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Monday, April 12, 2004
The Most Basic Point/Looking for Reasonable Dialog

By Steven Taylor @ 1:51 pm

My main problem, starting mostly with the Clarke testimony and following up through this weekend with the PDB debate is that critics expect that the administration should have have picked up on clues and drawn conclusions regarding that which would become 911 when the previous administration didn’t either (And, please, don’t play the Millennium attack card, as that represents a specific, actionable date-comparing that to vague warnings is a true apples-to-oranges comparison). In other words, it Bush’s response to the August 6, 2001 PDB enraged you, then if you are going to be consistent, you need to send some rage in the direction of the previous administration, so to speak. I agree that there were substantial failures under the watch of both administrations regarding terrorism. Although, as I have noted, I am not surprised at the government’s failure, as some seem to be. To pretend that the problem of terrorism, or that the 911 planning, started in January of 2001 is ludicrious.

But to reiterate: if the criticism of Bush is that he should have figured out the al Qaeda plot, then then I want to know why Clinton isn’t equally culpable. If the criticism are truly more than a simply partisan attack, explain to me why Clinton isn’t getting his share of attack.

As I have stated before, I subscribe to the idea that it took a massive event, like 911, to alter the mentalities of both the public, but also the vast majority of public officials, to think differently about the threat of terrorism. I am not saying that that fact is a good thing, nor am I arguing that I am glad that that is case. Nonetheless, I see it as a fact. It is clear that, with a few exceptions, terrorism was not on the front-burner in American politics or security policy. Indeed, the focus for national security threats was focused primarily on “rogue nations” (hence, the discussion of missile defense). The evidence is clear: if either party has been intensely interested in al Qaeda specifically, or terrorism in general, it would have been an issue in 2000 presidential campaign. Yet, it wasn’t.

To argue that Bush dropped the ball assumes that Clinton actually handed one off.

Mostly I judge the last two presidents vis-a-vis anti-terrorism policy based on how they responded to actual attacks. In this regard, President Clinton’s record is woeful (e.g., the lack of responses to the 1993 WTC bombing, the Khobar Towers attack, the Cole attack and so forth). On the other hand, I have been largely (although by no means perfectly) pleased with President Bush’s response to 911. And I fully understand that many disagree with me on this point.

However, what I would like to see in the public discourse:

1) I would like to see Kerry tell us what he plans to do about terrorism, aside from saying he is going to acquire more foreign help-which is far too vague for my tastes.


2) I would like to see logically consistent critiques across administrations on the issue of anti-terror policy.

Ok, my early afternoon pipe dream is over and I have a textbook to review…

UPDATE: This is my entry in OTB’s Beltway Traffic Jam.

  • Arguing with signposts… linked with Caffeine symptoms

Click here to go to the main page.


  1. Clinton is not running for reelection! Bush is the one asking for a contract extension therefore is FAIR that we, the AMERICAN PEOPLE, question his ability to protect us. What good would it do us to determine whether or not Clinton can do the job? His time is past. The attention should be on Bush and Kerry. And since Bush is the one in office we should focus on what he did to prevent the attack and fairly so. This is so obvious I don’t understand how you can miss it. If you want to know if the Marlins have a chance to win the World Series this year you don’t focus your analysis on the players they had last year. Right???

    Comment by Matos — Monday, April 12, 2004 @ 2:32 pm

  2. I think it’s important that we look at how we got to 9/11, and a huge part of that is the Clinton administration’s attitudes. The Clinton approach, throughout his administration, was that the US no longer needed to worry about defense because the Cold War was over. Anyone who said, for instance, that we really shouldn’t be giving so much military and dual-use technology to China, particularly since they in turn shared it with all of the countries on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (plus the Taliban), was ridiculed for having an obsolete Cold War mentality. Anyone arguing that the US needed to fund the military, fund intelligence, and pay attention to who got military technology clearly “just doesn’t get it".

    After Sept. 11, I thought that our country would look more broadly at all of the potential threats facing us, but we haven’t. We’re as much asleep as ever regarding everthing except Islamic extremists (are they really the only ones on the planet that might dislike us or be jealous of our lifestyles?). The 9/11 commission hearings aren’t focused on why we don’t do a better job in all aspects. It’s obsessed with why, before 9/11, we weren’t ignoring everything except Al Qaeda. We were idiots to pay attention to North Korea and China and various other potential conflicts. Anyone who cared about anything other than Al Qaeda “just doesn’t get it".

    In other words, the lesson from 9/11 is that everyone should always be focused on one and only one narrow problem, which should be dealt with urgently while all other problems are ignored. Bush should have put all his energy into Al Qaeda, while ignoring North Korea, Iran, the Iraqi Oil For Food Program and the Chinese surveillance plane problem.

    By the way, Scrappleface has a great post:
    “Bush Failed to Stop al Qaeda During Clinton Years”

    Comment by Ann — Monday, April 12, 2004 @ 4:22 pm

  3. I think the central fallacy the critics make is that the US was safe from attack on Sept. 10. because there was no attack on Sept. 10th. Or Aug. 6th or July 23rd. Face it, once the “pilots” finished their training and the nineteen arrived in this country, there wasn’t alot the administration could do. At that point, our national security was in the hands of the $6/hour slobs who provided airport security…

    Comment by moghedien — Monday, April 12, 2004 @ 5:39 pm

  4. “if the criticism of Bush is that he should have figured out the al Qaeda plot, then then I want to know why Clinton isn’t equally culpable.”

    Because there was a huge spike in troublesome intelligence in late spring and summer of 2001. I wouldn’t say that Bush should have figured it out, but he certainly could have been raising more of an alarm over the spike. That might (might!) have led to disruption of the attack, e.g. if the Phoenix memo had gotten to Washington there might have been louder warnings to the FAA and Dept. of Transportation.

    However, like Steven i am more interested in the future than the past. If the U.S. is going to stay in Iraq, how do we keep it from further inflaming hatred against us? Three suggestions:

    1) Go multinational (UN or at least NATO; either would probably require an apology for the way we treated those who had questions about the appropriateness of the invasion)

    2) Re-route re-building contracts to local companies

    3) Take the time to develop local government, and allow national leadership to emerge from that. Imposing Chalabi looks like a very unpopular idea.

    Comment by John Abbe — Tuesday, April 13, 2004 @ 7:09 am

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