Wednesday, April 07, 2004

the fallacy of blaming clinton

In honor of Dr. Rice's appearance before the 9/11 commission tomorrow, let's go back and revisit why it is disingenuous, dishonest, and dis-...dis-... well just plain wrong for the Bush administration to defend itself by pointing fingers at the Clinton administration.

First, is it really necessary to point out that the "he did it first!" defense doesn't work for six-year-olds, let alone national leaders?

I read today that Rice is expected to fall back on the "pre-9/11 mindset" argument to justify why the Bush crowd weren't sufficiently vigilant (i.e., they didn't stop it). But she continues to argue, in the face of contradictions from Bush himself, that they were "focused aggressively on terrorism" in those first eight months.

This argument could be seen as a sort of backhanded cover for Clinton, born out of necessity because they couldn't figure out how to use it to get Bush off the hook and still leave Clinton hanging. But what it really does is obscure the truth.

The issue is not whether Bush administration actions were appropriate for pre-9/11. The issue is whether their actions were appropriate for post-African embassy bombings, post-Sudan, post-USS Cole. Where they appropriate for a team of so-called leaders who had received briefings by Sandy Berger and others, who had been handed the findings of a three-year, who had access to a score of top-level intelligence professionals, like Clarke and Beers, who acted out of experience rather than political aspirations.

What is obscured is the function of time. And it is quite clear that Clinton staff escalated their approach over time and events. They used diplomacy, they used law-enforcement tactics, and finally they used military force. They became more and more focused on eradicating al-Queda over time until their time ran out. When it did, they handed over the body of their experience and research and planning, and had every right to expect that the next watch wouldn't ignore everything that came before. We, the American people, had every right to expect continuity on such a vital subject.

I don't know why the media seems so much more comfortable saying Bush screwed up as long as they can say Clinton screwed up to. Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler has his own set of theories--go check them out. I think it's just weakness, its a heck of a lot easier, safer, and pseudo-savvy to pronounce them all crooks instead of actually making and defending a judgment call, however justified.

But make no mistake: when Condi Rice says "who knew" there were evil minds who could conceive of using planes as weapons, this is not an excuse. It is an indictment. Similarly, when she characterizes some pre-9/11 mindset, it is not an excuse. It is an indictment.

And here's another point. When the Bush administration tries to paint the Clinton administration as equally unprepared for 9/11, it's not simply cover for incompetence they're looking for. The truth was that Clinton was far more prepared in January 2001 than Bush was in September 2001, and would only have gotten more so, had he remained in office. Of course Clinton would not have remained, but someone else would have, someone else far more predisposed to pick up the ball and run in the right direction with it. I heard plenty of people say, post 9/11, "thank God, thank God that Gore wasn't in office, he'd never have been capable of rising to the challenge like Bush did". Personally, I think that's just a bunch of sentimental pap mixed up with some reflexive anti-Gore invective left over from 2000.

But the point is that Gore's ability to deal with this disaster is irrelevant. The truth is there's a good chance he would not have had to at all. And that's the truth that Rice and Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush are trying desperately to obscure.