Tuesday, September 26

Spin Control on Pre-9/11

After the devastating interview between Chris Wallace and President Clinton, I wondered to myself just how are is the Right-Wing going to respond to this?

Well, the first thing they've done is - surprise - try to demonize Clinton and bolster Wallace. You see, Wallace was just being a responsible journalist - a victim of Clinton's "bullying tirade".

Yeah, right. Poor little Chrissy Wallace. Crushed by the avalanche that was Bubba Clinton. And just how do the Redstaters see this entire thing, particularly after taking their talking points from Bill Kristol?

Clinton wants to make it incorrect, or at least impolite, to criticize his record on terror. Chris Wallace stood up to him. Will others? Will his next interviewer raise the same set of questions? Will they be willing to take the criticism of being "conservative hit men" or part of the vast, Fox-centered right-wing conspiracy? Bullying and intimidation sometimes work. Clinton has used both effectively in the past. Now he wants to put out of bounds certain perfectly legitimate and straight-forward questions. Can we debate which party--based on their practice when in power--can better deal with the jihadist/terror threat? No, according to Clinton. That's illegitimate right-wing propaganda. Whose personal reputation benefits from putting such issues out of bounds? Which political party benefits? Which 2008 presidential candidate?

Bill Clinton is a smart (and calculating) politician.

... discussions of which President may have failed in the past to successfully take on the terrorist threat are not as important policywise as actually taking on the terrorist threat. But that is certainly not to say that people should be intimidated from taking on the issue. It is one thing to recognize priorities. It is quite another to give in to bullying. If we are willing as a body politic to call a cease-fire on the issue of past Presidential actions--an across the board and bipartisan cease-fire at that--then I would be in favor of it. But I am most certainly not in favor of allowing one side to get a pass merely because one of the former Presidents on that side blew a gasket.
Allowing "one side to get a pass"? When exactly did Clinton ever get a pass? Did these guys actually see "Path to 9-11"?

Now I had thought that Thinkprogress had already settled this matter, by pointing out that Clinton's issue with Wallace - that they were asking him a question that they'd never asked the Bush Administration - was absolutely true.

Neither Chris Wallace, nor his predecessor, Tony Snow ever asked anyone in the Bush administration why they failed to respond to the bombing of the USS Cole, according to a Lexis-Nexis database search. Wallace and Snow have had plenty of opportunities:

– Vice President Dick Cheney has been on Fox News Sunday 6 times.

– Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been on Fox News Sunday 9 times.

– Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been on Fox News Sunday 23 times.

– National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley has been on Fox News Sunday 4 times.

For the record, this was Bill Clinton’s first solo appearance on Fox News Sunday.

Not so, according to a link provided by Redstate.

In 2004, Wallace asked almost the exact same question of Donald Rumsfeld that he asked Clinton today.

Here’s what Wallace asked Clinton today:

[H]indsight is 20 20 . . . but the question is why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?

And here is what Wallace asked Donald Rumsfeld on the March 28, 2004 episode of Fox News Sunday:

I understand this is 20/20 hindsight, it’s more than an individual manhunt. I mean — what you ended up doing in the end was going after al Qaeda where it lived. . . . pre-9/11 should you have been thinking more about that?

. . . .

What do you make of his [Richard Clarke’s] basic charge that pre-9/11 that this government, the Bush administration largely ignored the threat from al Qaeda?

. . . .

Mr. Secretary, it sure sounds like fighting terrorism was not a top priority.

Like Clinton, Think Progress shifts the argument to specific questions about the U.S.S. Cole, in order to argue that Clinton is correct:

Ooh, it looks like the Reds have a "gotcha". Although neither Wallace (or Tony Snow) ever asked specifically about the response to the U.S.S. Cole - they did ask one person, Rumsfeld, about pre-9-11 responses one single time among the 42 times that they've had Bush Administration Officials on their show. This is classic Right-wing debate strategy -- point out one minor questionable factoid in the midst of an mountain of information and poof, the mountain disappears like magic or the careful application of some "Shout" on a grass stain.

But here's the thing - I actually followed the interview link to the DOD site and found that the question Wallace asked Rumsfeld wasn't about the Bush Administration pre-9/11 response, it was about Richard Clarke.
MR. WALLACE: I think a lot of people in Washington are trying to figure out, to understand, Richard Clarke; to make sense of what he has said and of apparent contradictions in his story. Is he telling the truth or is he pushing an agenda? What do you make of his basic charge that pre-9/11 that this government, the Bush administration largely ignored the threat from al Qaeda?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know the man. I have probably met and been in meetings with him two or three times, but it seems to me that apparently he was there for 10 years, and the reality is that a terrorist can attack any time at any minute, 24 hours a day, using a variety of techniques in any place at all. And it's not possible to defend in every place against every technique, against every conceivable approach. Now, what does that mean? It means that you can't stop every terrorist attack. We know that throughout history, which you keep innocent men, women, and children are going to be killed if terrorists are determined to do it. What you must do, then, is to go after the terrorists where they are and get them before they have that opportunity to have the advantage of an attack.

So basically - Rumsfeld doesn't know if Wallace's suggestion that "Clarke has an agenda" is true - which of course leaves he possibility that he does hanging in the air without Rumsfeld himself having to launch the smear - and as far as stopping 9/11 there was "nothing they could do"....

But Wallace wasn't done, he had more smearing of Clarke and back-filling for the Bush Administration to do:
MR. WALLACE: Let me follow up on that, if I can, sir, because you talked to the 9/11 Commission in private before you talked to them in public, and in your public testimony this week, and according to the Commission, the staff, this is what you told them in private. Let's put it up here, if we can --

"He [Rumsfeld] did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11 other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system for possible use against bin Laden. He said the DOD," the Department of Defense, "before 9/11 was not organized or trained adequately to deal with asymmetric threats."

Mr. Secretary, it sure sounds like fighting terrorism was not a top priority.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, Chris, if you look at how our government is organized historically, the Department of Justice has the responsibility for law enforcement in the United States. The Department of Defense is, in fact, by law, under the posse comitatus law, prohibited from the engaging in frontline law enforcement, police-type activities.

In other words - "It's not my job, man". Terrorism is a law enforcement issue for the DOJ. But my-oh-my isn't that pre-9/11 thinking?

MR. WALLACE: But the terrorists were based overseas.

SEC. RUMSFELD: The terrorists were in the United States. They used a U.S. airplane, and they attacked a U.S. target, and those are things that are outside the purview of the Department of Defense.

MR. WALLACE: But what about --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Let me just make sure you understand this. The way the government instructions were laid out, the Department of State had the responsibility for the diplomatic side of it, the Department of Justice has the responsibility for the law enforcement side for domestic intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency has responsibility for foreign intelligence, and the Department of Defense has responsibility for external threats and force protection. Now, it was not something that the Department of Defense historically, in our history, was organized, trained, and equipped to do. We were organized, trained, and equipped to fight armies and navies and air forces -- not to do individual manhunts.

Aint that the truth. Still it should be pointed out that Clinton had charged Gen. Hugh Shelton (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) with finding a way to have Special Forces go after Bin Laden, but was stymied by logitistical issues in the region. They couldn't get Helicopters with a Special Forces team deep enough into Afghanistan without performing a night refuel operations and the Joint Chiefs and Pentagon Brass refused. Only after 9-11 did we Special Forces get the access to Uzbekistan and Pakistan that they needed.

In fact, there have been occasions in the history of the Department when the Department was chastised for investigating things locally, if you'll recall, during the Army investigations back in the '60s in the Vietnam War period.

MR. WALLACE: But looking back, sir, and I understand this is 20/20 hindsight, it's more than an individual manhunt. I mean -- what you ended up doing in the end was going after al Qaeda where it lived.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Which is the only way to do it, in my view. I think you simply have to go out --

MR. WALLACE: -- pre-9/11 should you have been thinking more about that?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we were thinking about what to do about al Qaeda. Any suggestion that the administration was not would just be incorrect. Now, as I think it was Rich Armitage said, were we able to stop that attack? The answer is no. Were we ahead of those particular terrorists and what they were doing? Obviously not. George Tenet put it well, I thought, when he said, "Look" -- they said, "Why did it happen?" He said, "Because we didn't have a source inside that particular terrorist cell." That would have enabled it to being stopped.

Pardon me for a short moment of factiness, but we did have a source inside that particular terrorist cell. The San Diego landlord for two of the hijackers was an FBI Informant. Carry on. We also had an FBI agent in Arizona who had noticed several people leaning to fly planes, but not neccesarily how to land. He was ignored by FBI brass.

MR. WALLACE: Clarke makes one other specific charge that I'd like to give you the opportunity to respond to here today. He says that on September 12th, the day after the attack, that when all the evidence was pointing to al Qaeda that you wanted to hit Iraq. Let's look at this.

MR. CLARKE: Rumsfeld said "There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan, and there are lots of good targets in Iraq." I said, "Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it."

MR. WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, true or false?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know the context that he said that. I said publicly at one stage during our effort in Afghanistan, which was, of course, a highly successful effort to deal with the al Qaeda there and run them out and deny them that haven, that Afghanistan had run out of targets. That is a correct quote. It's out of context here, but it is a correct quote.

This entire line of questioning wasn't so much about whether the Bush Administration did enough pre-9/11, it was entirely about "Is Clarke Crazy or just plain nuts?" Rumsfeld tries not to directly smear Clarke, but in the end he does state :
Any suggestion that the administration was not [thinking about Al Qaeda] would just be incorrect.
Technically he's correct since Richard Clarke himself was a part of the Bush Administration and he was certainly thinking about it. But he was just about the only one. Condoleeza Rice, who was Clarke's boss and was the one who demoted him and deprioritized the entire Counter Terrorism Group - has herself has been sharply critical of Clinton's comments:

In her interview with the New York Post, Condoleezza Rice claims that the Clinton Administration did not develop a strategy to fight al Qaeda:

The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton’s claim that he “left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy” for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.

We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda,” Rice responded during the hourlong session.

Here’s what the 9/11 Commission Report has to say about it:

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own [which] incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to “roll back” al Qaeda over a period of three to five years …[including] covert aid to the Northern Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.” [p. 197]

Clarke, who also worked for the Bush administration, wrote Condoleezza Rice a memo as soon as the Bush administration took office, stating, “[W]e urgently need…a Principals level review of the al Qida network.” His request was denied.
Not only was his request for an urgent Principals meeting denied, no meetings what-so-ever took place on Al Qeada with key members of the Bush Administration for over 8 months.

Clinton's principle arguement was "I tried and I failed. They didn't try!".

On that point there is absolutely no denying the facts, even if that is exactly what Condi is now claiming. She's wrong. So is Redstate.

Clinton pointed out, accurately, that Fox News has a known right-wing bias. Conservatives have frequently claimed that the non-Fox and Rupert Murdock owned media has as "left-wing bias", suddenly it's unfair for a Democrat to make the exact same claim about Fox when this is the first time they've interviewed him - Ever - and the very first question is an attempt to bash his Administration for something the Bush Administration failed to do? Ridiculous.

But not at all unexpected.


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