Saturday, March 27, 2004

First (or rather, Frist): if Ole Bill is so irate about Clarke making money off 9/11 via his book, you'd think he'd be having an aneurysm over somebody using it for political gain by, say, basing his entire re-election campaign around it.

Anyway, the erosion of Bush's support in the aftermath of Clarke's testimony has begun. According to the latest Newsweek poll, Bush's approval rating on his "efforts to fight terror and improve homeland security" dropped eight points in the last week.

Big Media now has all weekend to digest that, and will get to watch Condy on 60 Minutes Sunday to boot. Notice how Rice has now gone on every forum Clarke has except the one where she'd be, y'know, under oath and all.

The US News and World Report put it best:

We've seen this movie before. It's Trailer Park Trash, the sequel, starring Richard Clarke. Remember the original? That's the one where Bill Clinton fans started calling Paula Jones names after she dared suggest inappropriate behavior on the part of the then governor. And what about that "stalker" Monica? Wasn't she just another misguided, trashy gal who wouldn't leave the poor, hardworking president alone? Please. This much we've learned: An attack machine in overdrive signals fear.

The administration's blood is in the water, and the pirahna have been fasting for three years now...

Friday, March 26, 2004

Bob Dreyfuss offers the best explanation I've yet seen for Israel's assassination of Ahmed Yassin -- it's part of their effort to undermine and eliminate the PLO.
The tide is starting to turn in Big Media's treatment of Clarke.

This morning's Google News sweep shows that, aside from a lone Krauthammer piece, talk of Clarke's credibility 'problems' have disappeared. Instead the focus is mostly on Rice, and her reluctance to meet the 9/11 commission's demands for her to testify publicly. Interspersed are such headlines as:

Rice's Attacks on Critic Could Backfire on Her -- LA Times

Clarke is angry - - with plenty of reason -- Miami Herald

Clarke out of the loop, but why? -- Indianapolis Star

Democracy's Revenge -- Washington Post

The Wrong Target -- NY Times

If the first opinion polls post-Clarke show any Bush vulnerability, look out.
When a Bush bucket-boy like Pinkerton writes something like:

Clarke's old boss, Rice, for example, is willing to snipe at him in newspaper op-eds and on TV shows, but she is unwilling to testify publicly before the same 9/11 commission.

The White House pleads "executive privilege," but that's a dodge. If the issue is important enough, constitutional nuance ought to give way to the people's right to know. In 1974, for example, the sitting president of the United States, Gerald Ford, testified, under oath, before the House of Representatives about his pardon of Richard Nixon. And ever since then, Ford has enjoyed a deserved reputation as a straight-talker.

And that's the reward for candor in public: not only the immediate respect of one's countrymen, but also the enduring admiration of historians.

For the moment, the Clintonians and Bushites seem to be playing for narrow personal and political advantage.

By contrast, Clarke, warts and all, seems to be thinking about the truth - which means he is thinking about the national interest, as well as the long haul of history.

I think it's time for Condy to slap palms with a Bible...

Thursday, March 25, 2004

It's time for another game of... Spin the Spinner!

Today's contestant is Romesh Ratnesar of Time Magazine. Welcome, Romesh!

Paragraph one of his little screed contains one obvious spin point:

Stephen Hadley, in that same 60 Minutes broadcast said that the White House has found "no evidence" that conversations Clarke claims to have had with President Bush even occurred.

Classic non-denial denial. One point for Romesh! We'd like to give him points for also omitting quotes that would have illustrated the contradictions between what Cheney ("He wasn't in the loop") and Condy ("He was in charge") have said, but our judges have ruled that simply ignoring things does not qualify as 'spin' for our purposes.

Romesh is just getting warmed up, however:

In several cases, the version of events provided by Clarke this week include details and embellishments that do not appear in his new book, Against All Enemies. While the discrepancies do not, on their own, discredit Clarke's larger arguments, they do raise questions about whether Clarke's eagerness to publicize his story and rip the Bush Administration have clouded his memory of the facts.

Ding-ding! Romesh has nicely set a Spin Cycle for his readers here. Let's see how many points he can rack up while making them dizzy! Remember -- he must establish discrepancies between what Clarke has said this week and what is in his book.

Here's how Clarke recounted the meeting on 60 Minutes: "The President dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this'.....the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this.'" After Clarke protested that "there's no connection," Bush came back to him and said "Iraq, Saddam — find out if there's a connection." Clarke says Bush made the point "in a very intimidating way." The next day, interviewed on PBS' The NewsHour, Clarke sexed up the story even more. "What happened was the President, with his finger in my face, saying, 'Iraq, a memo on Iraq and al-Qaeda, a memo on Iraq and the attacks.' Very vigorous, very intimidating." Several interviewers pushed Clarke on this point, asking whether it was all that surprising that the President would want him to investigate all possible perpetrators of the attacks. Clarke responded, "It would have been irresponsible for the president not to come to me and say, Dick, I don't want you to assume it was al-Qaeda. I'd like you to look at every possibility to see if maybe it was al-Qaeda with somebody else, in a very calm way, with all possibilities open. That's not what happened."

Wow, heavy stuff. Now let's have that discrepancy!

How does this square with the account of the same meeting provided in Clarke's book? In that version, Clarke finds the President wandering alone in the Situation Room on Sept. 12, "looking like he wanted something to do." Clarke writes that Bush "grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room" — an impetuous move, perhaps, but hardly the image that Clarke depicted on television, of the President dragging in unwitting staffers by their shirt-collars. The Bush in these pages sounds more ruminative than intimidating: "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way." When Clarke responds by saying that "al-Qaeda did this," Bush says, "I know, I know, but see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred....." Again Clarke protests, after which Bush says "testily," "Look into Iraq, Saddam."

"...hardly the image that Clarke depicted on television, of the President dragging in unwitting staffers by their shirt-collars."? Genius spin, since Clarke depicted nothing of the kind!

Romesh also gets bonus points for "...Clarke finds the President wandering alone in the Situation Room on Sept. 12..." since Clarke, of course, has said that he saw Bush in the situation room complex, not the room itself.

And what, in the end, is the horrible discrepancy? Clarke paraphrases what the president said in a slightly different manner! Ye gods, what a crime! You'd almost think Clarke was having a conversation with his questioners, instead of reading from a script, the way I'm sure Romesh does whatever he repeats some work-related anecdote from his past.

But the next paragraph contains the real winner:

Despite Clarke's contention that Bush wanted proof of Iraqi involvement at any cost, it's just as possible that Bush wanted Clark to find disculpatory evidence in order to discredit the idea peddled by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Baghdad had a hand in 9/11.

Wow! Romesh has managed a spin dizzifier! He offers one of Clarke's central arguments -- that the administration was too focused on Iraq, and not enough on al Qaeda -- as an unsupported-by-any-facts defense of Bush asking for proof that Iraq was involved! That's worth a stunning ten points!

Clarke's liberties with the text don't stop there. On 60 Minutes he said that after submitting to the White House a joint-agency report discounting the possibility of Iraqi complicity in 9/11, the memo "got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer.'" The actual response from Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, shown later in the program, read "Please update and resubmit."

How could Clarke possibly interpret 'Please update and resubmit' as 'Wrong answer'? Three points!

On 60 Minutes, Clarke went further, saying that Bush's deputies never showed the President the joint-agency review, because "I don't think he sees memos that he wouldn't like the answer." This is pure, reckless speculation. Contrast that with the more straightforward account in Against All Enemies: after his team found no evidence of Iraqi involvement, Clarke writes that "a memorandum to that effect was sent up to the President, and there was never any indication that it reached him."

On 60 Minutes, Clarke was reduced to reckless speculation that Bush never saw the memo, whereas in his book he merely points out that there was no evidence that Bush saw the memo. Of course Stephen Hadley said earlier that there was no evidence a conversation took place, and that was good enough for Romesh. And reckless speculation was good enough for Romesh when he was guessing at Bush's reasons for asking about proof of Iraq's involvement. Another three points! Romesh emerges from the Spin Cycle with an impressive score of 17!

While Clarke claims that he is "an independent" not driven by partisan motives, it's hard not to read some passages in his book as anything but shrill broadsides. In his descriptions of Bush aides, he discerns their true ideological beliefs not in their words but in their body language: "As I briefed Rice on al-Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression she had never heard the term before." When the cabinet met to discuss al-Qaeda on Sept. 4, Rumsfeld "looked distracted throughout the session."

In other words, any negative word about any administration official is by definition driven by partisan motives. Romesh would like you to believe that any criticism of the administration cannot possibly be impartial! Two more points!

As for the President, Clarke doesn't even try to read Bush's body language; he just makes the encounters up. "I have a disturbing image of him sitting by a warm White House fireplace drawing a dozen red Xs on the faces of the former al-Qaeda corporate board.....while the new clones of al-Qaeda....are recruiting thousands whose names we will never know, whose faces will never be on President Bush's little charts, not until it is again too late." Clarke conjured up this chilling scene again on 60 Minutes. Only in this version he also manages to read Bush's mind, and "he's thinking that he's got most of them and therefore he's taken care of the problem." The only things missing are the black winged chair and white cat.

How dare Clarke use a literary device in a book! And what's more, preface it by making it clear it's something he imagined in his own head!

No points for Romesh here, according to the judges. This isn't spin; it's just stupid. At least he didn't accuse Clarke of thinking bin Laden has psychic powers.

...these passages reveal the polemical, partisan mean-spiritedness that lies at the heart of Clarke's book, and to an even greater degree, his television appearances flacking it. That's a shame, since many of his contentions — about the years of political and intelligence missteps that led to 9/11, the failure of two Administrations to destroy al-Qaeda and the potentially disastrous consequences of the U.S. invasion of Iraq — deserve a wide and serious airing. From now on, the country would be best served if Clarke lets the facts speak for themselves.

Romesh scores a late point under the 'Pot v Kettle' rule with this one, reinforced as it is with the repeated 'partisan' charge. Indeed, Romesh, let the facts speak for themselves.

Romesh's final tally -- 20 points! An excellent score! We may just be seeing him again in our Tournament of Chumpions at the end of the year...
Daschle has it exactly right. He's given two speeches in three days now (here and here) which rip into the White House for the way they handle whistle-blowers:

"When I watch what the people around the president are trying to do to Richard Clarke, I think it's past time to say that enough is enough. The president came to Washington four years ago promising to change the tone. The people around him have done that: they've changed it for the worse. They are doing things that should never be done and have never been done before.

"What they need to do, what we all need to do, is put politics aside and put the American people and their security first. I know how difficult that is in an election year. But we all, every one of us, need to do exactly that."

If the Dems want to make something of Clarke's testimony, they shouldn't directly criticize Bush about his handling of 9/11 -- they should criticize him for letting his lackeys loose on Clarke, and trying to politicize the work being done by the 9/11 commission. As I said before, Clarke opened up the moral high ground for them; all they have to do is seize it.
Brad DeLong sits down with a big bowl of popcorn to watch a Keystone Cops movie... err, the Pub attack machine.
I'm not sure that this is quite the smoking gun that Hesiod thinks it is, but at the very least it asks some very interesting questions.

And this kind of devious submarining is exactly the tactic Tenet would use to try and get the truth out. Drop a couple of hints, keep his own hands clean, and watch the show from the bleachers...
I wanted to give Clarke's testimony a chance to settle in my head before commenting on it, but still even with all the other remarkable things he said (the shocked silence after his "By invading Iraq the president has greatly undermined the war on terrorism" line, his remarkable destruction of Big Jim Thompson when Thompson challnged his credibility, etc. etc.) it was his opening apology that continues to play in my head.

The political tone of the Bush administration has been one of complete partisan polarization. Everything, to the Bush mob, is about politics; which means every criticism of them, in their minds, is a political attack. That back and forth has dragged political discourse into the mud; the early negative ads this campaign aren't exceptional, there were an inevitability.

And with a few simple words Clarke opened up the space to change that. His heartfelt statement didn't just give him the moral high ground to face his the Pub attack dogs; it created a moral high ground that the Bushies thought they had eliminated. It blasted through all the rancorous partisan bickering and returned the focus to where it should have been all along -- 9/11, and how to make sure something like it never happens again.

In short, Clarke's statement gave the country a chance to start moving forward again, gave us a chance to start truly healing.

Of course Big Media doesn't get this, not yet. Check Google News -- most of the stories are about how much damage this does to Bush, or about how Bush (with Condy Rice taking point) are counter-attacking.

None of these people matter. I do not, at this moment, give a flying fuck about Rice or Bush or Rummy or, God bless him, even Clarke, and I especially don't give a flying fuck who is scoring points off who. What this commission should be about, what Clarke made clear with his opening statement, is that this moment should be about what happened that awful day, what didn't happen in the months leading up to it that might have given us a chance to prevent it, and what has happened since to ensure it never happens again.

And the more the Bush mob tries to make it about their re-election, the more they are going to get sucked down into a tar pit of their own creation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

World Trade Center widows dissect Rummy's testimony.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Kerrey is ripping Rummy apart.

After pointing out the inconsistency of Rummy saying that the administration would have proceeded with the same response absent 9/11 even though the response wouldn't have been politically viable absent 9/11, he then wonders how, if al Qaeda was such a priority, it took so long to formulate a military response to them pre-9/11, and why in fact there seems to be no record of Condy even asking DoD for a military response.

This has not been one of Rummy's finest hours so far.
Rummy made a mis-step.

In his statement to the 9/11 committee he relates the story of his (second) Senate confirmation hearing as Secretary of Defense, and of him thinking back to Cheney's own confirmation hearing for the same post in 1989 and how although no one mentioned Iraq during that hearing, soon enough it was everyone's focus.

(paraphrase) "I wondered what name, that no one was using during my hearing, would soon be on everyone's lips. Three months later we had the answer -- Afghanistan, and al Qaeda."

Doesn't this just confirm Clarke's account of being ignored? If Rumsfeld wasn't aware until April 2001 that al Qaeda was a looming threat, then somehow all those warnings passed on by the Clinton administration stressing how al Qaeda should be a top priority just didn't sink in to Rummy.

Incidentally, as much as the Bush team tries to claim that al Qaeda and terrorism were among their top priorities, read the text of Rummy's statement to his 2001 confirmation hearing. He mentions the word terrorism twice -- and both times, it's in the context of a WMD attack via missile, and the implicit need for missile defense:

Second, we must develop the capabilities to defend against missiles, terrorism, and newer threats against our space assets and information systems. The American people, our forces abroad, and our friends and allies must be protected against the threats with which modern technology and its proliferation confront us;

In a world of smaller, but in some respects more deadly threats, the ability to defend ourselves and our friends against attacks by missiles and other terror weapons can strengthen deterrence and provide an important compliment purely to retaliatory capabilities. Moreover, the ability to protect our forces is essential to preserving our freedom to act in a crisis. To this end, effective missile defense_not only homeland defense, but also the ability to defend U.S. forces abroad and our allies and friends, must be achieved in the most cost-effective manner that modern technology offers.

Neither time does he mention terrorism in the context of al Qaeda, of the attack on the USS Cole or the embassy bombings. It is not mentioned at all as one of the three priorities of the armed forces under Bush, nor one of the five objectives for the DoD under Rummy.

Not mentioned at all.
Wolf Blitzer, of all people, made a decent (if obvious) point on Tuesday's public 9/11 hearings -- the questioning of Albright and Powell devolved into base partisan politics, with the Dems tossing softballs to Madeline and grilling Colin, and the Pubs doing the inverse. The same thing will likely happen this afternoon with Cohen and Rummy.

What Wolf doesn't bother to follow up with, of course, is what the commission will do tomorrow when Clarke lays into both the Clinton and Bush administrations. At that point the charge that Clarke is simply being partisan will evaporate, along with the contradictory 'he was out of the loop' (Cheney) and 'he was in charge on 9/11, it's his fault' (Rice) idiocy.

And that will leave the Pubs with exactly zero defenses against Clarke. He's credible, he's knowledgable, he's apolitical, and he has plenty of corraborative evidence supporting his case.

Incidentally, some of the strongest blows Powell took had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with Condy's refusal to testify in public. One of the barbs actually drew an ovation from the room.
Tim Dunlop does some heavy lifting on Clarke's book and the pre-9/11 scene in the White House here and here.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Just so we're clear here, this is Scotty Mac's defense of the administration's pre-9/11 record on terrorism:

Q Let me just clarify one thing. When did the administration begin its work on the comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: We began very early on. I think it was actually the NSC deputies had met -- they met frequently between March and September of 2001 to decide and talk about many of the complex issues that were involved in the development of that strategy. And contrary to his assertion that he wasn't able to brief senior officials until late April, the first deputy level's meeting on al Qaeda was held on March 7th. And that's -- and Dick Clarke was the one who conducted the briefing. And the deputies agreed that the national security policy directive should be prepared at that point. And it was just less than six months later when the strategy was ready to go, on September 4th.

So under Clinton, Clarke had a Cabinet-level position and briefed the Cabinet directly.

Under Li'l Bushie, Clarke was given one meeting with the deputy department heads, who then took almost six months to formulate their response -- all while the intelligence community was reporting an activity spike, and an imminent attack.

Yeah, I can't imagine why Clarke would think they weren't serious about terrorism...
Kos lists, via the CAP, more holes in the White House's defense against Clarke.
Atrios reports that the WSJ finally catches up on the White House's 9/11 fudges.

This is starting to look like a very, very bad week for the White House. Keep in mind Clarke's book just came out today, so you'd have to think more choice quotes will be hitting the media over the next couple of days (above and beyond his 60 Minutes interview), not to mention his 9/11 commission testimony on Wednesday could offer some more painfully accurate sound bites.
Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress also offers documentation that supports Clarke's 'terrorism was not a White House priority pre-9/11' view -- although, to be fair, the White House can claim that the changes in the DoJ were part of their 'terrorism is a military problem, not a law enforcement problem' policy. Of course that policy doesn't necessarily require cutting anti-terrorism budgets in the DoJ, just increasing them elsewhere...
Here's a little something you aren't likely to see in the US media any time soon.
Randi Rhodes (soon to be heard daily on Air America) is on CNN right now decimating the right-wing party line on Richard Clarke's accusations -- trotting out the statements of FBI agent after FBI agent who have said on the record they got no support in their efforts to pursue al Qaeda leads.

Not that it should require much dismissing. Condy's been doing the talk show circuit saying, in essense, "Clarke was focused on an international threat but had no plan for protecting us at home, which is what we were concerned about. All he wanted was more meetings."

But as Clarke made clear on 60 Minutes, daily meetings -- what he called 'going to battle stations', and keeping the pressure on the various intelligence departments -- helped foil a plot to bomb LA International Airport in 1999. So not only did he have a strategy to handle domestic terrorism, it was a strategy that had been proven to work.

Maybe Rice, and the White House, have a point when they claim Clarke wasn't focused on eliminating al Qaeda and they were. Maybe. But in the summer of 2001, when they had warnings of an (pardon the expression) imminent threat, long-range planning should have been put on the back burner. The first goal should have been doing everything possible to stop the immediate threat.

The White House chose not to. A proven option -- battle stations -- was available to them, and they chose not to use it.

No amount of spin and smear can change those facts. They admit to them -- Condy said, on camera, that she "didn't think another meeting was necessary".

Good thing she wasn't making those decisions in 1999, isn't it?

As for Dan Bartlett's idiotic claims that the timing of Clarke's revelations is politically motivated... the timing coincides with his 9/11 commission testimony and his book release, which is timed to coincide with the free publicity surrounding his 9/11 commission testimony.

So if Bartlett wants to blame anyone for the timing, he doesn't have far to walk to find the culprits.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Sully keeps teasing a defection, but some habits are just hard to break.

Here he makes a tenuous, weak-ass Kerry joke when linking to this story in the Onion...

...while completely ignoring this story about Rummy in the same issue which, dammit, is just plain funnier than the other one.

"Who can deny that conflict is a purifying flame which sears away cowardice, hesitation, sentiment—all that which is unworthy in Man?" Rumsfeld said, stroking his albino cheetah. "And my fighting arena is the crucible which concentrates that fire into the refined white heat of invincibility. The victor of my Eagle Fist Tournament shall be, by nature and definition, unsurpassed in the ways of the warrior. Such a fighter is fit to be the instrument of Rumsfeld."

First: read this Rummy memo from February 2001. Notice the distinct absence of 'al Qaeda' or 'terrorism' or other such concepts.

Next: make sure to watch the interview with Richard Clarke tonight on 60 Minutes.

You can argue whether the Clinton strategy for dealing with al Qaeda was effective. But at least they had a strategy. Despite repeated, vehement warnings, the Bush administration ignored the threat they posed until September 12, 2001 -- and even then, their immediate, knee-jerk response was, "Let's go get Iraq!"

This administration failed the American people in those first critical months, and as a result 3000 people died.

Since then, this administration has ignored that failure, and the people whose negligence led to the tragedy still have their jobs.

Next time Big Media peddles the 'Kerry is soft on defense' meme, just keep that in mind.

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