Monday, September 11, 2006

Paradigm Schmaradigm

I usually stay away from the politics in this blog, and I had originally planned not to post anything about 9/11. But it's so much in the air that I thought I may take a stab at getting my own thoughts in order and in print.

I saw "The Path to 9/11" last night, and thought it was generally okay. There were some clunky "author's sermon" bits of dialogue, but I thought that they got the weaselly bits, and more importantly, the clueless mind-set of the Clinton administration down perfectly. And five years down the road, they're still clueless, still arguing for the same failed approaches that got us to 9/11 in the first place.

See, something big happened in this country on 9/11 that had huge consequences for the world, and I'm not speaking specifically about the attack on the World Trade Center. I'm talking about a change in mind-set, a different paradigm, if you will, that emerged from the fire and rubble of that day, and that was codified in Bush's speeches shortly afterward.

It was the recognition that we were at war.

And it's something that the ex-Clintonistas, the Bush-haters, those on the left refuse to admit or acknowledge. I'm not talking about people making the grudging admission that "Yeah, we're at war, but it's Bush that put us there." I'm talking about deep down, where you really believe that this is a kill-or-be-killed situation and you'd better start taking the threat seriously and acting accordingly. And the left aren't there. Never have been.

Ever.

The Clinton administration's biggest failing in dealing with terrorism was their insistence that terrorism was a law-enforcement problem. Someone does something wrong, you arrest them. You only go after those directly responsible for the incident in question, and only if you have sufficient evidence to connect them. If a Blood kills a Crip, you don't round up the whole gang. You arrest the one Blood responsible, and if you don't have sufficient proof that he did it, you have to let him go. That's the law enforcement mindset.

And evidence for it is everywhere. From U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine's letter to the LA Times ("The Cole was also a crime scene"), to Clinton's vow to "bring those responsible to justice, no matter what or how long it takes," to the continued loony insistence that Bush lied about a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 in order to go to war. He never did no any such thing. He claimed links between Al Qaeda and Iraq as part of a larger case for Iraq as a state sponsor of terrorism. People have interpreted that as him saying Saddam was in on 9/11 because they're listening through a law enforcement filter: "you only go after those directly involved."

And they're still doing it. Yesterday, Vice President Cheney was on Meet the Press and went through an amazingly frustrating "Who's on First?" routine with Tim Russert that illustrates this very problem. A small sample:

MR. RUSSERT: All right. Now the president has been asked, "What did Iraq have to do with the attack on the World Trade Center?" and he said "nothing." Do you agree with that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I do. So it's not...
MR. RUSSERT: So it's case, case closed.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We've never been able to confirm any connection between Iraq and 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: And the meeting with Atta did not occur?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don't know. I mean, we've never been able to, to, to link it, and the FBI and CIA have worked it aggressively. I would say, at this point, nobody has been able to confirm...
MR. RUSSERT: Then why, in the lead-up to the war, was there the constant linkage between Iraq and al-Qaeda?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: That's a different issue...

America's response to terrorist attacks under Clinton was paralyzed by the "Superman problem." Superman's so strong that he can finish most enemies with one punch; no one can really challenge him toe-to-toe. Superman's big problem is that before he can hit someone, he has to figure out who to hit.

As I was watching TV that morning 5 years ago, part of my deep depression was caused not just by what was happening at that moment, but by the feeling that, like Clinton, Bush's response to the attack would be a few angry words followed by a shrug: "We will do whatever we can to bring him to justice, but in reality, 'whatever we can' will amount to a lot of talk and a couple of empty gestures."

The policy that George Bush announced immediately in the wake of 9/11 was a radical shift away from this mindset. So radical that many people in this country still either don't comprehend or believe it. Bush did not announce a simple investigation to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Nor did he announce that we were at war with Al Qaeda, although I've heard lots of people use that phrase.

This was the Bush policy in a nutshell: the problem isn't just Al Qaeda. It's the fact that Islamic jihadists have been allowed to breed and flourish, that countries around the world found terrorist groups to be such valuable tools that they were giving them weapons and money and training and safe haven. So bringing bin Laden to justice is only a small part of what we need to do. The big part is bringing down that edifice of terror-sponsoring regimes, and the intricate networks that fund and train and supply terrorists. Because we are not at war with Al Qaeda. We are at war with the larger system which brought Al Qaeda into being and helped it grow.

Here are direct quotes from Bush's speech on September 20, 2001:
"Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success."

"And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

Everybody heard these words that night, but apparently few took them to heart, didn't believe they were true or that Bush meant them. But looking back over the past five years, it's apparent that he meant every word.

What has the Bush administration done in the intervening years? Gone on a single-minded manhunt for bin Laden? Made a couple of arrests and a cruise missile strike, then declared victory and quit?

No. They've brought down terror-supporting regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, created a new cabinet-level department, embarked on secret programs designed to monitor terrorist communications traffic and strangle terrorist finances, changed or began planning to change the way the military is structured and equipped to fight this enemy.

Quibble with Bush's execution, if you will. Necessary intelligence overhauls still have not been done, and the Iraq occupation has not been handled well. Bin Laden is still at large, although his influence has been diminished as other players have come to the fore. And there are serious debates about civil liberties versus the need for security.

But stop with the "Bush lied" nonsense. He said what he meant, and he did it. The problem is, after eight years of having to read between the lines of every utterance by the Big Weenie, to try to divine the truth behind the carefully-worded ambiguity, a lot of people were not prepared for a President who did that.

That's about it for now, because it's lunchtime. I will add that many see our handling of Saudi Arabia as an indication of Bush's hypocrisy, but I disagree. I'll argue that later if someone insists. And I may talk more about Clinton later. Or not.

1 comment:

mtreiten said...

Crap. I just thought I posted. I didn't and I lost a long rant.

I disagree and I'm not a Clinton apologist, bleeding-heart liberal, or other dismissible dissenting looney.

I remember the predictions of Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney during the pre-war media blitz. I remember the position of Powell, quiet dissent. I remember what happened to the officers who didn't jump on board or expressed unfavorable views.

I won't attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity. Though, neither trait is something I expect in my government.

You can't have another war, until you finish the one you already got. I watched the Iraq hard sell, because I was about to be sent there. I didn't buy it. Not when it had to happen.

We're passing off our war in Afghanistan to NATO. More casualties are incurred per soldier there than in Iraq. That wasn't the case a few years ago.


I used to think that there was more going on than I knew, so I was willing to trust. But now the trust is gone.

Let's quibble about the definitions of "is" and "torture."