Sunday, September 11, 2011

This Door Does Not Swing Both Ways

Richard Clarke, White House counter-terrorism adviser late in the term of the 42nd President and early in the term of the 43rd President, is an invaluable source on understanding the national security state. Probably no one has given us a better understanding of the effort of the Clinton Administration to fight terrorism, its attempt to convince the incoming Bush Administration of its seriousness, the disinterest of the White House until early September, 2001 in addressing the threat, or the effort of President Bush to pin the attack on Iraq. But in Dana Priest's "Top Secret America" (transcript here, video here) from PBS' Frontline, he made a questionable assertion:

There’s going to be a terrorist strike some day. And when there is, if you’ve reduced the terrorism budget, the other party, whoever the other party is at the time, is going to say that you were responsible for the terrorist strike because you cut back the budget. And so it’s a very, very risky thing to do.

It's all very bipartisan, to suggest that upon a terrorist strike following reduction of the budget for terrorism, "whoever the other party is at the time, is going to say you were responsible."

But it's likely not true, despite the current Administration's reluctance to challenge more than a modicum of "top secret America." President Obama, Priest noted, has "done nothing to roll it back. They’ve done very little to look inside of it, to say what is it that works, what doesn’t work, what do we really need, and in this time of economic hardship, what don’t we need?" Clearly, as the narrator intoned, "the President understood the political realities."

At least in the field of national security and abridgement of political realities, President Obama understands the political opposition. But it is unclear that a Republican president, if a terrorism attack in this country occurred on his watch, would face an opposing party determined to make political hay.

And we don't have to speculate. It already has happened. Here, the liberal Center for American Progress catalogues the effort of the Bush Administration to ignore the threat posed by Al Qaeda, including (what should have been) ample warning of the terrorist group's interest in using an airplane against a major target in the U.S.A. But even CAP (unlike myself and others) is too polite to remind us of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing which opened with

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."

Alerted to this threat by a CIA briefer, President Bush reportedly replied "all right. You've covered your ass now."

CAP did summarize Administration efforts to shield the Saudis from culpability, although additional information has since come to light. Overwhelming evidence pertaining to the miserable record of the early Bush Administration toward terrorism has come in bits and pieces from the American press. Though not unnoticed, it has been nearly ignored. Nor was it made a campaign issue by John Kerry in 2004- or by more than a handful of Democratic politicians in 2002, 2004, or 2006. (Contrast that with snarky suggestions from conservatives that President Obama is turning into Jimmy Carter- over a quarter century since Jimbo last held public office!)

The apathy of President George W. Bush toward the nation's greatest national security threat presented a ripe opportunity for political exploitation by a "liberal media" or by the Democratic Party and was not. Instead, he has received a free pass, another example of how the two major political parties play by a different set of rules.

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