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2004 March 31 Wednesday
Oddly Clarke Is More Critical Of Bush Than Of Clinton

John Lehman, Republican member of the 9-11 Commission and former Navy Secretary under Ronald Reagan, was on the PBS NewsHour news show talking about Richard Clarke and the 9/11 Commission hearings. He said that in public Clarke focuses his criticism on Bush. But in private hearings he has been extremely critical of Clinton in ways that do not come out in public. This seems odd. Clarke has been portrayed in the press as a non-partisan professional just doing his job and some have reported that Clarke is a Republican. Yet in the 2000 election Clarke admitted to Tim Russert that he voted for Al Gore.

MR. RUSSERT: You voted for Al Gore.

MR. CLARKE: Yes, I did.

A fanatical obsessor about the danger of Al Qaeda would vote for Al Gore? What also seems odd in light of what the Clinton Administration did and did not do about terrorism is that In his book Clarke portrays Clinton very favorably.

In his book's 291 pages, Clarke comes across as impatient and sometimes angry with everyone who disagrees with him, including the CIA (except for Director George Tenet) and the FBI (particularly former director Louis Freeh). His frustration with Bush and Rice, who demoted him, permeates the book. But his respect for President Clinton is clear. Clinton, Clarke writes, had "seen earlier than anyone" that terrorism would become a major threat.

It is hard to square Clarke's view of Clinton with the objective facts of the history of Clinton Administration national security policy decision-making. Is Clarke just another in a long line of people who were charmed by Clinton into believing that Clinton shared the same beliefs and values as they did? I've come across a number of accounts of people who have met Clinton who report he made them feel as if he was giving them his undivided attention and that he agreed with them and appreciated what they were doing. So was Clarke charmed by Clinton and then did Bush, by demoting him to a lower level of the bureaucracy and by his treatment of Clarke, make Clarke feel less appreciated? That seems at least a plausible explanation for Clarke's sharper public criticism of Bush than of Clinton.

So let us look at the record of this President Bill Clinton who Clarke thinks understood the threat of terrorism. Clinton did not do much to improve funding for anti-terrorism efforts.

Clarke's tenor says it is an outrage that the Bush team approved more CIA counterterrorism spending in principle, but hadn't yet made it happen. Really? In the 1990s, more resources were supposed to go to the CIA, but "baseline spending requests, and thus core staffing, remained flat. The CIA told us that Clarke kept promising more budget support, but could never deliver."

Before 9/11 very few people in either the CIA or FBI were working on Al Qaeda.

Years of inadequate funding for counterterrorism programs left America with dangerous shortages in personnel and technology. During the 1990s, funding for the intelligence agencies remained even or dropped in some years. (21) The various intelligence agencies reported that their greatest problem in dealing with bin Laden was the combination of not enough resources, too many requirements and too many priorities. (22)

While the numbers are disputed, no more than 30 people in the FBI were assigned to work on al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. In the CIA, the number might have been as low as only three agents. (23) The intelligence community was lacking in linguists and analysts trained to understand al-Qaeda. The FBI had so many foreign language documents connected to terrorism that were untranslated, it was difficult to keep track of them all. In addition to shortages in funding, terrorism-related documents were left untranslated often upon the direct order of supervisors inside the FBI, in order to help push for bigger budgets in the future. Agent Sibel Edmonds testified directly to this problem. (24) More than 65% of the intelligence research specialists working for the FBI were not qualified for their positions. (25)

I have read no reports claiming that Bush decreased the numbers working on Al Qaeda. Therefore those are the numbers assigned to work on Al Qaeda as a left-over from when Clinton was President. So how can Clarke put such a positive spin on how Clinton saw the nature of the threat? It is not like Clinton responded to the threat by securing funding for a major ramping up of the anti-terrorist effort. Clinton was in office for 96 months and then Bush was in office for only 7 months before 9/11 happened. If we are to believe Clarke's own August 2002 off-the-record comments then in those 7 months the Bush Administration decided to increase CIA covert operations funding five fold to go after Al Qaeda. Yet Clarke reserves the bulk of his public criticisms for Bush.

What to make of this? Former FBI agent Gary Aldrich served in the Clinton White House and left in 1996 to write a very critical book on the Clinton Administration entitled Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House. Aldrich takes a very dim view of Clarke's attempt to pin the bulk of the blame for 9/11 on Bush rather than on Clinton.

When Unlimited Access came out, few in Washington cared much about national security. The Soviet Union had collapsed and the Hard-Left enjoyed the false theory that resources and attention to national security and defense could be redirected to more important matters, like gays in the military and national health care. The National Security Counsel began tracking rain forest depletion and environmental changes, as well as world-wide poverty and food supplies. These were the priorities for Mr. Clarke’s NSC. Moreover, since Clarke worked in the Clinton White House for eight long years, he knew this better than most.

Aldrich sees Clarke as having presented 3 different versions of the "truth". I can't be bothered to count versions but there are inconsistencies in his claims and it doesn't seem like Clarke is being particularly fair about his presentation of his version of events. By obsessing about Al Qaeda Richard Clarke was obsessed about the right thing. But he either has partisan motivations or his demotion by the Bush Administration caused him to have festering resentments or he's become so bent out of shape thinking about his obsession that he's lost the ability to be objective about it. The result is that he's spinning (and I suspect intentionally) for Democrats to influence the coming election by presenting a rather distorted view of US policy failures in responding to the events that led up to 9/11.

Update: Rich Lowry points out that if we leave aside what Richard Clarke says about the relative quality of the response of the Clinton and Bush Administrations to the terrorist threat he makes a number of proposals that are worth consideration. For instance, Clarke says the FBI is institionally incapable of doing an adequate job in response to the terrorist threat.

"And we'd have to explain to the American people in a very compelling way why they needed a domestic intelligence service, because I think most Americans would be fearful of a secret police in the United States. But frankly, the FBI culture, the FBI organization, the FBI personnel are not the best we could do in this country for a domestic intelligence service."

Many activists in the Democratic Party complain about John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act and try to demonize Ashcroft as a promoter of large scale invasions of privacy. Yet the Patriot Act is a smaller step in the direction that Clarke promotes. Where do these same critics of the Bush Administration stand on Clarke's proposal for a domestic security agency that would have the power to spy on people who have not committed any known crimes? As I've argued previously, since we can't read minds nothing less than ethnic and religious profiling combined with a great amount of surveillance and data mining of electronic records will be sufficiently effective to stop the bulk of terrorist attacks. On top of that we need much better immigration and border control policies aimed at making it far more difficult for Muslim terrorists to make it into the United States or to stay in the US beyond the expiration of their visas once they get here.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 March 31 01:11 AM  Terrorists Western Response


Comments
TangoMan said at March 31, 2004 10:30 AM:

Clarke worked for the Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 Administrations. All through the 1990s he was a registered Republican but made no donations to the Party. In 2000, ISTM that he rank ordered the candidates 1.)He voted for McCain in the Republican primary, 2.) He voted for Gore in the general election. Clearly, President Bush was his last choice.

His criticism of the Bush Administration compared to the Clinton Administration is centered on the priority of how they treated the terrorist threat. Under Clinton, Clarke could hold cabinet level meetings, and with the appraoch of the Millenium, he and Tenet whipped up the bureaucracy and shook the tree to develop leads. From the chatter they knew something was going to happen. This resulted in higher alerts at border stations. The Port Angeles, WA bust of Ressam has been attributed to the agent being more vigilent because of the heightened alert. Ressam was the loose thread that the agents pulled and more plots unraveled in conjuction with the shaking of the bureaucratic tree. (sorry for the mixed metaphors)

Under Bush, Clarke didn't have the same high level access to influence decisions. No one who did have the access was focused on counter-terrorism. I think you err in focusing solely on the number of analysts as the metric by which to judge the two Administrations. Clarke seems focused on the ability, and the authority, to get things done. It's odd that after Clarke resigned, his successor, Rand Beers stayed on the job for only a month before he too left in frustration.

You list different issues that you think Clarke may be facing, but omit one which has his assessment being correct. If his testimony holds up, then his criticism is indeed valid and there's no need to impugn his motives.

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2004 12:09 PM:

TangoMan, Clinton's response was that of a fireman who would rush out to fight individual fires. He did not make deep changes to how the US dealt with terrorism.

Contrast that with the Bush Administration's decision in the summer of 2004 to wipe out Al Qaeda (at least if we are to believe Richard Clarke's off-the-record August 2002 press briefing) with approval for a big run-up of funding.

I find "priority" to be an amorphous term. I count bodies. I count dollars spent. I count covert operations ordered. I count policies changed to make counter-terrorism more effective. By all these measures Clinton's response during the 96 months of his presidency was woefully inadequate. Bush's response in the 7 months until 9/11 was better in some respects. But it was only 7 months at the beginning of his administration and for much of that time many of his national security team appointees were waiting for Senate approval.

I've argued already that I think Clarke's assessment is incorrect and I've listed reasons why. I can't see how he can defend the Clinton Administration's response to terrorism by claiming that it placed a higher priority on it. If Clinton's response was "urgent" what would it have taken for Clinton to really tackle the problem? Make it "Super Turbo Mega Urgent"? Urgency is what the US government felt after Pearl Harbor. A lower level of urgency is what the US government felt after 9/11. Clinton did not feel urgency. Either that or he felt the emotion but had no idea what to do about it.

Look, I'm critical of Bush on terrorism on immigration and border control policy. I'm critical on energy policy (which is entwined with anti-terrorism policy but neither party wants to admit it). I think he should have sent more troops into Afghanistan after the Taliban fell. I have all sorts of problems with his approach. But Clarke's going lightly on the Clinton Administration's performance relative to that of the Bush Administration is a joke because Clinton had 96 months to do tons of things he could have done but failed to do.

TangoMan said at March 31, 2004 1:51 PM:

I by no means want to hold President Clinton up as the posterboy of counter-terrorism action but I do buy Clarke's argument that Clinton actually allowed Clarke to call battle stations while President Bush de-emphasized that authority, and further, refocused the National security appartus back on to State actors and away from non-State actors such as Al Queda.

Also, I don't think it's kosher to judge President Clinton over the full 8 years of his term as the terrorist threat became more serious over time. Further I recall very vividly the reaction Clinton received after the bombings in the midst of his Impeachment hearings, with a lot of Wag the Dog analysis. There was a limit to his responses that he faced.

I don't buy into your analysis of Bush's first 7 months. The CIA leadership was intact. He removed Clarke from Cabinet rank. He focused on State actors. His top advisors held that non-state actors couldn't operate without state support. Bush made policy decisions that may have made sense in his world view, but I think the decisions were incorrect in that they deviated from known facts about Al Queda and substituted a Wolfowitzian world view that didn't apply to Al Queda. President Bush made the wrong call, but I'll grant that there was no way to know that it was the wrong call at the time.

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2004 3:06 PM:

TangoMan,

The head of the CIA and the head of the FBI were both Clinton appointees. But the CIA couldn't do anything to stop 9/11. They had no firm actionable leads.

You are entirely missing my point about battle stations. Clinton treated counter-terrorism as something to be handled by occasionally going into panic mode. But panic mode is what one should do the first time one deal with an unexpected problem when one has to improvise. Panic mode should not be enshrined as an operational policy. Bush at least started to make major policy changes to address the problem at a more fundamental level. The fact that the top level officials of the US government had to meet during times of perceived high risk and try to temporarily break down institutional barriers during those times was a symptom of deeper problems that the Clinton Administration failed to address.

The non-state actors were getting state support. The Taliban controlled a government and supported Al Qaeda. The Taliban, in turn, were supported by both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Bush's analysis was correct.

As for focusing away from Al Qaeda: Did you read my previous post Richard Clarke Off The Record In August 2002 where Clarke dscribes the Bush Administration declsion before 9/11 to smash Al Qaeda? How is that a decrease in focus on Al Qaeda? I don't see it. Was Clarke lying?

Luke Lea said at March 31, 2004 7:52 PM:

Randall, you didn't like my comment on the Republicans? drop me an e-mail and explain why, Luke

TangoMan said at April 1, 2004 12:26 AM:

They had no firm actionable leads.

It's a question of degrees, I suppose. Agents of the Federal Gov't knew that 2 of the 19 were on a watchlist and were in the country. The agent couldn't get that info up to the people who could act on it. To me that plausibly sets up a scenario, as occured during the Millenium Plot, that agents are told from on high to produce something, this agent produces this info, the 2 are picked up and maybe it stops there. Fine. However, maybe the 2 lead to others of the 19. The info on the status of the 2 sounds like an actionable lead to me but I can see why others might think that intel was too wishy washy.

Panic mode should not be enshrined as an operational policy.

I agree. However, I chose the phrase battle stations purposely. The military isn't permanently on high alert. The Dept. of Homeland Security's color codes also account for different levels of threat. When the chatter was high as during the Millenium lead-up, and even higher as it was during the summer of 2001, then that is as good a reason as any to ramp up the bureaucracy to go above and beyond their standard operating procedures. Yes, Bush recognized that there was too much informational compartmentalization that was hindering the common counterterrorist goal and took action on it. However, Clarke handed the new Administration a strategic plan in January, and it was delayed and his office, (not just him personally but his successor too) was given less administrative influence and operational control. Then the plan was adopted pretty much without change in early September.

At least Clinton went into panic mode when called for. The signs in the summer of 2001 were stronger than during the pre-Millenium period, and the Bush team didn't go into panic mode.

The non-state actors were getting state support.

I generally don't comment on your posts too much because I'm in complete agreement with you. On this issue I'm just nitpicking on one theme, analytical standards. I'm not blaming Bush for 9-11. I'm not applying impossible standards to Clinton. I'm not judging with the benefit of hindsight. I don't want to defend Clinton as the epitomy of counterterrorist policy. You shouldn't confuse the fact that Al Queda was entwined with the Taliban as support for the position that non-state actors cannot act without state support. Coincidence doesn't imply correlation. The Taliban has been routed and Al Queda has managed bombings in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid and El Ghriba without state support. Non-state actors are a threat to us, even still. Don't misunderstand me, I think that the Middle East is a failed region that is a danger to the West and the Iraq War as a means of affecting change was at the very least a policy decision that was pro-active in its attempt to fix the problem. The status quo wasn't going to work. How the Administration went about it is an issue I have problems with. I'm behind the strategy, not the tactics. I'd rather have had a more concerted effort on rooting out Al Queda from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and more effort on infiltrating and wrapping up terror networks and their financing, money laundering, recruitment, training and communication networks before we embarked on Iraq, Iran or Saudia Arabia, or for that matter, Pakistan.

Did you read my previous post

Yes I did, and I didn't comment because I agreed with your whole thesis. Further, during my career I've been involved in setting corporate policy and occasionally have had to defend policies to various stakeholders and the press. Any professional knows that no one cares about your personal opinion, they want the organizational policy explained, and I've had to do so even while I had disagreed during the formulation stage. Simply, I take Clarke at his word when he has the liberty to express his own opinion. I'm not inclined to hang him by his own petard by quoting previous utterances that he made on behalf of the Administration. That said, if he can't back up what he now says, then he is a liar. There are all sorts of ways to reconcile the two statements he made to a common set of facts, or, if not facts, intentions that are plausibly contrived to be facts.

I've had a similar type of debate with some people who think President Bush is the toughest hombre on terrorists. My point is to pop the hyperbole. Bush was no better, and really not much worse, than Clinton. I don't agree with his decision to de-emphasize the institutional role of Clarke's department, but it is bureacratically defensible. Judged in isolation, I have no major criticism with that decision. Perhaps I'm conflating their arguments with yours and reading too much into your analysis.

Luke Lea said at April 1, 2004 5:23 AM:

Let me try making this point again:

When Clinton was in power, it was the (radical) Republicans, with their legal harrassment of the President and wag-the-dog scenarious, who were the real traitors to the country -- in this sense: they were harassing and distracting the commander-and-chief to such an extent, that it was difficult for him to give his full attention to the carrying out of his duties to defend the country against its enemies, including most especially Osama ben Laden and company in Afghanistan. Surely, in hindsight, this is clear. I mean, was the Supreme Court really wise to let the Paula Jones suit go forward, claiming that it shouldn't unduly distract the President. Is there anybody out there -- Republican or Democrat -- who would like to go down a similar road in the future, investigating the private life of a sitting President, rather than waiting until he has served out his time in office?

Alene said at April 1, 2004 8:01 AM:

Luke--

I agree with you about the SCOTUS ruling. I agree with you about the radical R attack-dogs. And I agree that the effect of this 'civil suit' was to reduce the range of effective options. As a Clinton supporter, though, I have to say you left something out of your assessment. I mean, it's not as if Clinton didn't know there were folks out there who wanted to bring him down. And knowing that, he gave them the chance, because he couldn't keep it zipped? I'll never forgive him for that.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2004 10:56 AM:

TangoMan,

My problem with battle stations or panic mode is that it has low efficacy. I was reading some article on the 9/11 hearings and saw something in one of the testimonay excerpts (from Tenet? forget who) or maybe from a previous Commission report that struck me: In the summer of 2001 the high terrorist chatter subsided after the end of July 2001 and from the perspective of signals intelligence and other intelligence it looked as if the terrorists had given up on whatever they were trying to do. So how can battle stations or panic mode in response to signals chatter be an effective policy?

I think the level of the game on our side has to be higher in general. Rather than shift agents temporarily into anti-terrorist mode while in panic mode the agents should be shifted permanently. Otherwise there is no follow-through and longer term pursuit of terrorist networks can not be done. The very small number of FBI and CIA agents assigned to investigating terrorists was a choice that Clinton had made. The funding levels of the year 2001 were based on Clinton budget priorities.

I was watching Tenet during the 9-11 Commission hearings and he said that Janet Reno had an standing order that the DOJ employees were not allowed to talk to the CIA employees. So why did Clinton have to hold high level meetings to break down institutional barriers that his own people had erected? Do you think that John Ashcroft has such an order in effect?

As for Clarke's late January 2001 plan for Bush: In the years that Clinton was in office if Clinton had already implemented that plan then Bush wouldn't even have had it to consider. Yes, I think Bush should have acted more quickly. But I consider it far less damming of him than I do of Clinton that over a period of years Clinton never implemented Clarke's recommendations whereas Bush as a new President took about 6 months to do so.

Luke, I have a simple response to the argument that Clinton's enemies prevented him from formulating an effective anti-terrorist strategy: If Clinton thought terrorists were such a threat and such a high priority then why did he spend the vast bulk of this time on domestic policy? When he did foreign policy why did he spend more time on Israel and other issues than on terrorism? He supposedly considered terrorism an "urgent" priority according to Clarke. So why didn't he bother to act on Clarke's recommendations that were still waiting to be implemented when Bush took office?

Clinton had time periods where he was under little attack domestically. There were time periods when he had lots of time for travel, golf with his pals, and assorted policy initiatives such as the amount of time he spent on negotitating with Arafat (and what a foolish waste that was). I don't buy the argument that the Republicans so distracted him that he couldn't improve anti-terrorism policy.

Also, Clarke has said that Robert Rubin blocked attempts to get Treasury agents more involved in tracing money flows for terrorists. Treasury cooperation improved when Rubin left office. Well, why couldn't Clarke get Clinton to order Rubin to be more cooperative? After all, Clinton was supposedly attending meetings to knock heads together. Why didn't this happen?

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2004 11:05 AM:

I just remembered another example of retarded Clinton priorities: The FBI had greatly expanded in budget and size during the Clinton Administration years. But where did the expanded efforts go to? Catching deadbeat dads, so-called hate crimes (even though we know that most of that which is racially motivated is black against white and that was not part of the FBI's priorities), and other feel-good leftie nonsense.

So Clinton had the time to think to ask for more law enforcement money from Congress. But his "urgent" priorities had little to do with terrorism.

TangoMan said at April 1, 2004 12:10 PM:

My problem with battle stations or panic mode is that it has low efficacy.

Randall, I agree completely. The fact that Bush has been able to refocus the FBI on counter-terrorism is due to 9-11. Before 9-11, being assigned to the terrorist desk was a career dead-end. Organized crime, financial crime, etc were the primary focus and that's where agents made their careers. Neither Clinton nor Bush had the public mandate to refocus the FBI.

I think the level of the game on our side has to be higher in general.

I completely agree.

In the years that Clinton was in office if Clinton had already implemented that plan then Bush wouldn't even have had it to consider.

This is the statment that is central to my concern with your essay. The two African Embassy bombings occurred on August 7, 1998 and killed 12 Americans in Nairobi. The USS Cole was attacked on October 12, 2000 and killed 17 sailors. Just as we shouldn't judge President Bush by post 9-11 standards, we shouldn't judge President Clinton by post Cole bombing standards. The terrorist threat at the beginning of Clinton's term was not the same as that at the end. It's unfair analysis to say Clinton had 8 years compared to Bush's 8 months. AL Queda wasn't even known to intelligence agencies early in the 90s. By the time of the Embassy bombings Clinton was ordering retaliation but was limited in what the public would back him on. Also, the Al Queda threat was becoming clearer, the network was becoming uncovered, the intelligence more fleshed out and this led to Clarke's prominence and Clinton's order to get a more comprehensive plan together. Days from USS Cole bombing to President Bush's inauguration - 100 days.

Clarke had a plan ready to go for the new President. These things take time once a threat is identified. Clinton had a better grasp of the situation than did Bush, even though Clinton had to deal with a vaguer threat pre-Embassy and pre-Cole.

Looking at the papers today, the Washington Post reports that Dr. Rice's testimony that was scheduled for Sept. 11, 2001 had missile defense as the main threat to the US, criticized Clinton for ignoring the missile threat, and was focused on the state threat of terrorist tactics, not non-state terrorist groups. Remeber the mindset of the incoming Bush Administration: anything Clinton was focused upon was the wrong thing.

Simply, if you feel that days on the job is the proper metric to judge by, then Clinton had 100 days left in this lame-duck term, compared to Bush's 233 days in his new term. Clinton had to identify the scope and severity of the problem and put them in perspective so that the American public would buy into the policies. Embassy and Cole helped focus the public. 9-11 created a laser-like focus.

Could Clinton have done more? Absolutely! Did Bush do less than Clinton? Absolutely. Bush was fixated on missile defense.

TangoMan said at April 1, 2004 12:41 PM:

Randall,

Take a gander at this article about Clarke that was written a year ago. It appears to me that his postion was created around the time of the Embassy bombings. Consider the scale of the Embassy bombings to the 9-11 attacks. Clinton created a counter-terrorism czar with Cabinet level authority. Bush created Homeland Security, a whole new department. Each appropraite resposnes to the scales of the attacks.

Luke Lea said at April 1, 2004 6:02 PM:

Randall,
I'm not trying to defend Clinton, so much as point out that the radical Republican assault on the White House was the single most irresponsible thing that happened during the 90's, precisely because of the way it impacted on the commander-and-chief's ability to focus on emergent issues of national security. I have the distinct memory, for example, that the impeachment crisis was coming to a head just as some of the most worrisome developments were taking place with regard to Osama, Hussein, and company -- to the point that any decisive and sustained action Clinton might have considered taking, would have been undermined by the cynical wag-the-dog put on them by the other party. Let us hope that no American President, of either party, is ever put in that position again, and that the kind of fiendish partisanship that has been on display in recent years (and I don't care who started it)becomes an unacceptable mark of disloyality to the republic. Now, here is a lesson that's really worth something -- a way we could all profit from experience, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The rest of what's going on now regarding Clark, Rice, Cheney, etc, is just a lot of monday morning quarterbacking, of no real use to anybody except as entertainment to political junkies.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2004 9:07 PM:

Luke, I turned heavily against Clinton because of the Travel Office affair. That he wanted to get rid of the career civil servants and replace them with his cronies, fine, that was his prerogative. That he wanted to first send his "cousin" to work in the office to spy on it, again fine. But when he covered his ass from the ensuing press criticism by having these civil servant people investigated and one of them prosecuted was an extreme abuse of power. So spare me the whining about the Republican treatment of that bastard.

The impeachment: it ended. He had plenty of time after that to do various things to improve US security against terrorists.

TangoMan. I certainly subscribe to the view that it took various types of attacks and casualty levels to make politically possible a number of types of responses. I wish it was otherwise. But one criticism that I level at both Bush and Clinton is that there were types of responses they could have made without that political support that they did not make. I level that criticism more at Clinton because he spent 8 years in office getting briefed on top secret stuff and therefore he had both more time to learn about the nature of the threats and more time to respond. But Bush didn't respond well enough either.

As for the missile threat: It is growing. So is the threat from nuclear proliferation. In the long run WMD technology proliferation is going to end up enabling the killing of orders of magnitude more people than conventional means of committing terrorist attacks. I critise Bush from the Right. I think his anti-proliferation strategy is too weak. At the same time, in a way very analogous to the point that it took 9/11 to wake people up to the threat of terrorism to make a political response of sufficient scale possible it is very likely to take a nuclear or biological terrorist attack to wake people up to the WMD threat. But in terms of recognizing the gravity of the threat Bush is ahead in that area as compared to the public and also as compared to the Democrats. I just fault his strategy for how to play his hand on this when he doesn't have enough political support. I know his hand is weak but I think he could play it better.

Randall Parker said at April 1, 2004 9:23 PM:

TangoMan, About when to start counting days: We had more attacks than that from Al Qaeda during Clinton's term. Also, there are the foiled attacks that the CIA and other intelligence types like to allude to. So I have a serious question that I would like to know the answer to: By the end of the Clinton Administration how many actual and foiled terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda did the Clinton Administration know were by Al Qaeda?

I don't expect to hear exactly how many attacks are believed to have been foiled. But the answer would give us an indication of just how big a threat Clinton and Bush should have seen.

TangoMan said at April 2, 2004 2:13 AM:

I critise Bush from the Right. I think his anti-proliferation strategy is too weak.

So do I. Pakistani nuclear scientist Khan has, with the aid of Pakistani Security Services, been the individual who has done us the greatest amount of harm. I nail Clinton for not having CIA increase human-intel, for not increasing staffing of Arabic, Persian, Pashtu, URdu, etc agents, for not closely monitoring foreign nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons scientists. For not tracking the financials of legitimate overseas firms that deal with nuclear components. There are a finite number of leak points that would have to be tracked. While the probability of one of these people leaking the information to the wrong State or non-State actors is low, the successful implmenentation of the technology would be devastating, so the expected value of the whole equation is sufficient in probability to warrant extensive monitoring. This I feel is something that Clinton could have done a lot about and criticism is certainly warranted. So too with Bush. Attempts were made to restrict export of encryption technology, so we know that technology tracking efforts are possible. The Missile Technology Control Regime does the same for an impressive list of dual use technology. (take a look at the list) We should have been watching critical technology chokepoints overseas. Khan's disclosures should have been acted upon, whether through channels or clandestinely to stop Khan.

Missile defense is certainly a plausable solution to the proliferation issue but this Administration's propensity to push and commit to immature technology and hope that it works when it is fully implemented is inane. One paradigm shift by the opponents and this high-tech Maginot Line crumbles, to wit, this Russian annoucement of a weapon to circumvent the Missile Shield. It is most likely a highly maneouverable hypersonic cruise missile. Again the probability of a State attack using missiles is certainly above zero, but with proliferation taken into account, I think that a suitcase bomb scenario is more likely. The Missile Shield then does bupkis.

I'm very cynical on President Bush's response to proliferation issues and don't believe the Missile Shield technology is ready for deployment. Should he keep funding the R&D? Absolutely, and do so aggressively. The deployment looks more like a boon to crony capitalism and pork for the military contractors.

I level that criticism more at Clinton because he spent 8 years in office getting briefed on top secret stuff and therefore he had both more time to learn about the nature of the threats and more time to respond.

I still don't buy into this point. According to your link the timeline looks as follows: WTC '93, Somalia '93, Khobar '96, Embassies '98, Cole '00. Look at these internal declassified CIA and FBI documents to show what was going on. The threat was being identified and a pattern had to develop. Initially Osama was treated as a criminal, not a military threat, because we didn't have the intel on him. Document 6, from '98-'99, is summarized, in part, as follows:

It notes that after the August 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, the FBI “quickly focused investigative attention on terrorist financier Usama bin Ladin and his terrorist network Al-qaida.” “Significant events” include indictments, trials, convictions as well as the creation of plans to establish a National Domestic Preparedness Office.

The first part of the “In-Focus” section discusses the threat from WMD (weapons of mass destruction) – which had been the preeminent fear before the events of September 11. That section also discusses the investigation of the embassy bombings as well as the challenge of protecting “critical national infrastructures” and military installations. (emphasis added)

Also Clinton ordered an attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden in 1998. This reversed an Executive Order signed by President Ford and upheld by all subsequent Presidents.

But in terms of recognizing the gravity of the threat Bush is ahead in that area as compared to the public and also as compared to the Democrats. I just fault his strategy for how to play his hand on this when he doesn't have enough political support. I know his hand is weak but I think he could play it better.

I agree that Bush is ahead of the curve on threat recognition on WMD. I too fault his political strategy for implementing a solution and I go further in faulting the strategy he advocates, as I've alluded to above. The threat is real however, and Bush gets it, and in this one respect is putting more political capital on the line than did Clinton. Misguided, yes, but still it gets the concept into circulation.

To summarize, I think you've overreached in your comparison of Bush versus Clinton and by invoking a time comparison for you've erred in assuming the threat we know today was recognized at the beginning of the Clinton Presidency. There are huge veins of incompetancy that run through the Bush White House, and these were manifested in the first 8 months when their fixation on Missile Defense distracted them from the terrorist threat that was fully articulated by the end of the Clinton Administration, and further, they de-emphasized the non-state threat in favor of the state threat.

Clinton deserves full blame for not instituting more surveilance of sensitive technology transfers abroad that are central to proliferation issues. There he did have 8 years to work on the problem compared to Bush's actions over 8 months. If the point is to compare the two Administration's and find fault with Clinton's approach, why not change the thesis of your essay to this issue. At least there is ample evidence to draw upon and from which to craft a tight argument.

As a concluding aside, take note of this Steven Den Beste essay.

Luke Lea said at April 2, 2004 6:38 PM:

Randall: If you thought that was a whine (much less a whine for Clinton, whom I whined about incessantly) you were simply mistaken. It was a plea, for civility first of all, and then for a more dispasionate consideration of what is in the nation's long-term interest. You know, I can understand if everybody thought the really dangerous days were over, with the fall of the Soviet Union. I confess I thought so myself; and maybe, at the time, all that partison hijinx seemed like a harmless luxury we could afford to indulge ourselves in, for a change. Hell, it was fun. But now that we see what the new situation is, I think everybody needs to reassess their manners, and adopt a more respectful attitude towards the political opposition, one that reflects the seriousness of our common situation. This is war. We are all Americans, first and formost, and party loyalty comes a way distant second. Tell me you're kidding, if you say you don't agree.

Randall Parker said at April 2, 2004 11:38 PM:

Luke, I've been predicting for decades that the 21st century was going to be more dangerous than the 20th. This is one reason why I watched the Clinton Administration unfold with such dismay. I found Clinton to be a naive guy about the rest of the world. He negotiated the Oslo Agreement along with Barak. What monumental folly to let Arafat back into the Territories. What a fantasy.

Party loyalty: I don't have any at this point. I think the Republicans are bad and the Democrats are worse. I do not think the public as a whole understands the size of the rising threat we face. I think both parties are being irresponsible about the building demographic crises due to population aging, immigration, and the lower class. I take all sorts of positions on my blog in order to step outside of the partisan debate and make arguments you will not hear the bulk of either party's elected officials making. I advocate increased use of direct voter referendums because I have such low expectations of elected officials.

The nation's long term interest: I make arguments on this topic especially in my Grand Strategy archive but also in Economics Demographic and in my various immigration category archives.

I usually can't be bothered by the character assassination wars in Washington DC and rarely blog about them. But in this case I see a big partisan attempt to shift most of the 9/11 blame onto Bush and I think that attempt does not serve the nation's long term interests. The Democrats favor a "law enforcement" approach to anti-terrorism. They favor it both domestically and internationally. I think if they succeed in pinning the blame on Bush the effect will be to strengthen the drive for their approach and that would be a disaster. We need covert ops, military ops, and a major effort to demoralize Islam. But the Left is uncomfortable with all of that.

Also, I agree we are all Americans first.

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2004 12:26 AM:

TangoMan. Aside about Steve Den Beste: He's very sloppy with his facts. For example, he refers to 400,000 Americans lost in WWII. Try 295,000. Though he might argue he meant we were willing to lose another 100,000 by invading Japan. Actually, we would have lost more than that and so I think the 400,000 figure is just laziness. Years ago I used to argue with him on a software company's off-topic news group back before either of us were known as bloggers and I used to correct his "facts" back then. He is still too lazy, relying on faulty memories rather than googling up real facts.

As for his contention that the US invasion marked a deep commitment to change the Arab world: Well, I do not see awareness in the Bush Administration of just what the aspects of Arab society are that would have to change to make it not so bad. This is my problem with Wolfowitz especially. Stanley Kurtz has explained How Britain changed India to make democracy possible and why it took so long. I see no sign that the US has the patience to work at the problem for that long. Also see an earlier post of mine from October 2002 entitled Pessimists on Muslim Democracy which links to more by him and other writers.

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2004 12:33 AM:

TangoMan, See John O'Sullivan's take on the 9-11 Commission hearings. His analysis of their partisan nature is very close to my own.

TangoMan said at April 3, 2004 7:00 AM:

Randall, O'Sullivan's essay is a strawman built on a number of false premises. First, he divides the the issue into a Left versus Right battle. Second, he sets the Left up as intent on proving that President Bush could have prevented 9-11. Third, he attempts character assassination by ascribing to the Left an unwillingness to blame Al Queda so they need to blame President Bush for the 9-11 Attacks. Fourth, he like you, is faulty of improper analytic framework in comparing the known threat of Osama when President Bush took office and assuming that the same knowledge was available to President Clinton over the 8 years of his term. Fifth, impugning President Clinton's character by stating that he wanted President Bush to do the dirty work against Al Queda that he didn't want to do, which of course ignores the time issue I referenced in point 4. Overall, his analysis is a very stark partisan defense and is logically faulty. Frankly, I'm surprised that you find resonance with his views considering the body of work you've published on your blog.

The point of the commission is factfinding. Everyone knows that Al Queda committed this act of war. What we as a nation want to know is how well our gov't acted on our behalf in trying to protect us. No one, except the fanatical Left, blames President Bush nor, short of rounding up the conspirators, thinks that it could have been prevented and that there was derilication of duty on the President's part. What does O'Sullivan believe that Clinton could have done in the last 100 days of his lame-duck Presidency after the attack on the USS Cole? To accept the public mindset post 9-11 and apply it to a willingness to invade Afghanistan pre 9-11 as a means of response for the 17 deaths of USS Cole bombing is insane. What President starts a war with only a 100 days left in his Administration?

Rather than aiding in finding how the gov't fell short and thus improving our abilities in the future this Administration has been stonewalling this commission. When the President's approval ratings were through the roof immediately after the attacks he could have instituted a commission to find out what went wrong and vowing to improve our defenses. He could have led a national healing. This doesn't mean that such a commission needs to blame the US for the attacks. Not at all. The blame for the attack falls squarely on Al Queda.

Simply, the President has been focused on the wrong threat. He doesn't want to acknowledge this strategic error and instead commentators are blaming President Clinton. NSC Director Rice was scheduled to give a speech on Sept 11, 2001 that dealt primarily with missile defense. The Administation's focus on missile defense relegated non-state terrorism to the back of the threat assessment. This doesn't mean that the Bush Administration was to blame for 9-11. Those are two different points and for O'Sullivan to conflate the two is disingenuous but considering the audience he serves it's understandable that he offers a partisan attack to be lapped up. As I've pointed out there are already sufficient grounds to fault President Clinton for dereliction of duty on counter-terrorism grounds but they then also apply to President Bush, but here the 8 years to 8 months argument actually benefits President Bush.

The reason I pointed to the Den Beste essay is because I don't think Kerry is going to cut and run from Iraq. From the same strain of argument, I don't think that absent 9-11 that President Bush would have invaded Afghanistan, and I have my doubts that Iraq could have been engineered. It was President Bush who campaigned against foreign adventures and nation building. Similarly, I'm fairly certain that if we had President Gore in the White House that Afghanistan would have been invaded. Also, the June 30th deadline to return sovereignty to Iraq is laden with pitfalls. I'm disappointed that this is a policy designed for US domestic consumption and works to the long-term detriment of US interests. The last thing we need is a failed Iraqi state after expending all of our blood and treasure for a long-game geopolicial gambit.

My argument is with the your analysis of the 8 years vs. 8 months. We're in complete agreement on Grand Strategy, Immigration and Demographics. I don't buy into the point that President Bush is the go-to guy for fighting terrorism for when one looks at his record compared to his rhetoric, he falls short of the billing.

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2004 9:54 AM:

TangoMan,

NSC directors frequently give speeches on single topics even though they consider various other topics to be important. There's a strawman aspect to an argument that uses this speech as a strong piece of evidence.

As for the 100 days after the USS Cole: So then it was the USS Cole attack that made the threat from Al Qaeda clear? If so why did Clinton order the cruise missile strike before that? I don't buy the argument that Clinton could only have reached clarity about Al Qaeda very late in his presidency. I figure he at least should have had 2 years of clarity and probably more. He could have imprived the FBI, improved the CIA, and started a covert action project to funnel money to Masood for a variety of purposes.

I think you are naive to think a commission of this sort can be anything other than a partisan witch hunt by one side or the other.

I agree that Bush falls short. But I do not see the 9-11 Commission contributing to a solution to the problem because I do not see the Democrats on the Comission as A) signing up for a domestic intelligence agency (which Clarke actually supports btw), B) stating that we have to stop Muslim immigration, C) stating that we need real effective border control, D) stating that we have to cut off the oil money flow to the Middle East by obsolescing oil. I could go on. But the point is that most of the deficiencies that I see in Bush's strategy are elements that are deficient in the response from the Left too. I'm up for productive debates and productive examinations of problems. But I see the 9-11 Commission as having very limited benefit because of the assumptions of its panel.

TangoMan said at April 3, 2004 11:48 AM:

As for the 100 days after the USS Cole: So then it was the USS Cole attack that made the threat from Al Qaeda clear? If so why did Clinton order the cruise missile strike before that? I don't buy the argument that Clinton could only have reached clarity about Al Qaeda very late in his presidency. I figure he at least should have had 2 years of clarity and probably more. He could have imprived the FBI, improved the CIA, and started a covert action project to funnel money to Masood for a variety of purposes.

I'm not the one that is saying that Cole made the threat clear, that's O'Sullivan and other critics. The first major exposure America had to Al Queda was the WTC attack in '93. Not knowing any better than was pursued as a law enforcement issue, and Sheikh Rahman and others were caught, prosecuted and incarcerated. That threat was one data point. Next is Khobar Towers is Saudia Arabia which is construed as a failure of Saudia security and is a domestic terrorist attack that caught Americans unawares. Next are the Embassy bombings in '98. These directly target US assets. Now we've got enough data points and intelligence to realize that this isn't a policing matter but a threat directed at the US. This is when Clinton directs Clarke to start his job. New policy initiatives are undertaken. In '99 the Millenium plot is foiled and it becomes apparent that the enemy is bringing the battle to our shores for there are more soft targets available and the fear and disruption will be greater. In 2000, the USS Cole is attacked and by now the threat is clear and well understood. In my reading of this trend data, I'd say that the Embassy bombings are when lights should have gone on that we faced a big threat. The previous attacks are fairly construed as either isolated or attributable to foreign security lapses and the targets were targets of convenience. For President Clinton to have gone gang-busters in his prosecution of the war on terror as Bush did after 9-11 is not political conceivable considering the tenor of the times.

He could have imprived the FBI, improved the CIA, and started a covert action project to funnel money to Masood for a variety of purposes.

Yes, President Clinton can be faulted for these things because the threat was becoming clearer over the tenure of this Presidency. I'd say the threat should have been clear in the last 2 years and he did start acting on it, in fact Clarke's prominence is an outcome of that process. More should have been done but it was probably a factor of limited time to develop policy responses and the need for time in order to affect changes. Look how long it's taken for these Commission hearing to begin - over 2 years. Why should we expect President Clinton to have a fully articulated and implemented counter-terrorism policy in less time?

I think you are naive to think a commission of this sort can be anything other than a partisan witch hunt by one side or the other.

Perhaps, but the public wants to know what happened within our gov't and our political leadership. I think that the commission members are taking a responsible approach and I don't see them acting in a partisan manner. If you have specific instances of egregious behavior of commission members I'd be very interested in seeing references to it and am quite open to changing my opinion on this matter. How the partisan attack dogs of either side conduct themselves shouldn't be grounds for denying a forum for investigation to detail the facts surrounding the tragedy.

As for Clarke's performance: either he is telling the truth, or bald-faced lying or telling the truth from his perspective and he lacks the details on extenuating information. If he honestly believes that the Bush Administration flubbed on governance, what should he do? Time will tell if he can back up what he says or if there is substance to his claims.

A) signing up for a domestic intelligence agency (which Clarke actually supports btw), B) stating that we have to stop Muslim immigration, C) stating that we need real effective border control, D) stating that we have to cut off the oil money flow to the Middle East by obsolescing oil. I could go on. But the point is that most of the deficiencies that I see in Bush's strategy are elements that are deficient in the response from the Left too.

100% in agreement with you. The immigration policy, or lack of it, presupposes the need for bodies in order to keep the SS welfare model afloat. As you yourself have pointed out, many of the immigrants are destined to become members of the receipient class and actually becomes fiscal drains on the treasury. What I find most frustrating is that there seems to be no systemic analysis of the issues you mention. It would be far better to offer significant tax incentives to have well-educated people have children. This would bring children into an environment that favors eduation and good child rearing, decrease the dysfunctions so often correlated with poverty. These children would most likely be the products of their parents assortive mating and inherit many of the qualities that led to the successs of their parents. Lastly these children would be the best equipped to become contributors to society rather than recipients. I could go on, but I'm sure that we're in agreement on these issues.

But I see the 9-11 Commission as having very limited benefit because of the assumptions of its panel.

What are those assumptions?

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2004 1:09 PM:

TangoMan, Back during the Clinton presidency there were people (probably mostly on the Right) who saw the Khobar attack as part of a bigger pattern and not just done by a few loners. If memory serves the Saudis killed the few Saudis implicated in Khobar and that was seen by some (and I was among those some) who saw this as an attempt to cut off evidence trails that led back to Iran or Pakistan and Afghanistan or other places in a larger network. The Clinton Administration was criticised in some quarters for allowing the Saudis to get away with this cover-up.

The tenor of the times: A President plays a big role in setting that tenor. My take on the Clinton Presidency is that the Democrats had to go through 8 years of watching attacks before their world view began to crack. Even today I don't sit there and listen to former Clinton DOJ official Jamie Gorelick on the 9/11 Commission quiz those offering testimony and see signs that they've changed all that much. Early on in the Clinton Presidency there were Clintonites in the White House who wouldn't speak to a person wearing a military uniform. Reno wouldn't let her people talk to the CIA (really, Tenet said so to the Commission). I mean, the mind boggles. What nutters.

You are judging their response from the their own mindset. Well, their mindset as dove Democrats inflicted with a bad case of Vietnamitis and of all the other wrong ideas from the Left is wrong. I judge their response by the mindset of one who is not wed to their ideology. Evidence was hitting them over the head and they were making limited responses that were within the realm of what they considered ideologically acceptable.

The Millenium plot: Yet another reason why it didn't require the USS Cole attack to show there was a larger pattern.

Luke Lea said at April 3, 2004 2:33 PM:

Randall: Thanks for your last comment. It clears up a lot. As for the blaming Bush move by Democrats, my view is simple: if they let much daylight open up between them and Bush on the whole national defense issue, they are going to lose the election. . .

TangoMan said at April 3, 2004 4:49 PM:

You are judging their response from the their own mindset.

Jeez, I hope you're not inferring from my argument that I'm a Leftist defending the brothers and sisters. Your commentary on the nutters is on target. It's just that I never participated with the Right's vilification of Clinton and never thought we was the Devil incarnate, and I don't think Bush is either, however, I don't hold Bush in higher esteem either. I'm waiting for the day when the Hegelian dialetic comes true and a synthesis between the idiotic extremes comes to govern.

I guess you and I won't bridge the divide on the time issue. I think it's unfair to continue to claim that Clinton had 8 years to do something. I think it's more like two years (post Embassy.) I don't think the first data point (WTC attack '93) is sufficient to establish the scope of the threat that Al Queda grew into. I'm trying to judge from the times, rather than with the benefit of hindsight. The Clinton Dove worldview did crack and he did come to recognize the threat should be handled militarily rather than criminally. He got it after the Embassy bombings, before Millenium and before Cole. That however didn't mean an invasion of Afghanistan would have gone over with the electorate. We all know that Clinton was very poll driven, just like Bush (polling in the high 80s upon the invasion of Iraq.) Somalia was added to the Vietnamization Victimization. Bush, upon entering office, downplayed non-state terrorism (Al Queda) even more. 9-11 was the catalyst that allowed Afghanistan to be overthrown. I doubt Bush would have gone in absent the 9-11 attacks because of his campaigning against nation building. If evidence was hitting Clinton over the head until he got it, what the hell happened to Bush to enable him to deemphasize the threat?

Just curious what you think of the other commission members? Is Lee Hamilton a dove nutter? Or Bob Kerrey? (Read the link, LOL, and this one.) Just having a little fun. But seriously, I don't think these guys are Jesse Jackson democrats, rather they're more from the Scoop Jackson mold (look here to see who else was molded.)

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2004 5:38 PM:

TangoMan, No I don't think you are a leftist. But you are being more influenced by what the Democrats saw as reasonable during the 90s because they were in power then and they dominate the media now.

As for the time issue: You were talking 100 days. I certainly don't believe that Clinton had 96 months to respond to Al Qaeda as a fully developed threat. But terrorists blew a hole in a WTC tower in 1993 and plenty of intelligence was flowing into the Clinton Administration about increasing terrorist threats for years. At some point he should have decided to go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban with covert operations. He should have developed stronger counter-terrorism intelligence capabilities in the FBI and CIA. He didn't. He had, realistically speaking, at the very minimum 2 years to see that these improvements in policy were needed.

Here's a new long article from the New York Times on events inside the Bush Administration in 2001 up to Sept 11. People can spin this information either way. I certainly wish the Bushies had moved more quickly. I also do not like the long time-line for their plan against Al Qaeda (at least as reported by the NY Times). But they were willing to seriously entertain courses of action that the Clinton Administratian wouldn't commit to pursuing. Also, note that one problem the Bush Administration was wrestling with in the summer of 2001 was Pakistani commitment to supporting the Taliban. Did the Clinton Administration ever engage the Pakistanis about this seriously? I have yet to read a claim along those lines. It was Pakistani willingness to allow bomber overflights that make it possible to overthrow the Taliban so quickly. But that willingness was only made possible by the shock of the 9/11 attacks.

Part of the problem I see with the way Bush is being judged is that he was essentially hobbled by the Democratic Party's sensibilities about the FBI, CIA, covert ops, foreign policy and all the rest. The wall between law enforcement and intelligence (typified by Reno's restrictions on DOJ CIA contacts) was a product of the Democratic Party's views. Ditto for a lot of other constraints on US policy against terrorism. It is not the Republicans who have the biggest distrust of law enforcement or covert ops. It is the Democrats. The Scoop Jackson Democrats of the sort that would have gone after the Taliban and Al Qaeda with little hesitation got marginalized in the 1970s and some switched to being Republicans.

9/11 shocked a lot of people into a new state of mind. Those people with these new sensibilities are judging basically hawkish right-winger policy makers for not being truer to their natures pre-9/11. Yet the bulk of the opposition to covert ops and open military operations agains the Taliban in the US would have come from the Left pre-9/11 just as it did post-9/11. Imagine the response if John Ashcroft would have argued for breaking down the walls between intelligence and law enforcement pre-9/11. We'd be hearing about the dangers of the fascist police state even more than we do now.

Look, the thrust of my arguments here is not to defend Bush. I don't like where the guy stands on any number of (at least in my view) incredibly important policy issues. But I see a tendency for more of the blame to be put on Bush just because he was president when the attack happened. The attack still would have come if Gore was President or if the Al Qaeda had decided to launch an attack 7 months sooner. The bulk of what was broken about US policy about the terrorist threat was broken before Bush took office.

TangoMan said at April 3, 2004 7:15 PM:

No I don't think you are a leftist. But you are being more influenced by what the Democrats saw as reasonable during the 90s because they were in power then and they dominate the media now.

I'm not influened in my thinking on political matters, but I am influenced on how I think the American public would have reacted to pro-active military measures pre 9-11. As you describe in your response, the Left would have gone ballistic. I think the media bias does influence these opinions and it's on that basis that I think the public wouldn't have stood for an attack against Afghanistan. I recognize the media's role in influencing some people's opinions.

At some point he should have decided to go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban with covert operations. He should have developed stronger counter-terrorism intelligence capabilities in the FBI and CIA. He didn't. He had, realistically speaking, at the very minimum 2 years to see that these improvements in policy were needed.

I think we've reached a meeting of the minds on this point. I agree 100% with the quote. On the positive side, he did elevate Clarke, and Clarke was always gung-ho on proactive measures. Further, Clarke had cabinet level authority and used it. Clinton hobbled Clarke to pretty much a defensive role and policies needing foreign military missions (post Somalia) were met with trepidation. Definite minuses for Clinton.

Bush's focus was off of Al Queda and Clarke, and his position, were demoted in importance. Definite minues for Bush. They had a long range plan for Al Queda, but absent the attacks on 9-11, we don't know how the media influenced public mentioned above would have reacted. So, Bush made definite policy choices that de-emphasized counter-terrorism and made rhetorical pro-active gestures in the long term that we have no idea of how, or if, they would get implemented.

Imagine the response if John Ashcroft would have argued for breaking down the walls between intelligence and law enforcement pre-9/11. We'd be hearing about the dangers of the fascist police state even more than we do now.

Exactly. This is why I'm skeptical of Bush being the go-to guy for the War on Terror. I think no matter who was in the White House, the policy options in response to 9-11 would have been restricted to #1.) invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and destroy Al Queda, and #2.) see #1. The attacks of 9-11 were the catalyst that loosened the reigns. Yes, they were Democratic sensibilities but they inhibited Clinton as much as Bush. I'm not really equipped to look into the deep recesses of both men and guess how they would react to Afghanistan if they weren't hobbled by the Democratic sensibilities.

Look, the thrust of my arguments here is not to defend Bush. I don't like where the guy stands on any number of (at least in my view) incredibly important policy issues. But I see a tendency for more of the blame to be put on Bush just because he was president when the attack happened.

And I'm not here to defend Clinton. He could have done more on counter-terrorism than he did, and he chose not to. However, I don't buy the claims that Bush would have handled the issue, absent 9-11, any better for the evidence disputes that claim.

As for blaming Bush, yes I know the lunatic Left is ready to judge him guilty. There is nothing that Bush could have done to stop the attacks. He could have arrested 2 of the murderers, but there is no guarantee that they would have led to the other 17. A conspiracy, if it is tightly held, is impossible to discover.

The only blame Bush deserves is for de-emphasizing counter-terrorism. For 9-11 he is blameless. The only reason this matters to me is that I find it galling that Bush portrays himself as the toughest on counter-terrorism pre 9-11 despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary.

The bulk of what was broken about US policy about the terrorist threat was broken before Bush took office.

The only positive thing to develop from 9-11 is the wake-up call to the nation that we need to take this seriously and the President and Congress took action on these issues. The War on Terror can't stop. American Muslim non-assimilation is still unaddressed as is the immigration issue. Same with the military subsidy allocated to the Middle East because of our oil dependency, etc. The President obviously doesn't understand the interlinkages and addressing only one part of the problem will simply shift the pressure to the other variables. A solution needs to be found for the foundational issues.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2004 12:18 AM:

As for Clarke's memories of events: See here and here for differing versions of events that Richard Clarke believes he remembers correctly.


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