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April 13, 2004

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Brad DeLong

It is remarkable. The only way I can understand it is that neither Condi Rice (nor, on the economic policy side, Larry Lindsey, for lower stakes) had a frigging clue about what the job of Assistant to the President for X entails. This was Paul O'Neill's big complaint to Richard Cheney--and what he asked Cheney for backup on, without success...

TM

Well, then, I won't try to sell you a "Condi FOr VP!" button, formerly available at A Sullivan's website.

I raced through the transcript of her testimony, and no one seemed to hound her on the question of why she was so confident that the FBI was humming like a Swiss watch. And the Commission members had to know what was coming out this week, so it is sort of odd that Ben Veniste missed this line of attack.

Well, one more reason to wonder about Ashcroft. For those of us still wondering, that is.

Or, we will have a good couple of weeks in Iraq, the economy will continue to perk up, and this question of managerial non-feasance will all be an historical footnote.

Jeff

I think you're exactly right on all counts. I've mentioned that the problem with WH credibility doesn't have to do with the failure to foresee 9/11--no one really expected it. Rather, it's the obfuscations, dubious claims, and secrecy the WH has offered that have caused them problems. Yesterday I discussed this on my blog--the news cycles were alive with Clarke for one week, but subsequent weeks have been devoted to the dubious claims the WH has made in trying to refute Clarke.

The Clinton business is curious. I don't actually know many Dems who care to defend Clinton on this, but his name continues to arise. Based on the testimony I've seen, folks mainly say, the US was piss-poor leading up to 9/11, though it's possible the Clinton administration was slightly less so.

Cecil Turner

ISTM Mr O'Neill was equally confused about his job description, and probably isn't a good example.

The better pro-Administration argument, IMO, is that they were aiming for a real solution. Unfortunately, that solution required the destruction of Al Qaeda, and that process required a clandestine war against the Taliban. All of which takes time.

The problem with the attack Dem approach ignoring Clinton is that as usual they have no credible alternative to offer, even in hindsight. Clarke doesn't think his "delenda" proposal would have stopped 9/11, and based on the rest of Kerry's foreign policy statements, it's likely he'd have been even less energetic.

In order to make significant political hay on this issue, Dems need to point to a credible alternative that might have stopped 9/11. So far they've got a plan to lob a couple more missiles into Afghanistan--and the public isn't buying it.

TM

Jeff first: I don't actually know many Dems who care to defend Clinton on this, but his name continues to arise.

Richard Clarke made headlines with his assertion that terror was Clinton's number one priority (none higher), and Reps have been belaboring him ever since. My guess is that he would have preserved a lot more credibility if he had just focussed on his problems with Bush.

And when I disagree with both M Kaus and C Turner, I know it's going to be a long day, but here goes - fighting terror had to be a two track approach. Going after the Taliban in Afghanistan was playing offense (a good long term approach, and we approve).

However, Bush still had to play defense - it would take no time in office to realize the FBI was a misdirected mess. Condi Rice racing about for short term patches would have looked good, ex post, and might even have worked.

Dems need to point to a credible alternative that might have stopped 9/11

I can waver on how much hay is available here. An attack whose theme is "a blind man could have seen that Clinton had utterly failed to re-direct the FBI" might be accurate, but too painful for Dems to pursue.

Of course, pitched as "Clinton knew there were problems, that's why Clarke staged fire drills" falters on my ringing denunciation of the high threshold Clarke climbed prior to the first Principals Meeting on the Millenium plots.

If the Dems can only elect Kerry by pummeling Clinton... hmm, I'm smiling again! AND, I can join in!

bushgirlsgonewild

Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has said that Attorney General John Ashcroft told him in the summer of 2001 that “he did not want to hear” additional information about possible attacks.

When Pickard continued anyway, Ashcroft covered his ears and said, “lalalalalala”, for approximately five minutes.

After which, he closed his eyes and told those in the Bush administration that the terrorists could not hurt them or see them if they prayed with all their might and closed their eyes real tight.

So they did.

Patrick R. Sullivan

"no one seemed to hound her on the question of why she was so confident that the FBI was humming like a Swiss watch."

Careful, you're beginning to sound like Bruce Moomaw. Who keeps making charges like that at Semi Daily Journal, and then proceeds to punt when I ask him just what specifically she could have done. Ethnic profiling at airline ticket counters was officially ruled out by the FAA in Clinton's second term.

It was the shaking knees at the U.S.-Canadian border, not the shaking of trees by Richard Clarke that stopped 12-31-99. As Janet Reno a few hours ago confirmed, to the discomfort of Congressman Roemer.

Cecil Turner

"However, Bush still had to play defense - it would take no time in office to realize the FBI was a misdirected mess."

No argument here. But I hope you're not suggesting he might have been able to fix the FBI in eight months . . .

And all this talk about the effect of Principals' Meetings seems to ignore the fact the various agencies were at maximum alert for much of the summer. Perhaps instead of Dr Rice we needed Dean Wormer. (He could've gotten the FBI to go to "double secret maximum alert.") It might have worked out better--but probably not.

TM

He could've gotten the FBI to go to "double secret maximum alert."

See, now you are thinking like a proper bureaucrat (and that is a good thing!). Ms. Rice has a couple of jobs - protect the country, and protect the President. If she schedules a BS meeting that produces nothing, she can at least point to it later as proof that the President was on this like Clinton on an intern.

That is the percentage play even if you are sure the meeting is BS; given the many problems with the FBI, it might actually have been useful.

Questions that might have been asked at the meeting, for example - "70 investigations are underway - how many have been updated recently, and who can my man Richard Clarke contact on each one to ascertain its current status?"

bushgirlsgonewild

I was hoping to hear ASScroft asked about this:

Before the attacks, Ashcroft once testified that the Justice Department “had no higher priority” than preventing domestic terrorism, but the commission staff statement quoted a former FBI counterterrorism chief, Dale Watson, as saying he “almost fell out of his chair” when he saw a May 10, 2001, budget memo from Ashcroft listing seven priorities, including illegal drugs and gun violence, but not terrorism.

And, WHY did you stop flying a month before 9/11?

Cecil Turner

"Questions that might have been asked at the meeting, for example - '70 investigations are underway - how many have been updated recently, and who can my man Richard Clarke contact on each one to ascertain its current status?'"

The Aug 6 PDB paper was in response to one of the President's questions in an earlier brief (when among the many references to Bin Laden's intentions, there was a mention of a possibility of a domestic attack). When very senior leaders ask questions of subordinates, it tends to focus their staff. If they micromanage, staffers waste a lot of valuable time preparing briefings. He'd already indicated the domestic attack aspect was important with the question--anything more was likely to be counterproductive.

IMHO, an appropriate presidential question at such a meeting would be something like: "Do you need anything? Money, people . . . anything?" Updating investigations might be appropriate at the FBI director level (but probably lower), and Clarke had plenty of authority to ask for the contact info. If those men couldn't handle it, they should be replaced. But they certainly shouldn't be waiting for guidance from the President on how to conduct anti-terror investigations.

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