Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH'S SECRET PLAN....Why didn't the Bush administration pay more attention to Richard Clarke and his dire warnings of the terrorist threat before 9/11? The answer seems pretty simple to me: most people before 9/11 thought of terrorism as simply one among many foreign policy problems. There wasn't really any compelling reason to develop a crash program to deal with it.

That's good enough for me, but because the Bush administration and its supporters apparently don't consider that a politically tenable answer they are instead insisting on one that even a five year old would have trouble believing: not only did they take terrorism seriously before 9/11, they took it far more seriously than anyone had before. For example, here is Macallan over at Tacitus:

If one assumes that the Bush Administration was taken by surprise or didn't take the Islamist threat seriously prior to 9-11, so much of what Mr. Clarke says makes sense. However, if one assumes that the Bush Administration came into office determined to stop making the same shortsighted miscalculations of the prior 50 years and to actively shuffle the deck; Clarke's observations are all trees no forest. Clarke thinks it's shameful that he wasn't listened to, while I'm grateful that he wasn't. He wants to go after Al Qaeda more intently, while I'd rather go after the basis for why Al Qaeda exists in the first place while we're at it. Clarke sees tumors, I see cancer.

And here is Dick Cheney making the point more directly on Rush Limbaugh's show this morning:

Well, he wasn't he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff....For example, just three weeks after the after we got here, there was communication, for example, with the President of Pakistan, laying out our concerns about Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and the importance of going after the Taliban and getting them to end their support for the al Qaeda. This was, say, within three weeks of our arrival here.

Look, every bit of evidence indicates that the Bush foreign policy team didn't see foreign terrorism as a top priority before 9/11. What's more, it's hardly plausible that the administration's top counterterrorism guy was "out of the loop" on what was supposedly the administration's biggest counterterrorism initiative. And given his background and his known intensity toward fighting terrorism, it's also unlikely to the point of lunacy to think that if the Bushies had been planning a bigger and far more extensive anti-terrorism program than Clinton's no more "swatting flies"! that Clarke would have opposed it. He probably would have been dancing in the streets.

But the Bush apologists can't be happy with simply suggesting that maybe Clarke misinterpreted what he heard, and in any case 9/11 was a wakeup call for all of us, wasn't it? That would be too subtle, too honest, too nuanced for them. Instead, they have to open up the throttle all the way and insist against all evidence that in reality they were working on the mother of all counterterrorism plans before 9/11 but their chief counterterrorism guy wasn't in the loop.

It's really a pretty pathetic performance. The only thing they know how to do is attack and then attack even harder, and look where it gets them: a pile of federal investigations and stories that are spun so ludicrously that even their supporters are probably having trouble swallowing them. You'd think they'd learn eventually.

Kevin Drum 8:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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