April 8, 2004

PORPHYROGENITUS has a big roundup post on Condi’s testimony and related war issues. Meanwhile here’s a link to Rice’s opening statement. It’s interesting reading, but this bit certainly seems to undercut Richard Clarke’s claims:

We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al-Qaida terrorist network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was “tired of swatting flies.”

This new strategy was developed over the Spring and Summer of 2001, and was approved by the President’s senior national security officials on September 4. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush Administration — not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaida.

When coupled with Sandy Berger’s statement that “there was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect,” this would seem to undercut the claim that Clinton focused like a laser beam on terrorism while Bush was distracted with other pet projects. In fact, nobody was really paying enough attention, as Rice notes:

The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late. Despite the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and continued German harassment of American shipping, the United States did not enter the First World War until two years later. Despite Nazi Germany’s repeated violations of the Versailles Treaty and its string of provocations throughout the mid-1930s, the Western democracies did not take action until 1939. The U.S. Government did not act against the growing threat from Imperial Japan until the threat became all too evident at Pearl Harbor. And, tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on a war footing.

Since then, America has been at war. And under President Bush’s leadership, we will remain at war until the terrorist threat to our Nation is ended. The world has changed so much that it is hard to remember what our lives were like before that day.

Of course many people — including some of those faulting the Bush Administration here — are still having trouble admitting that we’re at war now, and acting accordingly.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

I watched the whole thing today, and if Dr Rice didn’t refute nearly everything Dick Clarke said, I was clearly asleep for 3 hours. A few thoughts:

1. My respect for Bob Kerrey has evaporated. I felt like Kerrey was an honorable guy, seemed to be honest during his shot at the nomination way back when, medal of honor winner, all that. But today, he proved himself just another partisan jackass, seeking to score points for his party rather than getting to the bottom of how we let 9-11 happen.

2. Speaking of which, I’m sick and tired of hearing about how this was an “intelligence failure.” (fair warning: I’m an intelligence professional) We deal with a deluge of information every day, and sorting through all the chatter is a herculean task, often performed in anonymity. What the American public never hears about are the intelligence successes – there are no commissions seeking the answers to how intelligence helped win the Cold War, for example. We are the government’s whipping boy, and many of my colleagues have expressed their belief that we’re going to be raked over the coals again for 9-11, despite the fact that Congress hamstrung us with budget cuts and tied our hands over who we could and could not seek information from.

Rice’s response to Bob Kerrey (transcript — scroll down) is amusing:

KERREY: Why didn’t we swat that fly?

RICE: I believe that there’s a question of whether or not you respond in a tactical sense or whether you respond in a strategic sense; whether or not you decide that you’re going to respond to every attack with minimal use of military force and go after every — on a kind of tit-for-tat basis.

By the way, in that memo, Dick Clarke talks about not doing this tit-for-tat, doing this on the time of our choosing.

RICE: I’m aware, Mr. Kerrey, of a speech that you gave at that time that said that perhaps the best thing that we could do to respond to the Cole and to the memories was to do something about the threat of Saddam Hussein.

That’s a strategic view…

(APPLAUSE)

And we took a strategic view. We didn’t take a tactical view. I mean, it was really — quite frankly, I was blown away when I read the speech, because it’s a brilliant speech. It talks about really…

(LAUGHTER)

… an asymmetric…

KERREY: I presume you read it in the last few days?

RICE: Oh no, I read it quite a bit before that. It’s an asymmetric approach.

Ouch. I think this exchange was rather asymmetric as well. . . (Emphasis added.)

UPDATE: Reader Barry Johnson emails:

Has there been any discussion regarding three hours of Bush-defending testimony on CNN – by a black woman?

This morning, the face of the Bush administration was not old, was not male, and was not white.

Yes. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the testimony and heard only a short snatch of it on the way in to work.

And speaking of intelligence professionals, reader Lou Gerstman recommends this article on structural problems with U.S. intelligence. Meanwhile reader Don Greene emails:

Bob Kerrey’s performance today, as a 9/11 Committee member,
looked to me like a not-so-subtle signal of his desire to
become John Kerry’s running mate.

So far, Bob Kerrey has been one of the few voices of integrity within the Democratic Party. Today, he was just another shill for the Democrats. Has he been talking with John?

A bunch of people have said this. A Kerry/Kerrey ticket seems unlikely on phonological grounds alone, and if Bob Kerrey wants to be VP it’s news to me. But as I say, a lot of people seem to have gotten that impression, and maybe I’ve missed something. Jeff Jarvis joins the Kerrey-looked-bad chorus, and has some constructive observations. Finally, Rice gets mixed reviews over at Begging to Differ. Josh Claybourn thinks the Commission is unrealistic. And the last word belongs to Brock Cusick:

Your reader referred to Bob Kerrey as a political jackass, and I got the same impression, but I think its an evil we must live with. Free & fair hearings don’t seem to be an option for running a government. Between oversight by partisan jackasses (e.g., the 9/11 Hearings; the Starr Chamber) and no oversight at all (UN Oil-for-Food), I will choose partisan oversight every time.

Excellent point.

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