Saturday, August 4, 2007

Democrats: Stop Being Defensive on Security and Defense, Part 1

The capitulation on the FISA bill is only the latest manifestation of Democrats being ruled by political fear rather than pragmatics and sound policy. This clearly wasn't about fear of terrorism; it was about fear of a political backlash. Beyond the obvious absurdity of being afraid to confront one of the most unpopular "presidents" ever, there is something much more insidiously dangerous at play. This is about a stereotype that has kept Democrats on their political heels for decades: Democrats are weak on defense, soft on national security, the "mommy" party, focused on nurturing and comforting, but not much use when a strong "daddy" is needed. If we're working to shatter such asinine sexual stereotypes, it's time we also shattered this partisan one.

The facts speak for themselves. I've been hammering on this issue for some time, and this is part of the reason why. If Democrats can, as they should, claim the mantle as the party of national security and defense, the Republicans will be without any issue on which to fall back. Beyond that, Democrats will not have to be so reflexively defensive, blustering about their own toughness, while enabling those who want to shred the Constitution and destroy what makes this nation great, supposedly in order to save it.

This will probably be a three-part series, because there is just too much evidence to compile. The three parts will be as follows:

1) The Bush Administration's narrow ideological focus, negligence, and just plain incompetence, enabled the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This is not about Conspiracy Theories, it's about easily demonstrable facts, that are already on record, even in the corporate media. For the purposes of this series, the only thing that matters about Bush and September 11 is that he could have prevented it. For the purposes of this series, it is not about conscious complicity, it is about ineptitude.

2) Bush is undermining our national security from without, by making the United States more hated, around the world, which is emboldening and facilitating terrorists.

3) Bush is undermining our national security from within, by destroying our military.

So, let's begin by looking at the evidence, and reviewing some facts about the Bush Administration's inattention to screaming warnings, before the September 11 attacks. Bush's political strength was built on the media's hyperventilating support, after September 11; but even though they have since reported his failures before September 11, those latter reports have not been sufficiently publicized to overcome that ridiculously inaccurate image they originally helped create.

Right from the start, the Bush Administration was warned of the dangers of terrorism and al Qaeda, and right from the start, they ignored it. As Joe Conason wrote, for
Salon, in August 2003:
Departing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and the National Security Council's counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who was held over by Bush, gave Condoleezza Rice a series of urgent briefings on terrorism during the presidential transition in January 2001. "You're going to spend more time during your four years on terrorism generally and al-Qaida specifically than any issue," Berger told his successor. Clarke delivered similar emphatic briefings to Vice President Cheney and to Stephen Hadley, Rice's deputy. But the supposedly competent national security managers in the new administration, including Rice, Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were too preoccupied with other matters (such as national missile defense) to pay heed to the most serious threat since the end of the Cold War.
As CNN reported, in 2004:
President Bush's former counterterrorism chief (Richard Clarke) testified Wednesday that the administration did not consider terrorism an urgent priority before the September 11, 2001, attacks, despite his repeated warnings about Osama bin Laden's terror network.
In fact, the Administration ended or ignored President Clinton's counterterrorism efforts. From the Associated Press, in June 2003:
Though Predator drones spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times in late 2000, the Bush administration did not fly the unmanned planes over Afghanistan during its first eight months and was still refining a plan to use one armed with missiles to kill the al-Qaida leader when Sept. 11 unfolded, current and former U.S. officials say.
Of course, President Clinton had appointed a commission to study terrorism. Led by former Democratic Senator Gary Hart and former Republican Senator Warren Rudman, the commission made its final report shortly after Bush took office. As Jake Tapper reported, in Salon, the day after September 11:
Bush administration officials told former Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., that they preferred instead to put aside the recommendations issued in the January report by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. Instead, the White House announced in May that it would have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism -- which the bipartisan group had already spent two and a half years studying -- while assigning responsibility for dealing with the issue to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.
As the Washington Post reported, in January 2002:
Bush said that day that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and "I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts." Neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place.
Bush and his top aides had higher priorities – above all, ballistic missile defense.
In April 2001, Judy Woodruff reported,on CNN that the Bush Administration thought it was wrong to even focus on Osama bin Laden:
The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there's no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and "personalizing terrorism."
Because, in the post-Cold War world, nothing could have possibly been more important. And, of course, "missile defense" would have worked wonders in stopping a gang of terrorists armed with boxcutters.

As Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate, in April 2004, that disastrous summer of 2001 had been replete with warnings:
Throughout that summer, we now well know, Tenet, Richard Clarke, and several other officials were running around with their "hair on fire," warning that al-Qaida was about to unleash a monumental attack. On Aug. 6, Bush was given the now-famous President's Daily Brief (by one of Tenet's underlings), warning that this attack might take place "inside the United States." For the previous few years—as Philip Zelikow, the commission's staff director, revealed this morning—the CIA had issued several warnings that terrorists might fly commercial airplanes into buildings or cities.
Even Joe Klein reported on the Administration's incompetence. As he wrote for Time Magazine:
And now, with Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, and subsequent Washington Post reports, we've been reminded that CIA Director George Tenet warned Rice on July 10, 2001, that "the system was blinking red," meaning that there could be "multiple, simultaneous" al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. interests in the coming weeks or months.
And then, of course, there was the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief, which Bush received while on a month-long vacation. CNN has the transcript. The title, alone, should have been enough:
Bin Laden determined to strike in US.
As Ron Suskind wrote, in his book The One Percent Doctrine, Bush's response to that day's CIA briefer was the following:
All right. You've covered your ass, now.
And the ignorance and incompetence continued, literally right up to the day of the attack.

As Newsweek reported:
At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld wanted to revamp the military and push his pet project, NMD. Rumsfeld vetoed a request to divert $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism.
And, according to that January, 2002 Washington Post article:
That threat came Sept. 9.
Not to be outdone, Attorney General John Ashcroft demonstrated his own incompetence, just a day later- a day before the attacks. According to the New York Times:
In his final budget request for the fiscal year 2003 submitted on Sept. 10 to the budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the attorney general called for spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly involved counterterrorism. Upgrading the F.B.I.'s computer system, one of the areas in which he sought an increase, is relevant to combating terrorism, though Mr. Ashcroft did not defend it on that ground.

But in his Sept. 10 submission to the budget office, Mr. Ashcroft did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators.

Mr. Ashcroft proposed cuts in 14 programs. One proposed $65 million cut was for a program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants for equipment, including radios and decontamination suits and training to localities for counterterrorism preparedness.
That 2002 Washington Post article also lists the following facts:

*President Clinton kept submarines and gunships with cruise missile capabilities covertly deployed "on six-hour alert near Afghanistan's borders." Bush did not.

*Despite having twice warned the Taliban that they would be held accountable for any al Qaeda attacks, when Cheney was briefed, on February 9, 2001, that al Qaeda had carried out the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, Bush did nothing.

*In the spring of 2001, CIA officers made a first-hand assessment of Afghan rebel commander Ahmed Shah Massoud's forces, and although they concluded those forces were in worse shape than they had been the previous summer, they only gave Massoud money and small amounts of supplies; they were not authorized to help Massoud's combat capability against the Taliban.

*Bush did not speak to the public about the threat of terrorism, except to promote "missile defense": "At least three times he mentioned "terrorist threats that face us" to explain the need to discard the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty."

*Interagency disputes "left the administration without a position on legislative initiatives to combat money laundering. And until the summer, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill suspended U.S. participation in allied efforts to penetrate offshore banking havens, whose secrecy protects the cash flows of drug traffickers, tax evaders and terrorists."

Add it all up, and there is only one conclusion: we didn't need a police state, we didn't need a "Patriot Act", and we didn't need unfettered domestic spying to prevent the September 11 attacks. We only needed an administration that was paying attention. Instead, we had one that was so dogmatic and ideological that it was obsessed with worthless boondoggle gifts to the military industrial complex- like "missile defense", while all around them sirens were screaming about an impending attack.

Any other administration would have been forced from office, for this alone. It's too late for that to happen for this, but it's not too late for Democrats to begin reframing the now standard presumptions about Bush, Republicans, and national security. The worst terrorist attack in U.S. history happened during a Republican administration. It happened because that Republican administration ignored abundant evidence that it was going to happen. The Republicans are not the party of national security and defense, and it's time for the Democrats to start making that clear. Not by assisting their every abuse of power, but by simply repeating the facts, over and over and over. And by offering a better way.

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