Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, October 2nd, 2006.

Moment of Truth?

Bush Administration, Condi Rice, September 11

[Big update below.]

I’d hate to be George Tenet or Cofer Black right now. I’m betting the full weight of the White House is bearing down on them now to watch what they say.

At issue is the truth about the meeting of July 10, 2001, in which (Bob Woodward says) Condi Rice brushed off warnings of an imminent terrorist attack in the U.S.

Just now on 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 in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director.

[Update: Here’s the transcript from Monday’s show. Just a snip:

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.

Cressey also said the transcript of the July 10 meeting are part of the 9/11 Commission collection in the National Archives. If so, could someone dig it out so we can all have a look at it? Or is access restricted?]

Dan Froomkin:

If the omniscient narrator of Woodward’s book is to be believed, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice waved off warnings that should by any reasonable standard have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.

And in what looks like a potential administration cover-up, Rice and the other participants in that meeting apparently never mentioned it to anyone, including investigators for the 9/11 Commission.

Condi Rice denies she was told about a critical threat. Froomkin continues,

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.

Robin Wright, Washington Post:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Sunday vehemently denied that she ever received a special CIA warning about an imminent terrorist attack on the United States, angrily rebutting new allegations about her culpability in U.S. policy failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al Qaeda.

I guess the August 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” doesn’t count, either.

She said it was “incomprehensible” that she would have ignored such explicit intelligence or appeals by senior CIA officials.

I have to agree with her on that. It is incomprehensible. Yet, apparently, that’s what happened.

At TPM Muckracker, Justin Rood points out that Time magazine reported on the July 10 meeting back in 2002. This is from Time:

In mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. “George briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack,” says an official; another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart (“They always have wall charts”) with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.

Roger Cressey, however, said tonight that the meeting did focus on possible strikes within the U.S.

Cressey said Andrea Mitchell reported today that the 9/11 Commission was, in fact, briefed on the July 10 meeting, even though none of the members seem to remember it now. I can’t find details on this on the web, but it’s mentioned in this Andrea Mitchell interview of Bob Woodward. Cressey believes not including the meeting in the final 9/11 Commission report was an “oversight.” Maybe.

In any event, a great deal rides on whether Tenet and Black confirm or deny the Woodward story. If they shoot the story down, it will no doubt negate everything else Woodward says in his book that the Right doesn’t like. However …

Update: Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and John Walcott write for McClatchy Newspapers

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Hmm, and in July 2001, John Ashcroft began to avoid commercial flights in favor of chartered government jets.

The State Department’s disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.

One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a “10 on a scale of 1 to 10” that “connected the dots” in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.

Apparently there’s been a crack in the facade:

Ashcroft, who resigned as attorney general on Nov. 9, 2004, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was “disappointing” that he never received the briefing, either.

But on Monday evening, Rice’s spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement confirming that she’d received the CIA briefing “on or around July 10” and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks,” McCormack said. “After this meeting, Dr. Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft. That briefing took place by July 17.”

Just how many warnings did Condi get, anyway?

The CIA briefing didn’t provide the exact timing or nature of a possible attack, nor did it predict whether it was likely to take place in the United States or overseas, said three former senior intelligence officials.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the report remains highly classified.

The briefing “didn’t say within the United States,” said one former senior intelligence official. “It said on the United States, which could mean a ship, an embassy or inside the United States.”

Yet in July Ashcroft was avoiding commercial flights. Domestic commercial flights.

And on August 6, this information was followed up by a memo titled … all together, now … “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

But after the July 10 meeting, Condi sprang into action and called a Principal’s Meeting for September 4 … oh, wait …

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big picture stuff, blogging

Justme sends a photo of the newest Mahablog reader, Paulie. Justme writes,

He drinks from the cup you see him holding. He leaves the cup in his water dish, picks it up with his beak when he wants a drink and tilts his head back and chugs…then he says”bottoms up!”.. AND he has only been here a few days…who knows what he will do once he comes out of his shell and starts to feel at home…Yikes, now I am afraid!

I’m glad it’s water and not Kool-Aid. Anyway, Justme hopes Paulie will learn to say BUSH SUCKS! like the famous Sammy.

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Hindsight Bias?

Bush Administration

Echidne quotes some guy who says antiwar liberals have hindsight bias:

One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias — the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. … “Liberals’ assertion that they ‘knew all along’ that the war in Iraq would go badly are guilty of the hindsight bias,” agreed Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who has studied the hindsight bias and how to overcome it. “This is not to say that they didn’t always think that the war was a bad idea.”

If we didn’t think it would go badly, why did we think it was a bad idea?

Echidne dug out of her archives a prediction from April 2004 that “the net effect of the war and occupation in Iraq is to increase the forces of international terrorists, not to somehow make the world safer.” But was anyone predicting disaster before the war began?

A five-minute web search turned up a Paul Krugman column from September 24, 2002:

Of course the new Bush doctrine, in which the United States will seek ”regime change” in nations that we judge might be future threats, is driven by high moral purpose. But McKinley-era imperialists also thought they were morally justified. The war with Spain — which ruled its colonies with great brutality, but posed no threat to us — was justified by an apparent act of terror, the sinking of the battleship Maine, even though no evidence ever linked that attack to Spain. And the purpose of our conquest of the Philippines was, McKinley declared, ”to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”

Moral clarity aside, the parallel between America’s pursuit of manifest destiny a century ago and its new global sense of mission has a lot to teach us.

First, the experience of the Spanish-American War should remind us that quick conventional military victory is not necessarily the end of the story. Thanks to American technological superiority, Adm. George Dewey destroyed a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay without losing a single man. But a clean, high-tech war against Spain somehow turned into an extremely dirty war against the Filipino resistance, one in which hundreds of thousands of civilians died.

Second, America’s imperial venture should serve as an object warning against taking grand strategic theories too seriously. The doctrines of the day saw colonies as strategic assets. In the end, it’s very doubtful whether our control of the Philippines made us stronger. Now we’re assured that military action against rogue states will protect us from terrorism. But the rogue state now in our sights doesn’t seem to have been involved in Sept. 11; what determines whose regime gets changed?

Finally, we should remember that the economic doctrines that were used to justify Western empire-building during the late 19th century — that colonies would provide valuable markets and sources of raw materials — turned out to be nonsense. Almost without exception, the cost of acquiring and defending a colonial empire greatly exceeded even a generous accounting of its benefits. These days, pundits tell us that a war with Iraq will drive down oil prices, and maybe even yield a financial windfall. But the effect on oil prices is anything but certain, while the heavy costs of war, occupation and rebuilding — for we won’t bomb Iraq, then wash our hands of responsibility, will we? — are not in doubt. And no, the United States cannot defray the costs of war out of Iraqi oil revenue — not unless we are willing to confirm to the world that we’re just old-fashioned imperialists, after all.

I’m sure if I had more time to look I could find a lot more. Until then, here’s something I wrote on the eve of the invasion that, IMO, holds up pretty well.

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Principles: Not What You Do, But What You Say?

Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Republican Party

Win or lose, the GOP talks about three core principles: less government, lower taxes, and a strong military. It doesn’t matter that, when in charge, Republican politicians have been known to grow government, raise taxes, and stretch the military too thin. Party leaders have decided that less government, lower taxes, and a strong military is what they stand for and what they run on. That’s their story and they’re sticking with it for good reason — because more often that not, it has helped them win. [Bill Scher, Wait! Don’t Move to Canada! (Rodale, 2006), p. 13.]

I’m starting off with a quote from Bill Scher’s new book to contrast it with what Sebastian Mallaby writes in today’s Washington Post:

After years of single-party government, the prospect of a Democratic majority in the House ought to feel refreshing. But even with Republicans collapsing in a pile of sexual sleaze, I just can’t get excited. Most Democrats in Congress seem bereft of ideas or the courage to stand up for them. They clearly want power, but they have no principles to guide their use of it.

The implication is, of course, that Republicans do have principles to guide their use of power. And Mallaby’s error is, of course, to confuse principles with talking points.

In today’s New York Times Paul Krugman writes,

At its core, the political axis that currently controls Congress and the White House is an alliance between the preachers and the plutocrats — between the religious right, which hates gays, abortion and the theory of evolution, and the economic right, which hates Social Security, Medicare and taxes on rich people. Surrounding this core is a large periphery of politicians and lobbyists who joined the movement not out of conviction, but to share in the spoils.

This is an example of what we call “reality,” as opposed to “appearance,” a.k.a. “bullshit.”

Many argue that the impact of “values voters” in recent elections is greatly exaggerated. But I think it’s plain that people who have marched to the polls to vote against abortion, evolution, and gay marriage have handed many victories to Republicans. Professor Krugman continues,

… the religious and cultural right, which boasted of having supplied the Bush campaign with its “shock troops” and expected a right-wing cultural agenda in return — starting with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — was dismayed when the administration put its energy into attacking the welfare state instead. James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, accused Republicans of “just ignoring those that put them in office.”

It will be interesting, by the way, to see how Dr. Dobson, who declared of Bill Clinton that “no man has ever done more to debase the presidency,” responds to the Foley scandal. Does the failure of Republican leaders to do anything about a sexual predator in their midst outrage him as much as a Democratic president’s consensual affair?

Brian Ross of ABC News found a former congressional page who says he was warned about Rep. Foley’s, um, predilections back in 2001. The “principled” party has been tolerating an alleged sexual predator in their midst for quite some time.

What was that you said about principles, Mr. Mallaby? I think the only Republican principle is “say anything that will get you elected.”

I’m not letting Dems off the hook. As Mallaby says,

On Friday, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, correctly denounced a border-fence bill as a concession “to the radical anti-immigrant right wing” of the Republican Party. It’s absurd to fence off 700 miles of the border and leave the other 1,300 miles open; besides, the government lacks the manpower to prevent migrants from defeating the fence with tunnels or ladders. But if blowing billions on this symbolism is a sop to right-wing nuts, why did 26 Senate Democrats vote for the bill while only 17 opposed it?

And the answer is, they don’t want to give the GOP grist for their talking point mill. And I would like to know how many of the Republicans who pushed for the fence have supporters and contributors who hire illegal aliens. But how many times have we discussed why support Democrats when we can’t trust them to support our values and principles? There are reasons for doing so, but they aren’t reasons that the Party would want to put in its campaign literature. “Because we don’t have a choice” isn’t all that inspirational.

[Update: Brad DeLong has a better answer:

As Sebastian Mallaby knows well–but hopes to keep his readers from realizing–the Democratic Senate leaders judged, correctly, that no Republicans save possibly Chaffee would join them in a filibuster, and that they could not hold enough Democrats to make a filibuster stick. What they decided to do, again correctly, was support Arlen Specter’s effort to amend the bill, as their best chance to make it better. That attempt failed by three votes.

There was not “allow[ing] it through” on the part of the Democratic Senate leadership. As Mallaby knows as well as anybody.]

Bill Scher explains,

There is no clear consensus within the Democratic Party on how to address fundamental policy matters such as the role of government, the ideal level of taxation, and the proper direction for our foreign policy, not to mention how to approach hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay rights. And that makes it harder to be defiant in the face of defeat. How can you confidently jump back into the fray if you can’t be sure that your buddies have your back? If Democrats clearly and consistently articulated a set of principles, and if they supported those principles in good times and bad, people would know what they were fighting for and be willing to fight that much harder.

We liberals tend to rate our candidates on campaign performance, which mostly boils down to how effectively our candidates smack down whatever lies the Right is spreading about them. It can be hard to explain to voters who you are when most of your time is taken up explaining who you aren’t. But that’s how it is, and we need to be better prepared for it. One way we could be better prepared is if the Democratic Party collectively used the time between elections to articulate a short list of basic principles. And, once articulated — repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Until every voter in America can recite that list by heart.

It’s been a long time since Democrats have done that. Even Bill Clinton won mostly on conservative talking points about ending welfare and reducing deficits, not on uniquely Democratic Party principles.

I’m not saying that the short list of principles should be just words without conviction, as are Republican talking points. The Dems can’t copy the GOP and say anything that sounds good, because the Dems do not have a base of robot followers who will believe everything they’re told and ignore reality. Dems will have to deliver, and fast, or they’ll find themselves in the minority again very quickly.

As soon as Dems get some power in Washington (assuming they ever do), a clock will start ticking. And that clock will be marking a short period of time the Dems will have to prove themselves. They will have to deliver something tangible, something big, something Americans can plainly see with their own eyes, that they can point to and say, look, we did this. Republicans had their chance and didn’t do it, but we did it. That something might be getting out of Iraq, providing national health care, or making significant progress in rebuilding the Gulf Coast. What’s important is that it has to be something that voters can see is real so that it can’t be explained away with lies and fuzzy math by the VRWC.

I have long believed that clarity of language and clarity of thought go hand and hand; muddy writers tend to be muddy thinkers, and vice versa. You can impress some people with sheer volume of verbiage (this explains Victor Davis Hanson’s following). But I find that putting thoughts into words sharpens the thoughts. For this reason the exercise of articulating principles should not be contracted to speechwriters and PR people. The list must present genuine core convictions and the most basic expectations We, the People, have of our government.

Most of Mallaby’s soft-headed column is spent criticizing Dems for refusing to enter into new “bipartisan” talks on Social Security reform. Of course, the Dems are right to refuse; it’s an obvious trap. It takes a pundit not to see that. It also takes a pundit not to notice that right-wing “principles” are all smoke. Let’s hope voters are smarter. A new McClatchy Newspapers / MSNBC poll suggests maybe they are. But it would be nice if the Dems could say something more for themselves than “we promise not to screw up as bad as the GOP.” As we see from the Republican example, what you say about yourself matters a lot.

Now, what should be on the list? Please add your ideas to the comments.

Update: See also TAPPED.

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