Mickey is endorsing the notion that the public will focus on Bush's response to 9/11 and give him a lot of latitude on his pre-9/11 attitude. I disagree, and have a bit of advice for partisan Dems as to how to advance their case to moderates and puzzled Reps.
My first thought may be the hardest to accept - leave Clinton out of it. This lefty myth-making, that Clinton was on it when faced with a level of intelligence chatter in December 1999 comparable to what Bush and Rice saw in 2001, is not supported by the facts; folks advancing that line appear either ignorant or deceitful.
In any case, Clinton is not the candidate. Attempts to salvage his reputation clash with the facts, distract from the goal of torpedoing Bush, and only persuade the already-converted. Believe me, trying to persuade a Rep that Clinton was effective against terror is like teaching a pig to sing - it is a waste of time, and annoys the pig. Quit annoying me.
That said, when did Republicans accept Clinton as the Gold Standard for the vigourous pursuit of anything other than... oh, never mind. Set aside the precedent set by past Presidents, and ask yourself, what should a responsible leader have done in the summer of 2001 when pondering the intelligence situation at hand?
By several separate measures, the Bush-Rice approach can be criticized as unrealistic:
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys - when did Republicans fall in love with Federal bureaucrats? They have complained for years about a slow, unimaginative, inflexible Federal bureaucracy. That being so, why was it OK in 2001 for Ms. Rice to let the 'crats grind through their hoops in the same old, same old way as they processed the intelligence puzzle?
Save Cruise Control For The Open Road - Ms. Rice described in her testimony a hierarchical management scheme, where she sat with an open door waiting for her subordinates to present the problems needing her or the President's attention. Why would this be appropriate in the first six months of an administration? There had been turnover (Louis Freeh left the FBI in June and was replaced by an acting head; NY FBI Counter-terror chief John O'Neill left in July) and a lot of the new Bush team had not been confirmed. It may have been a bit early to assume that the bureaucracy could be trusted to sift and properly percolate its priorities in the new Bush style. What happened to MBWA, or the "manager as coach"?
CYA With The CIA: From a different perspective, a sensible management strategy involves the minimization of maximum regret. In bureaucratese, the relevant acronym is "CYA", and the key technique is to take the obvious steps that can minimize ghastly embarrassment later. In the context of the heavy summertime intelligence chatter, the CYA method would require Ms. Rice to request a meeting of the heads of the FBI and the CIA. If the meeting wastes their time and nothing happens later, well, she tried, and no harm done; if they strike gold, she is a hero. Not complicated.
UPDATE: Hmm. This is sort of what I am looking for:
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice asked the CIA to brief Attorney General John D. Ashcroft about an "imminent" terrorist attack whose location was unknown.
That is not the same as her sitting down with Tenet and Ashcroft to discuss alternatives, but at least it shows a pulse.
And let's include this:
[Former acting FBI Director] Pickard also said that though President Bush had been warned on August 6, 2001, in an intelligence memo that al Qaeda was "determined" to strike U.S. targets, neither Bush nor Ashcroft asked to meet with him between then and the attacks.
But Pickard said he was unsure whether "pulsing" the FBI -- shaking up field offices to produce information about the threat -- would have turned up those items in time to stop the plot.
Well, I am not sure, either, but I am sure Bush and Rice would have looked a lot more alert if they had requested the effort.