Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Real Story 

I think the media is having trouble focusing on one of the two main stories coming out of the 9/11 Commission/Richard Clarke book. Maybe, after Clarke's testimony today, this will change. Btw, these hearings are televised--I feel we should be able to leave work to watch. My more mature readers, didn't everyone watch the Watergate hearings?

Anyway, the two most important stories are, I think:

(1) What the WH did NOT do leading up to 9/11 on the domestic/intelligence front. This is fairly easy to figure out from Clarke's book and the CBS interview. He made it clear what he and the Clinton administration did during the summer and fall of '99, in which there was a commensurate spike in "chatter." They manned "battle stations" and had high-level meetings every day or every other day. This focus at the highest levels seems to have led directly to focus at the lower levels, and led to the arrest of the guy with a car full of explosives at the Canadian border near Seattle. Nothing like that happened in summer '01. If it had...who knows? This is not getting enough play in the media.

(2) The obsession with Iraq. This story is getting more attention. But the KEY here is that we came quite close to letting Bin Laden get away with murder. Rummy and Wolfie wanted to go after Iraq immediately after 9/11, and as a direct response to it. That's the whole "good targets" talk. And, frankly, it's insane and shows an unhinged mind. But the media is, I think, dealing with this decently.

But, back to story (1). The Media seem to understand that there are two main types of stories here. One, dealing with what happened up to 9/11, and another, dealing with what happened from 9/12 to the present. The "pre" story they're focusing on is what plans the Clinton and Bush administrations had to take out Bin Laden and whether Bush knew of the specifics about the 9/11 attack. I think this is the wrong focus. From the Times:
He [Rummy] and Mr. Powell said that the government had spent much of 2001 devising a comprehensive policy not just to contain Al Qaeda, but also to destroy it, even, perhaps, by eventually using ground troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld questioned what more the Bush administration could have done. "Even if bin Laden had been captured or killed in the weeks before Sept. 11, no one I know believes it would necessarily have prevented Sept. 11," he said.

President Bush joined in the defense of his administration's performance, telling reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that if "my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11, we would have acted. We have been chasing down Al Qaeda ever since the attacks."


[Commissioner] Gorelick's comments came as the commission released a staff report finding that Mr. Rumsfeld did not order the preparation of any new military plans against Al Qaeda or its Taliban sponsors during the seven months between his arrival at the Pentagon and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Now, no one thinks Bush has specific info that he sat on concerning hijacking four planes from Boston and DC and flying them into those specific buildings on that specific day. So that seems like hide-the-ball to me. And, I don't think that anyone seriously doubts that it would have been nigh-impossible to get political support behind a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Certainly Clinton couldn't have done it as a lame duck, and I doubt Bush could have. He was decidedly NOT a "war president" in the spring of '01. But, what is important is whether this administration could have changed focus from Iraq and missile defense in summer '01 towards Al Qaeda as "chatter" spiked. They did not, and if they had...well, again, we'll never know.
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