Friday, October 24, 2003

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The Yglesias-Lowry smackdown

The American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias and The National Review's Rich Lowry are having a war of words over the prescience of conservatives regarding the Clinton administration's antiterrorism policy.

Lowry has published Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. In it, he writes:

On September 11, Clinton's most important legacy arrived in horrifying form, and settled in a pile of rubble seven stories high in downtown Manhattan.

In a Q&A on NRO, Lowry elaborates:

Well, obviously, Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. But the September 11th attacks were clearly Clinton's most consequential legacy. The way he had hamstrung the CIA, handcuffed the FBI, neglected airport security, and, most importantly, left a nest of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan unmolested — knowing, knowing they were there — created the ticking time bomb that went off on September 11th. Should Bush have done more during the eight months he was in office? Absolutely. But much of his work would have been — and has been — undoing the mistakes of the Clinton administration.

I talked to a lot of former FBI officials, and they just can't believe the weakness of Clinton in response to the terror threat. After the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, in which Iran was implicated, Clinton made a semi-apology to Iran while the investigation was still underway. After al Qaeda nearly leveled two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Clinton responded with pinprick cruise-missile strikes, one of which was against a probably mistaken target. After the Cole bombing in 2000, Clinton did nothing.

On Tapped, Yglesias points out that Lowry's National Review failed to levy these attacks before 9/11. He concludes:

I would argue that before 9-11 Democrats were more focused on terrorism than Republicans (most of whom seemed overly enamored with missile defense and great-power politics) but it's clear -- in retrospect -- that it would have been nice if both the Clinton and Bush administrations had done more to combat al-Qaeda. By and large, liberals have resisted the temptation to play the 9-11 blame game, but obviously the folks at National Review have no intention of extending us the same courtesy.

Well, needless to say, this roiled Lowry a fair bit. He responds to Yglesias here. Yglesias then fires back here. Read the entire exchange.

Two thoughts on this contretemps:

  • If you're Yglesias, you have to be feeling pretty damn good. Forget the merits of the debate. As a recent college graduate and junior member of TAP's writing team has managed to make Rich Lowry mad. If the Center for American Progress has any brains, they'll recruit comers like Yglesias.

  • In his last reply, Yglesias says:

    The question I sought to raise, however, was not whether America's pre-9-11 counterterrorism policy looks flawed in retrospect -- it obviously was -- but whether the editors of the National Review were urging that the Clinton administration do anything substantially different at the time. (emphasis in original)

    Yglesias may or may not be correct on this point -- off the cuff, I suspect he's correct in nailing the National Review as fundamentally realist in orientation, and the realist recommendation during the 1990's on dealing with terrorism was essentially to pull U.S. forces out of the Middle East.

    However, just because the National Review did not criticize the antiterrorism policies of the Clinton era during the Clinton era does not mean no conservative publication failed to do so. It's worth re-reading Tom Donnelly's prescient October 30, 2000 cover story in the Weekly Standard. It was written in the aftermath of the USS Cole bombing. The relevant highlights:

    The immediate reaction to the bombing of the Cole was telling. President Clinton denounced a "cowardly act of terrorism." An American president these days has difficulty recognizing an assault on a U.S. Navy vessel in a foreign port for what it obviously is: an act of war. Almost anything short of a conventional armored invasion across an international border is now regarded as terrorism, ethnic cleansing, or even genocide--something entirely irrational, as opposed to a calculated political act. And the proper response to today's unconventional assaults is seen to be legal and moral: Terrorists should be "brought to justice" and ethnic cleansers made to stand trial in the Hague; our military forces should be employed in a disinterested, evenhanded way on "humanitarian" missions....

    Not only are these anti-American warriors brave, they are increasingly well organized, well armed, and well trained. "Globalism," it turns out, favors not only international businessmen, but also international drug lords and guerrillas. These may be "non-state actors," but they benefit from state sponsorship, and they can form alliances of convenience with governments hostile to the United States or simply take advantage of weak or failing states. New information technologies, along with old-fashioned weapons proliferation, make the resort to violence both tempting and effective.

    Curiously, those most resistant to these lessons include the leaders of the U.S. armed forces, both in uniform and out. To them, constabulary duties are far less glamorous and honorable than the conventional wars they signed up for, and far more ambiguous. These missions do not take place on a well-defined battlefield and drive to a clear end. As a result, despite their frequency, the Pentagon has done almost nothing to adapt its operations, its forces, or its budgets to the new reality.

    As long as the unipolar moment lasts, then, unconventional attacks like that on the Cole or on the Khobar Towers or the ambush of the Rangers in Mogadishu will continue to punctuate the headlines. The American response to these acts of war should be to use the instruments of war--intelligence gathering and military force--not only to avenge them and deter similar acts, but also to frustrate the political aims of our enemies.

    Note, by the way, that the uniformed services come in for as much criticism as Clinton's foreign policy. Criticism that remains relevant today.

  • UPDATE: I was chary in my praise of the Weekly Standard on this score. The same issue that had Donnelly's cover story also included Reuel Marc Gerecht's spot-on criticism of Clinton's antiterrorism policy. Go check it out. Meanwhile, David Adesnik is going after Yglesias on another matter.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: For those interested in reading a defense of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, click here.

    posted by Dan on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM


    It's the devil and the deep blue sea, Dan. For eight years as a Elder Bush voter I ground my teeth as Clinton diddled around with foreign policy. He had neither the guts or the credibility to make many hard choices. That legacy is still with us.

    It never occurred to me however that having Republicans in office would significantly *worsen* the situation however. Yet in a sort of anti-miracle they have set us back not years but *decades*. This is also before their next round of mistakes, which I hope Bush-2 is smart enough to chuck them out on their heads before they conspire to push those through. The whole world teeters if not on a knife edge then at least a rather crumbly cliff. Pray for Powell, for all his mistakes he could still pull this rabbit out of the hat.

    I blame it on the fact that a bunch of em used to be Scoop Jackson's boys. This is an infernal Democratic conspiracy in order to plant double agents in the Republican party to let the Democrats avoid showing they can handle issues by instead sabotaging Republican policy. Sadly, this nefarious plan is indeed working.

    posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Yglesias is off-base in his criticism -- I don't have to be an aerospace expert who was prophesying doom to know that NASA management screwed up with the Columbia.

    The National Review may not've forseen the al Qaeda threat any clearer than Clinton, but the National Review didn't have the CIA, NSA, DIA, etc. at its disposal.

    (This isn't to say that Lowry's criticism is correct, only that Yglesias's criticism of the criticism isn't.)

    posted by: Sean O'Hara on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    I blame it on the fact that a bunch of em used to be Scoop Jackson's boys. This is an infernal Democratic conspiracy in order to plant double agents in the Republican party...

    Please tell me this is a joke.

    posted by: JP on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Dear JP,

    It's tongue in cheek. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, scratch my head, and ask myself when did the Bodysnatchers take over the Republican party. It didn't all happen overnight of course. It just kind of crept up on us old Republicans.

    Even the elder Bush was apparently bushwhacked by this turn of events. Republicans have never been above an invasion or two, however if you were going to violate international law there was the concept that one ought to do it *right* or figure out how to bail out fast. Panama and Lebanon were two cases in point.

    Messy blow-back and quagmires like Iran and Vietnam were supposed to be Democratic follies.

    Only now, my fellow Republicans are outdoing the Democrats on messing things up. Anyone honest with themselves can see it - including Rumsfeld. After that memo, my opinion of him went up. Clearly he's just been less than honest rather than a moron.

    posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    President Ronald Reagan shares much of the blame for encouraging Muslim terrorism. After all, he pulled our troops out of Lebanon after the Beirut bombing. President Clinton can rightfully say that he was merely following the example of our former Republican President.

    A number of Republicans like Grover Nyquist also inadvertently did everything they could to protect Muslim extremists in America. The irony is that both the politically correct ACLU and the far Right were greatly responsible for our being unprepared for 9/11. Maybe Rich Lowry is suffering from selective memory---but I’m not. I simply do not recall the National Review going out of its way to warn us about Osama bin Ladin previous to that horrifying day. Daniel Pipes deserves a lot of credit for that, and most conservatives paid him little attention.

    posted by: David Thomson on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]


    As a moderate I have to say your site is becoming for me a great place to come and find reasoned discusssions. I have to say that the point I take from Mr. Yglesias is for the the NRO to want to lay such a high charge against President Clinton, i.e. responsibility for 9-11 is pretty tough. And the least Mr Lowery and his publication should do is at least acknowledge that pre-9-11 they were not showing much support for the kind of actions that they desire post 9-11. 9-11 is just too emotional of an issue to play partisan blame game with and I think that is the whole point of Mr Yglesias comments. I am not as articulate as either of the gentlemen (or most of the poseter here) but thanks for allowing me to post.

    posted by: Jon on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    I'd like to echo Jon's comments. I'm a moderate who supports some of the President's policies but regards others with misgivings. As a result, I tend to straddle the divide in the blogosphere. It's nice to read someone that can acknowledge points raised by different sides in an even-handed fashion and spare us most of the ad homminems and overwrought rhetoric. Thanks, Dan.

    posted by: Andrew on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    How many Democrats or Dem-leaning publications blamed Reagan and Bush I for the first WTC bombing? How many wrote a book about this?

    Did the NR and WS run articles on the foreign policy mismanagement of the Reagan and Bush administration that led to the first WTC bombing?

    Did NR and the WS wonder why in the first 8 months of his presidency Bush II neglected terrorism, bypassed the Hart Rudman report (which lay out most what Bush II would eventually do, including the Homeland Security Dept) and got Cheney to start a new taskforce that seems to have never done anything?

    Does the NR and the WS wonder why if, as has been reported, Condoleeza Rice and her team were briefed by the Clinton Administration and told they would spend most of their time on terrorism, the overriding security-related policy in the pre 9/11 was missile defense?

    Does the NR and the WS wonder why the intelligence services under Clinton foiled several plane hijacking plans by Al Qaeda but let 9/11 happen under Bush? If it had been the reverse does anybody think the NR and the WS wouldn't be mentioning it? Could pressure from above on the intelligence agencies have anything to do with this?

    Does the NR and the WS ever wonder why, if the counterterrorism efforts of Clinton were so bad it was precisely in that area that Bush asked Clinton officials to stay?

    Just curious.

    posted by: GT on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    I am always amused when I hear people say that although Clinton did nothing about terrorism, neither did Bush, as though forgetting that Clinton had 8 years while Bush had 8 months. I'm a liberal, but I still think this criticism is absurd.

    posted by: Zachary Braverman on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    And Reagan and Bush I had 12 years.


    posted by: GT on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    I want to "third" the comments made by a couple moderate posters above -- appreciating the reasoned, balanced tone of this weblog.

    I'm an independent with centrist views, always looking for a place where people really tackle the issues with information and straightforward logic. This is the best place I know of for that in the blogosphere.

    I'm also very curious about the specific debate here -- who takes the blame for 9/11. Lowry and the National Review aren't the first to lay it squarely at Clinton's feet -- that's been all over the conservative landscape for some time. Al Franken argues the opposite side -- that Clinton actually did more to combat terrorism than any previous administration. And he cites a post-9/11 Washington Post story in making that case.

    What would be a balanced, realistic take on it?

    posted by: William Swann on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Regarding the Weekly Standard articles, I think that in some ways strengethens my point. Lowry was trying to spin some of NR's earlier articles as calls for a more strident anti-terrorism policy, but the Standard article (Gerecht's especially, which I'd read) shows you what a real critique of Clintonism would have been.

    My point was merely that neither Rich Lowry nor George W. Bush seem to have been singing this particular tune about WJC before 9/11. Some people -- a very small minority -- were aware of the danger. I would actually welcome a serious examination of why the Clinton and Bush administrations didn't focus more on this. Until the conclusion of the Kosovo War I could see thinking that the Balkans were a more pressing area of concern than Central Asia, but by sometime in 1999 Afghanistan pretty clearly should have been the focus. Clinton's people seem to have understood this, but been unable to convince whoever they needed to convince that it was worth actually doing something about.

    The Bushies seem to have had the opposite problem. A thirst for bold action on the foreign policy front, but no clear picture of what the important issue was.

    posted by: Matthew Yglesias on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    “It never occurred to me however that having Republicans in office would significantly *worsen* the situation however. Yet in a sort of anti-miracle they have set us back not years but *decades*.”

    The current Bush White House has largely done a splendid job fighting terrorism and forcing our enemies to think twice about attacking us. Its mistakes have been no more than any other administration confronting similar circumstances.

    Thankfully, President George W. Bush rejects the “America First” style isolationism that was very popular previous to WWII. These folks were highly influenced by the anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh and Fr. Charles E. Coughlin. They unwittingly did much to encourage Adolph Hitler’s war machine. It was the Democrat Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt that probably saved Western Civilization. The Republicans foolishly put America at great risk. Isn’t it strange how times have changed?

    posted by: David Thomson on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Actually, the roots of 9/11 probably lie in our weak response to the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 (Carter). We failed to respond effectively to that and every subsequent provocation until 9/11. We lacked credibility in the world of the Muslim Extremists precisely because we turned the other cheek so many times. On balance, I think more blame belongs on Clinton and his foreign policy team than on their respective predecessors (they can be partially forgiven due to their remoteness from 9/11, but they definitely presided over the groundwork).

    posted by: Ben on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    “Actually, the roots of 9/11 probably lie in our weak response to the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 (Carter). “

    I essentially agree with you. Still, the situation became far worse when the Reagan administration abandoned Beirut. This sent a clear signal to the Muslim extremists and their more secular (socialist) counterparts that both major political parties would not finish the fight.

    “The Bushies seem to have had the opposite problem. A thirst for bold action on the foreign policy front, but no clear picture of what the important issue was.”

    No human administration is perfect. President Bush, however, took the bull by the horns and successfully invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. A wishy washy Al Gore would have merely sat around the White House all day pretending to be another Hamlet. Gerald Posner’s article “I Was Wrong About Bush” should be read by everybody:

    posted by: David Thomson on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    FYI, I was TAing a class for William Perry in late 2000, and in the class he predicted a major terrorist attack on US soil within 12 months (in between bouts of strong ant-missile defense rhetoric).

    However, convincing people that the real threat is something vague and previously unseen is a lot harder than most give credit for.

    Anyway, I know for sure some Democrats were actively promoting counter terrorism pre 9/11, and many of the opponents were republicans (who wanted defense money to go to big ticket items like NMD)

    posted by: Jason on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    "And Reagan and Bush I had 12 years."

    All of which occurred before al Qaeda even existed. Really, that is about the most absurd argument there is.

    Might there be some "roots" of our conflict from the Reagan/Bush I era? (Lebanon, Gulf War I.) Or the Carter era? (Iran.) Or Nixon? (1973 War, Oil Shock.) Or Johnson? Or Ike? Or Truman? Or FDR? Or Wilson? Yeah, history works like that. But the most proximate cause of our troubles lies in the Clinton era, during which al Qaeda formed, grew, and was unresponded to.

    posted by: Al on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    The other interesting Weekly Stanrad article was the one right before Sept. 11 calling on Rumsfeld to resign in protest over the defense budget being too small.

    posted by: Crank on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    It is one point among many, but Matt Yglesias says this:

    "Nevertheless, because Lowry wants to play the culpability game, let me suggest that an accusation of weakness on terrorism can be more plausibly pointed at the pre-9-11 Bush administration than at Clinton's. By all indications, Bush, upon entering office, actually reduced the priority given to fighting terrorism from a level that was, in retrospect, already inadequate. According to Time, Clinton officials developed, in the waning days of their administration, a plan for combating al-Qaeda more vigorously, but..."

    Sandy Berger, TIME's primary source, later recanted that story in testimony to Congress, as Bob Somerby noted in the Daily Howler (righties got the news earlier from Sullivan and Fox).

    posted by: Tom Maguire on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    How do you know what Gore would have done? That's pure projection. He was one of the hawkier Democrats in the senate. I don't have an opinion one way or another but I don't believe you (David) know what you think you know.

    posted by: xian on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Well done, Mr. Maquire. God Save the Blogosphere.

    Said Mr. Simpson: "In your face, Yglesias!"

    posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    I ditto the notion that the roots of 9/11 are to be found in the history of the Carter Administration. I wrote a post about that some time ago

    in which I reviewed the late General Robert Huyser's book Mission to Teheran discussing his failed mission to organize a pro-American military goverment in 1979, which would have forestalled Khomenei's coup later that year.

    This was the great tipping point that gave momentum to the Islamist movement, both Shiite and Sunni. It needn't have happened.

    posted by: Rick (Independents For Clark) on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    ... Mr. Xian. Beliefs are opinions.

    posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Of course Tom, Sandy Berger also confirms that they alerted Rice about the risks she would face:

    Number one among those was terrorism and Al Qaida. And I told that to my successor. She has acknowledged that publicly

    posted by: GT on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    President Bush, however, took the bull by the horns and successfully invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. A wishy washy Al Gore would have merely sat around the White House all day pretending to be another Hamlet.
    Thank goodness FDR beat Willkie. After Pearl Harbor Willkie would have surrendered.

    See how stupid this counterfactual looks? Do you have Al Gore confused with Barbara Lee? Noam Chomsky?

    And you know what? Gore would have kept his eyes on the prize: Osama bin Laden's terror network. Bush, for reasons I don't think anyone understands, diverted our attention to an invasion of Iraq which was neither part of the war on terror, nor yet proven successful.

    posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Regarding the efforts of the Clinton administration against terrorism, as well as Sandy Berger's unheeded work in late 2000 to warn the Bushites regarding terrorism, Sidney Blumenthal comments extensively on this in his book, "The Clinton Wars." Since he held a senior position in the White House at the time, his thoughts are enlightening. Here are the exerpts:

    On Berger informing Rice:

    On the Clinton administrations antiterrorist work:

    posted by: Jon R. on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    So much foolishness, so little time.

    NRO didn't have access to the intelligence apparatus and information which was available to Clinton. The relevant consideration is what did Clinton know and when did he know it? Clearly, Clinton's own advisors tell us that he didn't do what he should have given what he knew.

    For a liberal to blame Reagan for leaving Beirut is the ultimate hypocrisy. In essence, that is blaming Reagan for caving into all that pressure from those stupid liberals who were screaming for him to avoid another Vietnam. There is a lesson in that for us today, however. When liberals scream and rant about fereign policy, ignore them. They are invariably wrong. And if you do follow their advice, years later they will crucify you for having done what they wanted you to do.

    posted by: stan on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    This is great fun. Too bad more people here don’t subscribe to National Review, whose current issue (October 27) has the following delicious statements in Angelo Codevella’s review of Laurie Mylorie’s _Bush vs. the Beltway_:

    “… she does not directly shed light on President Bush’s connection to the bureaucracy’s failings – except at one point, where she writes: “Even senior administration officials – including the President – may not have understood how strong the case against Iraq was.” This points to the heart of what the title obfuscates: In fact as well as formally, President Bush is responsible. On this the sources she cites agree: Repeated reality checks notwithstanding, Bush II, like Bush I, trusts U.S. intelligence, and the State Department as well. He staffs them and keeps them. He does not battle them. No one but he is responsible for the actual mix of judgment and policy.”

    The concluding paragraph:

    “The CIA and FBI need to ask – and be asked – uncomfortable questions. In Mylroie’s words: “People’s egos and careers almost inevitably come into play [in intelligence] … the deceiver quickly finds an unlikely ally in the deceived.” Until this problem is confronted, the title Bush vs. the Beltway will remain more a wish than a statement.”

    I am hardly a Clinton supporter, but IMO Lowry is flat wrong and Yglesias didn’t go far enough in criticizing him. Clinton made the only political decision possible for him by ignoring the threat of foreign terrorism. He would have had no Democratic support whatever for doing anything effective (threat elimination is not in their meme) and gotten little but partisan sniping from Republicans, as Tom DeLay did on Clinton’s Kosovo intervention. DeLay’s attack on Clinton then almost exactly mirrors the Democrats’ attacks on Bush now for his policy in the war on terror.

    The whole country was asleep here – it wasn’t just Clinton. Furthermore I don’t see Lowry criticizing Bush II’s failure to do anything effective about the foreign terrorist threat in the seven months from inauguration to 9/11. That Bush II has kept Tenet and Freeh on, and in particular that Bush II has not shifted domestic counter-terrorism away from the wholly dysfunctional FBI, is damning.

    Note also that Clinton’s counter-terrorism failures were rooted in his personal experience with Bosnia and Kosovo. He wanted to intervene in Bosnia in 1993 and was sandbagged by Colin Powell just as Powell had sandbagged Bush I in 1992 when Bush I wanted to intevene. Clinton did not give up and tried to get the UN to do something. They didn’t, so Clinton covertly armed the Croats and let them clean out the Krajina. That broke the Serbs more than anything the Bosnians did.

    Then the Army fought Clinton over Kosovo. Wesley Clark is quite familiar with that. Clinton didn’t bother with the UN and tried to use NATO. He was trying. Sure he went through a learning curve. But he tried.

    And Clinton won. He stopped genocide twice. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for that. The Bosnians and Kosovars should put up statutes to Clinton and name children & streets after him. Check out my columns at if you want proof as to how amazing it is that I, of all people, should say this.

    So after all Clinton had to go through to save the Bosnians and Kosovars from on-going genocide, he is supposed to have used unilateral military force against Al Qaeda? GMAFB. Bush II hasn’t done so yet. Clinton could not have taken effective action prior to 9/11, anymore than Bush II did.

    posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Isn't it time to stop playing the blame game over 9-11? It probably took a 9-11 type of event to shake up America to the extent that Bush was able to take massive military action. Clinton wanted to but he did not feel it could be sold on a long term enough basis to be effective. Current events show that was correct.

    BTW, the post about Clinton's foreign policy being focused on financial and economic issues was facinating - but - if true, why has this received almost no mention until now?

    posted by: tallan on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    The criticism of Reagan and Bush I leaves out one minor detail: both were engaged in winning and ending the Cold War, a far more dangerous confrontation than what is occuring now. There were(are still?) real nukes pointed at us by the Soviet Union and a policy of MAD = mutally assured destruction. Reagan won the Cold War bringing about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Bush I fininshed it off by helping the Soviet Union peacefully dissolve . Clinton got elected in part because foreign policy appeared to be "over", at least we no longer had to worry about existential issues of life and death. The country could afford a lightweight and wanted to spend the 90's ,and hopefully forever after, doing what it likes to do best, make money.

    Attempts by political hacks like Sidney Blumenthal, and nice but ineffectual types like Sandy Berger and Madeline Albright, to make Clinton look prescient on terrorism are nonsense. If they had a real policy why didn't they act on it instead of handing it over at the eleventh hour to the next administration? After all, the problem was on going, from almost the moment that Clinton took office. The problem festered, because being lawyers, they treated everything as a legal problem, case-by-case instead of having an overall foreign policy.

    Face it, all Clinton really cared about was domestic issues and only moved on to foreign issues when he realized he couldn't get anything done with the Republican Congress. And of course, there's the suspicion that some of his actions were wag-the-dog, eg, the cruise missle strikes in Afghanistan and the Sudan, to take attention away from impeachment.

    posted by: Paul on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Dear Thomson,

    Are you out of your gourd? You wrote that:

    "The current Bush White House has largely done a splendid job fighting terrorism ..."

    Okay, not even the Adminstration thinks this!!! The reason why we know is that Rumsfeld *put it down in writing*. Nobody who is not in la-la land thinks this. It may be arguable that no other Adminstration could have done better- but I would argue that this too is false. As former head of the CIA, genuine war hero, a man who successfully surgically removed a dictator and restored a democracy (Noreiga), and prevented a war in the middle-east from becoming a diplomatic nightmare Bush the Elder clearly would have done a better job. Just wish we could have the Dad back instead of his son!!!

    posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Tom Holsinger makes great points about Clinton and terrorism better than I could myself. The only exception is mentioning Laurie Mylroie, who appears to have gone nuts, all those degrees notwithstanding. Her theory that Saddam was implicated in the Oklahoma City bombing is out in tin foil land. (Where was Saddam when JFK was killed?)

    I'd even add to Tom's comments on Clinton that if the Palestinians had a leader with any more foresight than the wicked fool Yasser Arafat, there would be a Clinton Square in Ramallah, Palestine right now. And if things hold together in Northern Ireland (by no means clear), another one in Belfast. Let's not forget Ireland was a terrorist battleground too, and the IRA had coordinated supplies with Muslim terrorists in the past.

    It's going to be a strange day....

    posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]


    Read Amy Zygart's _Flawed by Design_ and then Mylroie's _Bush vs. the Beltway_, in that order. Zygart is a political science professor who set up what appears to be a dead-on methodology for analyzing the behavior of national security bureaucracies and how presidents deal with them. Mylroie clearly didn't read Zygart's book, but her _Bush vs. the Beltway_ describes those bureaucracies, and Bush II, behaving exactly like Zygart's model predicted.

    What neither of them mention is something happening now - those bureaucracies openly opposing a President's war policies. The Wilson/Plame affair is just one example. I found it fascinating for more than entertainment - Bush kept Tenet on after 9/11 for the usual presidential reason of taming a potentially troublesome bureaucracy whose leader is politically vulnerable. Clinton did the same thing with Chief of Naval Operations Kelso after Tailhook hit the headlines.

    But Tenet couldn't deliver the CIA's political neutrality. I expect, after the next instance of CIA sniping at Bush, that Tenet will be replaced with a Bush loyalist of some sort who will purge the CIA bigtime. I favor Tom DeLay for that, both for popcorn value and because I hate him and want him out of the House.

    posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    >I favor Tom DeLay for that, both for
    >popcorn value and because I hate him
    >and want him out of the House.

    Yeah, I'd pay money to see Delay replace Tenet.

    You do know Delay got the nick name "the Terminator" because he owned an extermination business before he became a Congressman and not simply due to his political habits as House Majority leader?

    posted by: Trent Telenko on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Dear Holsinger,

    Egads, have you gone daft? Delay in charge of the CIA? You might as well put out a welcome mat for Al-queda! If there is a man more capable of missing the big picture and passing over the critical truth in the pursuit of narrow minded pettiness and shortsightedness than Delay, he has not been introduced to me!

    Tenet is weak. It's clear he has to go. Just cause you hate Delay though doesn't mean that you should wish him on the CIA!

    posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    >If there is a man more capable of
    >missing the big picture and passing
    >over the critical truth in the pursuit
    >of narrow minded pettiness and
    >shortsightedness than Delay, he has not
    >been introduced to me!

    Given the Plame affair, the CIA's abuse of the Iraq National Congress in the run up to OIF, and CIA's inability to infiltrate operatives into al-Qaeda when Taliban Johnny Walker flew from Marin County, CA to meet Bin Laden a couple of years later, just how would Delay being in charge not be an improvement?

    Given the CIA's track record of incompetence and policy sabotage, Delay as CIA chief imposing Stalin like purges of senior CIA bureaucrats would at the very least keep them too busy trying to survive to oppose Bush policy objectives.

    That alone would help the prosecution of the war.

    posted by: Trent Telenko on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    "You do know Delay got the nick name "the Terminator" because he owned an extermination business before he became a Congressman and not simply due to his political habits as House Majority leader?"

    That's what he did during the Vietnam years, because the poor minorities volunteered for all the available spots in the military.

    posted by: Brooklyn Sword Style on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Let me begin by stating my prejudices. I am a strong supporter of the Bush 43 Administration's foreign policy. I voted for GWB in 2000 and will, exigent circumstance barred, do so again in 2004.

    As a matter of law and logic, the blame for 9/11 should be focused on its actual perpetrators. They also had numerous accomplices and co-cospirators in the governments of various Muslim countries from Lybia to Pakistan and perhaps beyond.

    Did the United States Government fail to dischatge its duty to protect the United States from the 9/11 attacks? Yes. Well who should be held to account for that failure?

    I think that the easy answer to that one is all of Washington.

    Is Clinton to blame? most assuredly. He was captain of the watch for 8 years during which Our Country suffered 4 major attacks from Al'Qaeda. Clinton's failure to mount a meaningful attack on Al'Qaeda on any of those occassions was gross criminal negligence.

    Did Clinton's critics attack him sufficently at the time? No. "The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk." Have they therefor forefited the right to criticize him now? Lord, no. If that were the case none of us would ever be held to account, and future generations would be mute against history. Yglesias' critique is mere rhetoric, and not very good rhetoric at that.

    Am I partisan about my criticism. No. Bush 41 erred even more egregiously than Clinton did, and at enormous human cost, in not going to Baghdad during the first Gulf war. I said it at the time and I will say it again. I voted for him, but he screwed the pooch, big time.

    I could regress into the past and I could skewer thee permanent government of the alphabet soup agencies while I was at it (really -- why haven't the streets run red with the blood of senior and middle management at those institutions? -- Bush 43 is now responsible for that). But I think you can get my drift.

    There is plenty of blame and bloody little glory to go around in Washington on this topic. partisanship will little avail either party.

    posted by: Robert Schwartz on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    From Today's NYTimes:

    Book Review By Walter Russel Mead
    "WHY AMERICA SLEPT: The Failure to Prevent 9/11" by Gerald Posner

    Gerald Posner's "Why American Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11" goes far to prove the opposite: the C.I.A., the F.B.I., Congress, the State Department, the media, the White House, the foreign policy establishment and the general climate of public opinion all contributed to the failure to prevent the devastating mass terror attacks of 2001.

    The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. come under heavy criticism; both agencies emerge looking more like the Keystone Kops than elite organizations, but on balance Mr. Posner seems to blame the F.B.I. more.

    Mr. Posner faults what he calls excessive concerns over civil liberties for tying the hands (or intimidating the agents) of law enforcement agencies.

    The book's greatest defect is its failure to answer the question posed by the title. This is really the story of how America slept: how one agency after another missed obvious clues, concealed information, ignored danger signs. Why we allowed such a culture of failure and mediocrity to grow through so many bureaucracies is another question, and Mr. Posner doesn't really address it.

    The answer may have something to do with the widespread American optimism after the fall of the Berlin Wall that history was over, and that the United States had won. Our economic system and our values were triumphant; nobody anywhere on the planet could threaten our security or challenge our ideas. As a result our diplomats, our intelligence agencies and our political leaders grew lax.

    posted by: Robert Schwartz on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Wow, there's a lot of good commentary here. In particular, props to Ben, Xian, and Andrew Lazarus, but I'm sure I missed at least a couple others who deserve some praise.

    I also happen to think that the long-standing U.S. policy of (essentially) not responding to terrorism against its own citizens cemented in the minds of various Islamic scum that terrorism was an effective weapon against the Americans. With regard to specific examples, though, I think some of the judging might be a bit harsh.

    In particular, it's hard to see what Carter would have done differently after the Iran hostage crisis. It certainly didn't help that he always projected an image of weakness and accommodation, but it's not like he could have ordered a large-scale invasion of Iran after the U.S. embassy was violated (technically, an act of war no different than an invasion of North Carolina). Given Iran's proximity to the Russian border, the Russians would almost certainly have responded to an American invasion, and we could have Cuban Missile Crisis II, with American and Soviet troops within shooting range.

    Reagan faced essentially the same problem in Lebanon: any wide-scale invasion would have been seen by the Soviets as a provocation (especially with their Syrian client state next door), and could have precipitated a Soviet-American standoff. Maybe the odds were low, but the downside was huge. Of course, the simple answer is that Reagan should have stayed the hell out of Lebanon to begin with, and let the Israelis deal with it as they saw fit.

    Someone already made the point that a full-scale takeover of Iraq might have precipitated a crisis with Russia, not to mention the same problems as we are having now. On the other hand, weapons of mass destruction wouldn't have been hard to find. Bad news: if the Hussein regime saw their rule come to an end, they might have actually used them on invading troops.

    Somalia was a no-brainer: we should have stayed the hell out of there. But once we went in, we should never have left the way we did, with out tail between our legs. Of course, leaving was the politically popular choice -- exactly as the Iraqi terrorists are hoping to make leaving Iraq a popular choice today. Just something to ponder.

    Now as to al-Qaeda and 9/11, that's trickier than it first appears. Let's dispense with Bush first: there is nothing he could have done about bin Laden between his inauguration and 9/11. The only way to get the s-o-b was to invade Afghanistan, and let's please not act as though there'd be any support for that at all. (If you think the anti-Iraq demonstrations were bad...) More to the point, the planning for 9/11 started years before, and the whole thing was in motion by the time Bush was President. If Bush had invaded Afghanistan and/or killed bin Laden, and then the planes flew into the towers, a whole lot of people would be making the mother of all post hoc errors, and Bush would be blamed for the attacks. (You know the routine: blowback, chickens coming home, etc. Only this time it would actually sound plausible to people outside Chomsky's club of paint-chip eaters.) Does that mean that, had Bush known about the impending attack, he should have done nothing? No, but it does mean that he had a whole lot of bad options. (And, of course, in all likelihood, no one saw the attack coming. If we had, we might have prevented it by catching the terrorists on U.S. soil, though they'd be hard to charge. And the charges of anti-Arab bias based on made-up threats out of Tom Clancy novels would be deafening. Best case, we put these guys in jail, and bin Laden sends a dozen more. As a nation, we simply were not equipped to deal with this threat -- militarily or politically. Any attempt to change this would have been labeled scare-mongering or simply anti-Arab bigotry.)

    And, incidentally, most of this applies to Clinton as well. Had he aggressively gone after bin Laden towards the end of his term, the results would have likely been the same, and the right wing would be all over themselves blaming Clinton's military adventurism for the blowback. Clinton should have dedicated more resources to destroying al-Qaeda (at least after the Cole and embassy bombings), but there is no reason to think that he would have done enough damage to them to prevent 9/11. (There is no reason to think that we've done so today, either. And Clinton was hardly in a position to invade Afghanistan and destroy the Taliban, which was so crucial to damaging bin Laden's organization.)

    So frankly, I'm not sure that the 9/11 attacks were preventable: as a country, we were simply too complacent, beguiled by silly notions of UN-guaranteed "world peace" and "the end of history." (I don't exclude myself from this criticism.) It's unfortunate that lessons to the contrary had to be so painful.

    posted by: E. Nough on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

    Well, no sooner do I post my missive than I see Robert Schwartz has made my point for me. Figures.

    posted by: E. Nough on 10.24.03 at 12:08 AM [permalink]

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