July 23, 2004

BERGER UPDATE: DRUDGE is flashing a New York Sun item on Sandy Berger. The bottom line:

“In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted,” the report says, citing a May 1, 1998, Central Intelligence Agency memo summarizing the weekly meeting between Messrs. Berger and Tenet.

In June of 1999, another plan for action against Mr. bin Laden was on the table. The potential target was a Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan known as Tarnak Farms. The commission report released yesterday cites Mr. Berger’s “handwritten notes on the meeting paper” referring to “the presence of 7 to 11 families in the Tarnak Farms facility, which could mean 60-65 casualties.”According to the Berger notes, “if he responds, we’re blamed.”

On December 4, 1999, the National Security Council’s counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, sent Mr. Berger a memo suggesting a strike in the last week of 1999 against Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Reports the commission: “In the margin next to Clarke’s suggestion to attack Al Qaeda facilities in the week before January 1, 2000, Berger wrote, ‘no.’ ”

In August of 2000, Mr. Berger was presented with another possible plan for attacking Mr. bin Laden.This time, the plan would be based on aerial surveillance from a “Predator” drone. Reports the commission: “In the memo’s margin,Berger wrote that before considering action, ‘I will want more than verified location: we will need, at least, data on pattern of movements to provide some assurance he will remain in place.’ ”

In other words, according to the commission report, Mr. Berger was presented with plans to take action against the threat of Al Qaeda four separate times — Spring 1998, June 1999, December 1999, and August 2000. Each time, Mr. Berger was an obstacle to action. Had he been a little less reluctant to act, a little more open to taking pre-emptive action, maybe the 2,973 killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks would be alive today.

It really doesn’t matter now what was in the documents from the National Archives that Mr. Berger says he inadvertently misplaced. The evidence in the commission’s report yesterday is more than enough to embarrass him thoroughly.

(Emphasis added.) Ouch. The Sun is right to stress that this doesn’t make Berger responsible for the 9/11 attacks, of course. But it does suggest that he was the wrong man to hold the job he held under Clinton, and that he was a poor choice as senior foreign policy adviser for the Kerry campaign. As Martin Peretz said, “He clearly still has McGovernite politics, which means, in my mind, at least, that he believes there is no international dispute that can’t be solved by the U.S. walking away from it.”

I hope John Kerry doesn’t share those instincts, which proved tragically wrong in this case. But then why did he choose Berger as an advisor?

UPDATE: Especially with this track record, which I had forgotten about until a reader sent me this BBC story from 1999, found via Newsfeed:

President Clinton has defended his National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, against demands for him to resign over the alleged theft by China of US nuclear secrets.

Eighty opposition Republicans earlier wrote to Mr Clinton saying they wanted Mr Berger to resign.

“Mr Berger has failed in his responsibility as this nation’s national security advisor by not properly informing you of the most serious espionage ever committed against the United States,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

They said he knew of concerns about Chinese espionage, but delayed taking action.

What is it with this guy and secrets? And delays in taking action, or telling his boss?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Kerry supporter Brendan Loy has thoughts: “I have to admit, at first blush, this (if true) gives even me pause about Kerry’s choice of advisers. After all, if you want to judge a man, one thing you need to do is look at the type of people he surrounds himself with.”

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