|Man Without Qualities|
Sunday, August 04, 2002
Is it just a coincidence that as AOL-Time Warner's own financial reporting problems are mounting, that TIME magazine's political reporting is getting increasingly goofy and irresponsible?
Today's example, via DRUDGE REPORT:
TIME is now reporting that after about many years of ineffective noodling following the first al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center, the Clinton administration had prepared a major, magic strike again al Qaeda, which the Bush Administration delayed!
Why didn't the Clinton Administration itself actually DO anything with this "plan"?
Well, the Clinton Administration was reportedly largely clueless, apparently reaping the rewards of years of liberal neutering of the American intelligence establishment. TIME has Mr. Clinton scribbling on one memo: "We’ve got to do better than this. This is unsatisfactory."
And, yet, it was on the basis of this same "unsatisfactory" product of the Clinton intelligence apparatus that Clinton administration officials - including Sandy Berger - are now suggesting through TIME that the Bush Administration could have, and should have, moved. Yes, indeed, send in those Afghan tribal leaders with submarine support (see below) for what the Clintonites now call a "A bold plan"! Damn the burkas, full speed ahead!
But lack of intelligence (in at least two meanings of that word) was not all that stymied the Clintonites. A former senior Clinton aide also told TIME:
"If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping Al Gore."
THE TIME ARTICLE INCLUDES NO INTERVIEW WITH AL GORE ON THE QUESTION OF WHAT HE KNEW OF THIS SUPPOSED "PLAN" AND WHAT STEPS HE HAD TAKEN TO PUT IT INTO EFFECT ONCE HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT. YET, THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SAYS IT HELD BACK ON TAKING ACTION PRIOR TO THE 2000 ELECTION TO AVOID THE IMPRESSION THEY WERE HELPING MR. GORE. ARE WE TO BELIEVE THAT MR. GORE WAS NOT CONSULTED IN THIS ALLEGED DECISION NOT TO TAKE IMPORTANT MILITARY ACTIONS, OR EVEN BEGIN PLANNING FOR THEM, OUT OF CONCERN FOR HIS CAMPAIGN EFFORTS? SO WHY DID TIME NOT TALK TO MR. GORE?
SOMEBODY SHOULD NOW.
[UPDATE: An astute reader writes to point out that with just a little prodding Bradford DeLong can probably be induced to blame everything on the nefarious Katherine Harris, on the theory that if she'd just called the 2000 Presidential election for Gore on November 8th, then Mr. Clinton would have said "bombs away!"]
But TIME also reports that Richard Clarke presented a strategy paper to Berger and the other national security "principals” only on December 20, 2000. We are not told what rift in the space-TIME continuum allowed the Clinton Administration to make a decision not to act on the plan in the two weeks before the early-November, 2000 election, where the plan was first presented about six weeks after the election, in late December, 2000. Perhaps TIME should have interviewed the team behind the "Back To The Future" movies on this point.
In any event, Berger and "the principals" say they decided not to act on the plan because they did not think they should launch a major initiative against Osama bin Laden in their last four weeks in office. "We would be handing [the Bush Administration] a war when they took office on Jan. 20."
Setting aside the details of time, space, causation and political reality that all seem to make the TIME story impossible, what the Clintonites say certainly amounts to a putative explanation as to why the plan wasn't put into effect in the two weeks before the 2000 election and the four weeks following its December 20 initial presentation. Clinton's failure to take effective action during the other four hundred and ten weeks of his Administrations is not addressed.
What did the Clinton "plan" entail? TIME says:
FIRST: Submarines were ready to attack bin Laden: For all of 2000, Clinton ordered two U.S. Navy submarines to stay on station in the northern Arabian sea, ready to attack bin Laden if his coordinates could be determined.
How big a role did submarines play in the Afghan war? Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall bin Laden being driven from his deep Tora Bora mountain redoubt by cruise missile poundings from American submarines floating far away. Maybe Sandy Berger can write and tell me what I missed. We now DO know that the original Clinton cruise-missile bombing of Afghanistan drove al Qaeda and the Taliban into closer alliance more damaging to American interests - although the Clinton bombing was completely ineffective as a military effort:
[T]hen came the 1998 lethal bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, to which the U.S. replied by raining down cruise missiles on a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan. The retaliation had fateful consequences. It turned Mr. bin Laden into a cult figure among Islamic radicals, made Afghanistan a rallying point for defiance of America and shut off Taliban discussion of expelling the militants. It also helped convince Mr. bin Laden that goading America to anger could help his cause, not hurt it.
It is also worth noting that many people across the political spectrum viewed the 1998 bombings as motivated by Mr. Clinton's putative desire to distract attention from the perjury he had committed as a result of the consequences of some of his Oval Office submarine races. Given the Clinton track record in this area, a policy review of the new plan appears to have been in order. Yet here, with no apparent sense of irony, TIME reports that Clinton was already challenging bin Laden with submarines! The ex-President surely knew his relative strengths.
Submarines as more than relatively minor back-up in Afghanistan? A completely land-locked country? With present technology? TIME does not report whether the Clinton Administration had secured support for its plan from the Swiss Navy.
SECOND: CIA attempted to recruit tribal leaders in Afghanistan. Given what we know about those Afghan tribal leaders and the amount of military support they required from the United States, this prong of the Clinton "plan" seems about as effective a strategy as launching those cruise missiles in 1998.
THIRD: [T]he U.S. military would start planning for air strikes on the camps and for the introduction of special-operations forces into Afghanistan. The plan was estimated to cost "several hundreds of millions of dollars." In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to "everything we've done since 9/11."
So the "plan" contemplated that the U.S. military would start planning an eventual invasion. The Clintonites hadn't actually themselves planned such an attack or invasion. And they weren't advocating such an invasion. In fact, Mr. Clinton had simply failed to put much less radical measures into effect for years. Even now, after the ghastly events of September 11 and with considerable intelligence indicating that Iraq's intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction, there is growing Democratic resistance to an invasion of that country - including Al Gore's recent skeptical questioning of the timing of such a move ("No. Thursday's out How about never- is never good for you?"). It is ludicrous that members of the past Democratic Administration would suggest that the kind of invasion actually launched by Mr. Bush would have been permitted by the likes of Mr. Gore and Congressional Democrats prior to September 11, and still more amazingly disingenuous that they suggest the Clinton Administration had any such serious plan or intent.
One of the stranger aspects of the TIME report is that the quotes actually directly attributed to Mr. Clarke do not seem to support ther thrust of the article, even though the "plan' supposedly originated with Clarke. Clarke told TIME that the Bush Administration "policy review" moved "as fast as could be expected." Clarke says that dealing with al-Qaeda "was in the top tier of issues reviewed by the Bush Administration." But the article attempts to present Mr. Clarke as a frustrated hero, without really stating whether he agrees with the conclusions of the article. Such agreement seems unlikely, since Mr. Clarke is still employed at the White House under Condi Rice.
Predictably, the Bush Administration says they were never handed a plan, anyway, and implies that the ex-Clintonites are making it all up. In any event, the plan addressing al Qaeda eventually actually approved by the Bush Administration was more ambitious that even what the Clintonites are now saying they had "proposed." And any thoughtful person will question why this story and the Clintonites’ “revelations” are appearing without questioning of Mr. Gore, without clear indication of Mr. Clarke's take on its conclusions, and just weeks before the upcoming election - but almost two years after Mr. Clinton and these "senior officials” left office.
On the other hand, given the inconsistencies in the story and how ridiculous and obviously ineffectual the “plan” details make it appear, perhaps the Bush Administration should credit the Clintonites with their claimed efforts anyway.
UPDATE: Bill Quick has some insightful things to say on this.
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