooperation from the FBI, intelligence agencies, and others. [Read more]

Throughout June, July, and the first half of September, 2002, the Joint Inquiry held closed sessions. The second half of September saw all open hearings, while those in October alternated between open and closed. In December, the Joint Inquiry issued its report, but only 24 pages were publicly released out of a total of over 800.

In May 2003, Newsweek, Knight Ridder, and other media outlets reported that the Bush Administration was working to block the release of the Joint Inquiry’s full report. In fact, officials were quoted as saying that they’d like to retroactively classify parts of the material that came out during the open hearings. They’re upset about some of the information divulged by senior intelligence officials and by the Inquiry staff’s leader, Eleanor Hill. (They now regret giving Hill and her team access to so many classified intelligence briefings.) [Read more]

The Memory Hole has archived all publicly released statements from the hearings. The two links provided in the quote above both document the many ways the Bush Administration tried to stonewall the hearings — first by opposing any investigation at all, then by withholding critical documents and witnesses, finally by suppressing much of the final report.

The Administration also fought tooth and nail to prevent an independent, public investigation of the attacks. It was only because of pressure from September 11 families — notably the Family Steering Committee — that the 9/11 Commission was created at all.

During the 16 months of investigation by the 9/11 Commission, the Bush Administration continued to play games over access to documents and witnesses. The commission was forced to issue subpoenas to the Federal Aviation Administration and NORAD to get information about the FAA-NORAD problems I mentioned above, and it was only weeks ago that we learned the testimony from the FAA and NORAD was, um, wrong.

Even after the 9/11 Commission finished its work, many questions remain unanswered. And as September 11 faded from public consciousness, it seemed likely they would remain unanswered.

Yet now, finally, the questions Michael Hirsch and others asked in the spring of 2002 — What did President Bush know? And what did he do about it? — are being asked again. Hallelujah.

David Horowitz’s propaganda miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” and President Clinton’s robust response, have hauled all the old questions into the light of day once again. Glenn Greenwald writes at Salon:

Republicans appear to have gravely miscalculated in provoking Bill Clinton into the debate over the Bush administration’s terrorism policies. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, most Democrats have refrained from aggressively blaming the administration for the attacks, blame that could easily be assigned by exploiting two simple facts — 1) the 9/11 attacks happened while Bush, not Clinton, was president and 2) Bush received the Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing embarrassingly titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” and apparently did nothing in response. With some scattered exceptions, both parties seemed content more or less to maintain a truce with regard to casting blame for the 9/11 attacks by agreeing that few people in either party recognized the magnitude of this threat until those attacks happened.

But ABC’s broadcast of the right-wing propaganda film “Path to 9/11” forced into the public discourse a comparison of Bush vs. Clinton on the question of terrorism. And the subsequent attempts by right-wing pundits and “journalists” to heap the blame for terrorism on the Clinton administration left Clinton with no choice but defending himself aggressively. Following the Wallace interview, Condoleezza Rice accused Clinton of making statements about the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 anti-terrorism efforts (or lack thereof), which Rice said were “flatly false,” comments that in turn prompted an aggressive response from Hillary Clinton.

My explanation of the many ways Condi Rice lied her ass off is here.

Last night, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown presented a segment on Bush’s failure to address terrorism before September 11. You can see the video here, and Crooks & Liars has the video and a rough transcript. It was well done. Attacking George Bush’s image as Our Glorious Protector From Scary Swarthy People With Bombs still takes guts, although not as much as before Katrina. (Indeed, I’m surprised there’s not more reaction from rightie bloggers today; the Word must have been handed down to shut up about the pre-9/11 thing so that maybe it’ll go away.)

Olbermann put together one part of the pre-9/11 puzzle I had not considered before, even though I’d had the pieces. This is from the Crooks & Liars transcript:

Mr. Bush was personally briefed about al Qaeda even before the election in November, 2000.

During the transition, President Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, say they told Bush and his team of the urgency in getting al Qaeda.

Three days before Mr. Bush took office, Berger spoke at a “passing the baton” event that Rice attended.

Berger (1/17/01): “Sitting at the Norfolk Base with survivors from the USS Cole only reinforced the reality that America is in a deadly struggle with a new breed of anti-western jihadists. Nothing less than a war, I think, is a fair way to describe this.”

Eight days later, Clarke sent Rice the strategy Clinton developed for retaliating, in the event al Qaeda was found to be behind October’s attack on the USS Cole.

The next day, the FBI conclusively pinned the Cole attack on al Qaeda.

Mr. Bush ordered no military strike, no escalation of existing Clinton measures. Instead, he repeated Clinton’s previous diplomatic efforts, writing a letter to Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf in February, and another on August 4th.

Until September 11th, even when Mr. Bush was asked about the Cole, an attack carried out on water, by men in a boat, he offered a consistent prescription for keeping America safe, one he reiterated upon taking office.

    Bush (2/27/01): “To protect our own people, our allies and friends, we must develop and we must deploy effective missile defenses.”

… According to the 9/11 report, even bin Laden expected Bush to respond militarily to the Cole bombing. Quote, “In February, 2001…according to [a] source, Bin Laden wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not he would launch something bigger.”

Obviously, W is a Weenie who encouraged that “something bigger” by his failure to act. Not Clinton’s failure, Bush’s failure.

I have never said that President Clinton was blameless, or that there wasn’t more he could have done. But the elevation of the hapless and clueless George W. Bush into some kind of Demigod of National Strength has got to be one of the most pathological events in American history. For generations historians will be looking back on our little era and asking, “How could so many people have been so blind?

I think the time is ripe for Democrats to pull a Karl Rove and mount an attack directly on Bush’s alleged “strength.” It’s past time to dismantle the Big Lie that George W. Bush is an effective leader against terrorism.

Whatever else happens, please help keep this issue out in the light. Don’t let the VRWC cover it up again. Don’t let the lies continue.

Update: See also Brilliant at Breakfast.


Losing China Again

American History, Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Dick Cheney, National Security, Republican Party, Terrorism

Awhile back I wrote a post that explained how, during the Cold War, Republicans claimed credibility as the “war-national security” party when it was three Democratic presidents who had led the nation through World War I and II.

In a nutshell, it was through a campaign of hysterical charges and bald-faced lies.

In the 1930s it was the American Right, not the Left, who thought Hitler was an OK guy who could be appeased into leaving us alone. Before World War II conservatives were staunch isolationists who opposed any move by Franklin Roosevelt to send aid to Europe or prepare for war.

Here’s just a bit from “Stabbed in the Back!” by Kevin Baker in the June issue of Harper’s, which I urge you to read if you haven’t already.

In the years immediately following World War II, the American right was facing oblivion. Domestically, the reforms of the New Deal had been largely embraced by the American people. The Roosevelt and Truman administrations—supported by many liberal Republicans—had led the nation successfully through the worst war in human history, and we had emerged as the most powerful nation on earth.

Franklin Roosevelt and his fellow liberal internationalists had sounded the first alarms about Hitler, but conservatives had stubbornly—even suicidally—maintained their isolationism right into the postwar era. Senator Robert Taft, “Mr. Republican,” and the right’s enduring presidential hope, had not only been a prominent member of the leading isolationist organization, America First, and opposed the nation’s first peacetime draft in 1940, but also appeared to be as naive about the Soviet Union as he had been about the Axis powers. Like many on the right, he was much more concerned about Chiang Kai-shek’s worm-eaten Nationalist regime in China than U.S. allies in Europe. “The whole Atlantic Pact, certainly the arming of Germany, is an incentive for Russia to enter the war before the army is built up,” Taft warned. He was against any U.S. military presence in Europe even in 1951.

Baker explains the whole sorry episode very nicely. Briefly, in the late 1940s the former appeasers of Hitler got worked up over the Soviet takeover of eastern Europe and Mao Zedong’s takeover of China. One of the catchphrases of the day was “Who lost China?” as if China had been ours to lose. Right-wingers were convinced these things would not have happened except for (liberal) traitors in the government who either allowed them to happen or arranged for them to happen. (They seemed unable to consider that people and events in the USSR, eastern Europe, and China may have been factors.) And the Right put up such a stink about this that by the 1960s Dem politicians were challenged to prove they were as “tough on Communism” as Republicans, never mind that Democrats had a much longer and stronger record on foreign policy and as protectors of national security than Republicans at the time.

I bring all this up because Glenn Greenwald’s post of this morning makes me wonder if we’re just replaying old tapes.

Glenn’s post documents that during the Clinton Administration, Republicans in Congress downplayed the threat of terrorism even as President Clinton urged more aggressive counterterrorism measures. “[T]o the extent Republicans spoke about Clinton’s anti-terrorism efforts at all, it was to criticize them for being too bellicose, too militaristic, and just unnecessary,” writes Glenn. Particularly during his second term Clinton urged Congress to become more pro-active about terrorism. With a handful of exceptions, Republicans in Congress ignored the warnings.

During his first presidential campaign George W. Bush ignored terrorism as an issue even though he offered other specific criticisms of Clinton policies.

Get this:

The 2000 Republican Party Platform contains 13 specific criticisms of the Clinton Administration’s foreign and military policies. Not a single one mentions or refers in any way to Al Qaeda or terrorism generally. After that, there is an entire section entitled “The Middle East and Persian Gulf” that deals extensively with Iraq and the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but it does not say a word — not a single word — about Islamic extremism, Al Qaeda, or Osama bin Laden.

Even the section of the Platform entitled “Terrorism, International Crime, and Cyber Threats” makes not one reference to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or Islamic extremism. It does not contain a single claim that the Clinton administration was insufficiently aggressive towards Islamic terrorists, nor does it advocate increased militarism in the Middle East or against terrorists. In fact, to the extent Republicans advocated a new approach at all, it was to emphasize the need for the very “law enforcement” and “domestic preparedness” approaches which they now claim to disdain.

During his debates with Vice President Gore, George Bush was asked to explain his views toward the Middle East. He said not one word about Islamic terrorism. He did say things like “I’m worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. . . . It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious.” And also, “And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war.”

Condi Rice also
showed no interest whatsoever in al Qaeda or bin Laden.

When George W. Bush became President, one of his first acts was to kneecap the Hart-Rudman Commission recommendations then before Congress and assign the task of forming national security policies to Dick Cheney, who as of September 11, 2001, had not yet made a start. In spite of the warnings of outgoing Clinton officials that al Qaeda was a terrible threat, in April 2001 the Bush Administration’s first annual terrorism report left out Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden had been discussed extensively in Clinton-era reports. A senior State Department official told CNN the Clinton Administration had made a mistake by focusing so much on bin Laden and “personalizing terrorism.” The Bush Administration planned to focus on governments that sponsored terrorism, not on stateless terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.

And, of course, through the summer of 2001 the Bush White House blissfully ignored warning after warning that bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States.

Yet no sooner had the dust settled at Ground Zero that the Republicans declared themselves to be the All-High God-Appointed National Security Honchos, rightie fingers pointed at Bill Clinton, and Prince Pissant persuaded the American people that he, and he alone, could protect them from terrorism.

ABC’s controversial 9/11 film
has inspired many other bloggers to write about actions Clinton had taken against terrorism, and al Qaeda in particular, before he left office. Here’s an old article by William Rivers Pitt that provides details, plus there are a wealth of good links in the comments to Glenn’s post.

You could argue that Clinton could have done more. But you cannot argue, based on their own record, that the Republicans or President Bush have more credibility in national security and counter-terrorism than Democrats do. If facts are our guide, Republicans ought to have less credibility in national security and counter-terrorism than Democrats do.

The only reason the Right gets away with claiming credibility in national security is through a relentless campaign of hysterical charges and bald-faced lies — just like the bad old days, when Joe McCarthy was shrieking about traitors in the State Department who lost China.


Good New, Bad News, Part I

Bush Administration, Iraq War, Middle East, National Security, War on Terror

From James Fallows’s new article in the current issue of Atlantic Online (emphasis added):

No modern nation is immune to politically inspired violence, and even the best-executed antiterrorism strategy will not be airtight.

But the overall prospect looks better than many Americans believe, and better than nearly all political rhetoric asserts. The essence of the change is this: because of al-Qaeda’s own mistakes, and because of the things the United States and its allies have done right, al-Qaeda’s ability to inflict direct damage in America or on Americans has been sharply reduced. Its successor groups in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere will continue to pose dangers. But its hopes for fundamentally harming the United States now rest less on what it can do itself than on what it can trick, tempt, or goad us into doing. Its destiny is no longer in its own hands.

“Does al-Qaeda still constitute an ‘existential’ threat?” asks David Kilcullen, who has written several influential papers on the need for a new strategy against Islamic insurgents. Kilcullen, who as an Australian army officer commanded counter-insurgency units in East Timor, recently served as an adviser in the Pentagon and is now a senior adviser on counterterrorism at the State Department. He was referring to the argument about whether the terrorism of the twenty-first century endangers the very existence of the United States and its allies, as the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons did throughout the Cold War (and as the remnants of that arsenal still might).

“I think it does, but not for the obvious reasons,” Kilcullen told me. He said the most useful analogy was the menace posed by European anarchists in the nineteenth century. “If you add up everyone they personally killed, it came to maybe 2,000 people, which is not an existential threat.” But one of their number assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The act itself took the lives of two people. The unthinking response of European governments in effect started World War I. “So because of the reaction they provoked, they were able to kill millions of people and destroy a civilization.

“It is not the people al-Qaeda might kill that is the threat,” he concluded. “Our reaction is what can cause the damage. It’s al-Qaeda plus our response that creates the existential danger.”

That’s a point I attempted to make on C-SPAN last February. There’s aren’t enough jihadists in the world to invade and occupy the United States and destroy our government and our military. Only we can do that.

And I say we’re doing a heck of a job.

Fallows interviewed a number of experts — some from military intelligence, some from academia — to understand exactly where we are now, antiterrorism-wise. The essential point of Fallows article is that, although the threat of terrorist attacks in the U.S. remains, there is reason for optimism. In some ways America is safer, he says.

However, as I read the article it struck me that, in just about every area where problems remain, the Bush Administration is heading in the wrong direction.

The good news: The experts that Fallows interviewed say that the old al Qaeda, the one that existed on September 11, no longer has operational ability. Among jihadists Osama bin Laden is not much more than a “Che Guevara–like” symbol. What we have now is “a global proliferation of ‘self-starter’ terrorist groups.” These groups certainly can inflict damage — the London and Madrid bombings, for example — but they lack the resources and organizational ability to pull off another September 11. This, some speculate, is the primary reason there hasn’t been another terrorist attack in the U.S. since.

At the moment about the only way a terrorist group could equal or top September 11 is with a nuclear weapon. And “if nuclear weapons constitute the one true existential threat,” the experts say, “then countering the proliferation of those weapons themselves is what American policy should address, more than fighting terrorism in general.”

Naturally, the Bush Administration has taken a different approach.

The Department of Homeland Security, on the other hand, is, um, probably not the reason there hasn’t been another terrorist attack in the U.S. since. “Indeed, nearly all emphasized the haphazard, wasteful, and sometimes self-defeating nature of the DHS’s approach,” Fallows writes.

Muslim Americans are another reason we’ve been terrorist-attack free for almost five years.

“The patriotism of the American Muslim community has been grossly underreported,” says Marc Sageman, who has studied the process by which people decide to join or leave terrorist networks. According to Daniel Benjamin, a former official on the National Security Council and coauthor of The Next Attack, Muslims in America “have been our first line of defense.” Even though many have been “unnerved by a law-enforcement approach that might have been inevitable but was still disturbing,” the community has been “pretty much immune to the jihadist virus.”

Something about the Arab and Muslim immigrants who have come to America, or about their absorption here, has made them basically similar to other well-assimilated American ethnic groups—and basically different from the estranged Muslim underclass of much of Europe. … most measures of Muslim disaffection or upheaval in Europe—arrests, riots, violence based on religion—show it to be ten to fifty times worse than here.

Muslims in Europe are not always economically disadvantaged. They just don’t assimilate:

The difference between the European and American assimilation of Muslims becomes most apparent in the second generation, when American Muslims are culturally and economically Americanized and many European Muslims often develop a sharper sense of alienation. “If you ask a second-generation American Muslim,” says Robert Leiken, author of Bearers of Global Jihad: Immigration and National Security After 9/11, “he will say, ‘I’m an American and a Muslim.’ A second-generation Turk in Germany is a Turk, and a French Moroccan doesn’t know what he is.”

We have a lot more experience with assimilating people here, of course. Yet we cannot be complacent. Anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. is up (thanks loads, Ms. Malkin) and extreme views can be found among American Muslims. Seeing to it that the rightie hatemongers don’t screw up one of our few advantages ought to be a priority.

There’s another gain against terrorism that we’re in the process of losing. In most Muslim countries support for jihadist violence among “civilian” populations has eroded —

“Like Tourette’s syndrome, they keep killing Muslim civilians,” says Peter Bergen. “That is their Achilles’ heel. Every time the bombs go off and kill civilians, it works in our favor. It’s a double whammy when the civilians they kill are Muslims.” Last November, groups directed by al-Zarqawi set off bombs in three hotels in Amman, Jordan. Some sixty civilians were killed, including thirty-eight at a wedding. The result was to turn Jordanian public opinion against al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi, and to make the Jordanian government more openly cooperative with the United States.

Israel’s attacks on Lebanon blew that one out of the water, I’m afraid. We had already blown it in Iraq —

There, insurgents have slaughtered civilians daily, before and after the death this spring of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. But since American troops are also assumed to be killing civilians, the anti-insurgent backlash is muddied.

In fact, according to Caleb Carr, the only thing that keeps al Qaeda alive at all is Iraq.

Back to the original point:

In the modern brand of terrorist warfare, what an enemy can do directly is limited. The most dangerous thing it can do is to provoke you into hurting yourself.

This is what David Kilcullen meant in saying that the response to terrorism was potentially far more destructive than the deed itself. And it is why most people I spoke with said that three kinds of American reaction—the war in Iraq, the economic consequences of willy-nilly spending on security, and the erosion of America’s moral authority—were responsible for such strength as al-Qaeda now maintained.

“You only have to look at the Iraq War to see how much damage you can do to yourself by your response,” Kilcullen told me. He is another of those who supported the war and consider it important to fight toward some kind of victory, but who recognize the ways in which this conflict has helped al-Qaeda. So far the war in Iraq has advanced the jihadist cause because it generates a steady supply of Islamic victims, or martyrs; because it seems to prove Osama bin Laden’s contention that America lusts to occupy Islam’s sacred sites, abuse Muslim people, and steal Muslim resources; and because it raises the tantalizing possibility that humble Muslim insurgents, with cheap, primitive weapons, can once more hobble and ultimately destroy a superpower, as they believe they did to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan twenty years ago. The United States also played a large role in thwarting the Soviets, but that doesn’t matter. For mythic purposes, mujahideen brought down one anti-Islamic army and can bring down another. …

… “Many believe that the United States, bloodied and exhausted by the insurgency, stripped of its allies, will eventually withdraw,” Brian Jenkins writes of the jihadist view. From that perspective, “this defeat alone could bring about the collapse of the United States, just as collapse followed the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

The rest of the article catalogues the many ways the war in Iraq is hurting the United States and helping jihadists. And time and time again, the Bush Administration follows Osama bin Laden’s original game plan. We fell into bin Laden’s trap, in other words. And even though bin Laden himself is not reaping the benefits, other jihadists certainly are. Staying in Iraq will continue to drain the United States and strengthen jihad. There are serious perils to leaving, also. There’s no happy remedy to the mess Bush made.

But the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate. The Associated Press reports:

Hundreds of thousands of Shiites chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” marched through the streets of Baghdad’s biggest Shiite district today in a show of support for Hezbollah militants battling Israeli troops in Lebanon. …

…Al-Sadr followers painted U.S. and Israeli flags on the main road leading to the rally site, and demonstrators stepped on them — a gesture of contempt in Iraq. Alongside the painted flags was written: “These are the terrorists.”

Protesters set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, showing the men with Dracula teeth. “Saddam and Bush, Two Faces of One Coin” was scrawled on Bush’s effigy.

The Shiites were the people we “liberated,” remember.

I’ve got more to say about Iraq and the James Fallows article, but I’ll say it this afternoon.

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