Those who would destroy…

“…The tone and the terms of the evolving struggle for political dominance here present the possibility that such an attack could similarly strengthen those whom both candidates have pledged to destroy…”

Mark Danner, in this week’s New Yorker:

America has endured fierce electoral struggles over war and peace before, most recently over Vietnam in 1968. This “war on terror” campaign, however, in its focus on the critical question of “Who can make us safer?,” may come to more closely resemble the Red-baiting campaigns of the fifties or the elections after the Civil War in which rivals “waved the bloody shirt.” But this campaign includes a shadow player the others lacked. For nearly a decade, Al Qaeda has attempted not to defeat the United States militarily but to gain adherents by building its image among Muslims as the only effective counter to America and to the moderate regimes that American power sustains. To this political program the Bush Administration sought to offer what it thought of as a political response: to “transform the Middle East,” by way of war in Iraq. So far, the occupation has done much to diminish American prestige among the moderate Muslims it was meant to persuade — and has helped increase the prestige of those who make the claim, while they go on killing the occupiers, that they are the only effective opposition to American power.
In the United States, the debate over Iraq has encouraged a kind of corrosive, brutal politics that has at its center an appeal to personal fear. That leaves a powerful weapon in the hands of the terrorists, who gained enormously after the attacks in Madrid by appearing to swing Spain’s election against a major ally of President Bush. No one can say what effect a terrorist attack would have on the American election. But the tone and the terms of the evolving struggle for political dominance here present the possibility that such an attack could similarly strengthen those whom both candidates have pledged to destroy.

One Condi, under Oath…

Good news. National Security Advisor Condi Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 commission. But there are hitches…

Good news. National Security Advisor Condi Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 commission.
In White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales’ letter, he writes:

The president has consistently stated a policy of strong support for the commission and instructed the executive branch to provide unprecedented and extraordinary access to the commission. To my knowledge, the executive branch has provided access to documents or information in response to each of the requests issued by the commission to date, including many highly classified and extremely sensitive documents that have seldom, if ever, been made available outside the executive branch.

Ah, but wait, there’s more:

The necessary conditions are as follows. First, the commission must agree in writing that Dr. Rice’s testimony before the commission does not set any precedent for future commission requests, or requests in any other context, for testimony by a national security adviser or any other White House official.
Second, the commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.

Nice. One shot guys, and that’s it. Let’s leave aside the fact that the commission is not an arm of Congress and is a presidentially appointed body, so the separation of powers argument is shaky, at best. What this is, is a face-saving move as Josh Marshall notes. He also makes the excellent point that without any followup sessions allowed, what happens if Rice’s testimony contradicts Clarke’s?
Regardless, it’s about time. After a week of surging storm clouds, Team Bush has finally decided that the only way to rebut Richard Clarke’s remarks is to make Rice talk, publicly and under oath. The question is, will she be able to avoid perjuring herself and will anyone be able to do anything about it if she does?
Those of us who opposed the war and just about everything the Bush administration has done obviously suspect the Administration has been resistant to Rice’s testimony because we think the administration has something to hide — likely gross incompetence, obsession and a small-minded agenda. Nothing criminal, but it would be very, very damaging to Bush’s halo as a “war president.”
Those who support the war and the White House think Clarke is a propagandist for the evil doers, aka the Democratic Party, that _he’s_ the liar and — the horror! — that he’s a big ol’ gay. Now if they can just finger him as a Canadian or Frenchman, the demonization will be complete.
Speaking of complete, I’ve spent too much time on l’affaire de Clarke. People like Josh Marshall, Billmon, Kevin Drum and George Paine are doing a better job and I urge you to check on them for Washington politicking re Clarke. We will now return to our regularly scheduled war in Iraq.

“Our weapons are powerless!”

Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clark proved himself an unblinking warrior against the Bush attack dogs today as the White House attempted to bring him down — but their weapons were apparently powerless against him.

Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clark proved himself an unblinking warrior against the Bush attack dogs today as the White House attempted to bring him down — but their weapons were apparently powerless against him.
First, they tried to use a background briefing he gave against him. In today’s press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan tried repeatedly to paint Clarke’s August 2002 background briefing to reporters as “his own words” instead of the words of a man who was special assistant to the president.

Q Scott, just one more on Clarke. Given the fact that you’re pointing to this transcript, reading through it, saying it’s a question of his credibility —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it’s his own words.
Q Right.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m just repeating his own words.
Q Right. So given that, given the fact that he definitely had this quoted as toeing the administration’s line before reporters, why do you think he is saying what he’s saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, this goes to his credibility, and I think that those are questions that Mr. Clarke needs to answer. It was Mr. Clarke who went out and made assertions that this administration was doing nothing prior to 9/11, that we were not taking the threat from al Qaeda seriously, that there was a delay, that we moved slowly. But Dick Clarke, in his words acknowledges, one, that the administration took al Qaeda very seriously and began a process to address the threat very early on; and two, our administration was able to come to quick decisions on a number of issues that had been on the table for several years; and three, that the President directed the White House to develop a new comprehensive strategy of eliminating rather than rolling al Qaeda. You cannot square Dick Clarke’s new assertions with his past words. That’s very clear.
I would like to just point to a couple of other parts of this transcript from Mr. Clarke’s interview with reporters. There’s a question by a reporter. Question: What is your response to the suggestion in the August 12th — well, in the Time Magazine article that the Bush administration was unwilling to take on board the suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of animus against the — general animus against the foreign policy?
Mr. Clark: “I think if if there was a general animus that clouded their vision, they might not have kept the same guy dealing with the terrorism issue. This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn’t sound like animus against the previous team to me,” Mr. Clarke went on to say.
Then a reporter — here it’s listed, Jim Angle, White House Correspondent [From Fox News, which came to the White House with this transcript — CA]: “You’re saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action fivefold, is that correct?”
Mr. Clarke: “All of that is correct.”
Now, two other parts I want to refer to, as well:
Question by a reporter: “Were all of those issues part of an alleged plan that was late December, and the Clinton team decided not to pursue because it was too close to –” Mr. Clarke jumps in here: “There was never a plan, Andrea. What there was, was these two things — one a description of the existing strategy, which included a description of the threat; and two, those things which had been looked at over the course of two years and which were still on the table.”
So the follow-up question: “So there was nothing that developed, no documents or no new plan of any sort?
Mr. Clarke: “There was no new plan.”
Question: “No new strategy, I mean. I don’t want to get into semantics.”
Mr. Clarke: “Plan, strategy — there was no, nothing new.”
And later on, again this is Jim Angle here, asking this question: “So just to finish up, if we could then, so what you’re saying is that there was no — one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually, the first changes since October of ’98 were made in the spring months just after the administration came into office?
Mr. Clarke: “You got it. That’s right.”
And finally, because I think this one is important, as well, Mr. Clarke towards the end of the interview went on to say: “You know, the other thing to bear in mind is the shift from the roll-back strategy to the elimination strategy. When President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the NSPD” — meaning the National Security Policy Directive — “from one of roll-back to one of elimination.”
So those are Mr. Clarke in his own words, and his own words contradict what he now asserts.
Q Is he a liar or is he just forgetful?
Q Scott, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: April.
Q Is he a liar or just forgetful?
MR. McCLELLAN: You’ve had your turn.
April.

Here McClellan disputes that the White House even attempts to coordinate its daily communications strategy.

Q Scott, back to Terry’s question. Are these just basically talking points? We know every day all of you start from the beginning of the day to disseminate — well, to figure out what you’re going to say to the media, how you’re going to present your spin, I guess, you would say in some ways. And was he just following talking points, the spin line?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know if that’s — I don’t know if that’s quite an accurate description of the way we start our day or what we do.
Q Well, I mean when you start your day, you guys are talking about what you want to put out there and how you’re going to put it out there, and what you should not say. And was he, indeed, following the line that you were given here that day?
MR. McCLELLAN: This was Mr. Clarke describing what he knew in his own words. This was not anybody but Mr. Clarke making these comments.
Q But, Scott, in this administration when reporters go and ask you, other persons around here, we get the same words — the same words come out. There’s no variation or anything. Was he —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that’s a sign that we’re following the President’s direction and his policies.
Q You’re following talking points, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, you need to separate out some of this. This was Mr. Clarke, on his own, making these comments back in the spring of 2002. This was him in his own words.

So, according to McClellan, there are no talking points and Clarke is a rogue special assistant to the president who talks off the reservation — in his own words, remember — but who’s own words back up the president’s policies.
Huh?
Then, during his testimony today before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Commission member Gov. James R. Thompson held up the transcript of the Aug. 2002 press briefing and asked, “Which is true?”
Clarke responded with, “I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White house to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts that minimized criticism of that administration. And so I did.”
“I was asked to make that case to the press,” Clarke continued. “I was special assistant to the president, and I made the case I was asked to make.”
Thompson responded with incredulity that such things ever happen, asking, “Are you saying to me you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and the public and you went ahead and did it?”
“No sir,” replied Clarke. “Not untrue. Not an untrue case. I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I’ve done it for several presidents.”
Snap!
So far, the White House’s only line of defense against Clarke is that he’s “a liar and a boob and both out-of-the-loop and responsible for everything that went wrong,” as Josh Marshall neatly summarizes. And those are pretty weak considering he’s got 30 years of service under his belt, he was the loop and his book shows how the Clinton White House did a lot of things right — such as preventing al Qaeda from taking over Bosnia in the mid 1990s. [pp 136-140]
Aside: I’m outraged that Fox approached the White House with this background briefing tape. According to McClellan, “it was Fox News who yesterday came to us and said they had a tape of this conversation with Mr. Clarke.” If that’s true, then a news organization that was included in a briefing with the agreement that it was on background — that is, with no quotes and the briefer not be identified — approached a source’s former employer and offered to give up apparently conflicting words that the employer could use against the source. (I read the transcript. It’s not particularly contradictory, frankly, and can easily be read as how Clarke characterized it.) This is a major journalistic no-no. When I was at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, we were taught to go to jail before you give up your sources. And you sure as hell don’t approach someone you’re supposed to be covering and offer to help them out against someone.
But back to Fox. Anyone who still thinks Fox is “fair and balanced” should really have their head examined. If you like it because it’s a right-wing attack network, more power to you. At least you’re honest with yourself. But if you really think it’s working for anything but Bush’s re-election, you really need to get out more.
But all this criticism is really secondary because Clarke reserves he real outrage for Iraq. When the subject of the war there came up, Clarke said to the Commission, simply and devastatingly, “By invading of Iraq, the President of United of the States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.”
For a long several seconds, there was nothing in the room but a deadly silence.

Bloggers: Whitewash in the works

There’s a fair amount of skepticism among well-known bloggers about the Presidential Commission to investigate the intelligence failures in the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. I don’t have a lot to add myself, but I’d like to point out some good posts.

There’s a fair amount of skepticism among well-known bloggers about the Presidential Commission to investigate the intelligence failures in the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. I don’t have a lot to add myself, but I’d like to point out some good posts.
First of all, there’s the executive order itself establishing the commission. Its mission, in an excerpt from the order:

Sec. 2. Mission. (a) The Commission is established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity. The Commission shall assess whether the Intelligence Community is sufficiently authorized, organized, equipped, trained, and resourced to identify and warn in a timely manner of, and to support United States Government efforts to respond to, the development and transfer of knowledge, expertise, technologies, materials, and resources associated with the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, related means of delivery, and other related threats of the 21st Century and their employment by foreign powers (including terrorists, terrorist organizations, and private networks, or other entities or individuals). In doing so, the Commission shall examine the capabilities and challenges of the Intelligence Community to collect, process, analyze, produce, and disseminate information concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of such foreign powers relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, related means of delivery, and other related threats of the 21st Century.
(b) With respect to that portion of its examination under paragraph 2(a) of this order that relates to Iraq, the Commission shall specifically examine the Intelligence Community’s intelligence prior to the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom and compare it with the findings of the Iraq Survey Group and other relevant agencies or organizations concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of Iraq relating to the design, development, manufacture, acquisition, possession, proliferation, transfer, testing, potential or threatened use, or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction and related means of delivery.

Well! Looks like the questions *I* want to see answered won’t be. The primary question is not “What went wrong with our intelligence analysis?” but instead should be, “Was this intelligence misused?”
As Billmon says, the fix is in. Josh Marshall says so, too. Hesiod over at Counterspin Central points out that Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, a member of the commission, seems to have already made up his mind. And Atrios points out the Democractic response to the appointment of former federal appellate judge Laurence Silberman, as co-chairman of the commission.
Lots of good reading.

U.S. vs. al Qaeda: Spring offensives planned

Both the United States and al Qaeda are planning spring offensives. America because it can, and al Qaeda because it must.

The United States is planning a spring offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for the U.S. military said America’s armed forces are “sure” they can catch Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar “later this year.” Unfortunately, al Qaeda likely has a spring offensive of its own in the plans.
But first, confirmation of the American plans from Stratfor:

Former Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul (Ret.) has told the daily _Nawa-I-Waqt_ that reports of a planned U.S. offensive against al Qaeda in the spring were true. Gul said CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid had asked countries bordering Afghanistan for permission to carry out operations within their borders. Gul implied that Pakistan had not granted its consent. In further comments, he said Washington would postpone elections in Afghanistan in order to conduct this operation and had been pressuring Islamabad regarding its nuclear program to coerce its cooperation.

Pakistan has already apparently taken the lead on this offensive. On Jan. 13, according to the _Pakistan Daily Times_, about 250 commandos from the Pakistani military’s elite Special Services Group (SSG) along with regular infantry troops were shifted from North Waziristan to the Wana area in South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, notes Stratfor.
The goal of both America and Pakistan will be to root out al Qaeda’s entrenched positions in the lawless Northwest Territories. Ideally, Pakistani troops will be used for the bulk of the fighting, and this is the reason for Gul’s denial to the United States.
However, Pakistan’s refusal should be seen as a net gain for both countries. The United States has apparently been planning this offensive for some time, and with the Bush administration’s history of unilateral action at the expense of other countries’ sovereignty pretty well known, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has some cover for going into a region hostile to outside control. He can’t be seen by his people as acquiescing to the Americans’ wishes, so he denies them access and moves his own troops into the region as a show of strength and sovereignty. He knows full well that the United States will move into Pakistani territory anyway, and his thinking is that there’s not a lot the Pakistanis can do to stop Washington. At the same time, because Pakistan is making an effort to to root out bin Laden and his jihadists, the White House can’t accuse Musharraf’s government of not stepping up to the plate. And — bonus! — any pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear program from Washington will probably ease a little bit. The upshot? Washington gets to act against its real enemies without destabilizing Musharraf, and he doesn’t look like a patsy to his own people. Also, Islamabad gets to keep the Bomb, a source of great national pride in Pakistan.
With this strategy, the goal is to have the war against al Qaeda wrapped up some time in 2005.
But back to bin Laden. What will be al Qaeda’s response? Three things: It will to 1) destabilize or overthrow the Saudi Arabian royal family (a long-held goal), 2) destabilize Pakistan or 3) weaken U.S. resolve by massive attacks inside the United States, possibly with WMD. These strategies could be — and likely will be — used together.
In Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda could build on its string of bombings and attacks to such a degree that the survival of the current regime in Riyadh is in doubt. The U.S. would be forced to intervene, using the military hardware it has and will have in Iraq once the March rotation is in motion. (Riyadh is already on high alert for terror attacks during the hajj.) If al Qaeda can bog down the United States by causing it to stretch its already thin forces in Iraq into Saudi Arabia, it will strengthen its hand in Pakistan, too.
By destabilizing Pakistan — the two recent assassination attempts against Musharraf are probably just the first of many to come — al Qaeda makes the United States’ war infinitely more difficult. With Musharraf in control, the U.S. can cut backroom deals that allow it to operate in Pakistan to attack al Qaeda positions with relative freedom, as discussed above. With a militant Islamist _junta_ ruling from Islamabad — a nuclear-armed _junta_, mind you — that’s no longer an option. Can the United States occupy Afghanistan, Iraq _and_ Pakistan? No.
Finally, al Qaeda may attempt another massive attack on the scale of 9/11. Would massive American casualties sap the will of the United States? Possibly. Or maybe not; Sept. 11 didn’t cause the United States to cut and run. Instead, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon propelled the United States into a war with militant Islamists and the fallout — Iraq, most notably — has divided the West internally and pitted the United States against the Muslim world. This may have been bin Laden’s main goal all along. What would be the result of another massive attack? The answer depends on how much sympathy the U.S. could garner from a world that may have exhausted its supply of goodwill toward America. Instead of a replay of 2001’s season of solidarity, would the United States be seen as reaping what it has sown? The Axis of Evil 8-Ball on this one says, “Sources cloudy; ask again later.” If its any consolation, bin Laden probably doesn’t know either. What is known is that _nothing_ would stop an enraged and wounded America from hellish retaliation.
So for the moment, that’s where all the players stand. Al Qaeda has to demonstrate its effectiveness before the United States starts its offensive this year to preemptively stall any momentum Washington may gather. It also has to show its members and supporters that it still has the capability to lead the jihad against the West. I predict intense attacks in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, the United States will attack in Pakistan and al Qaeda likely will be dealt a death blow and bin Laden captured or killed. That would be a stunning setback for militant Islam, what with its spokesman and folk hero felled by the infidel.
That won’t spell the end of militant Islam of course, nor will it mean the end of the terror threat against the United States and the West. Al Qaedaism is more than just the group and it’s more than bin Laden. Smaller groups will continue to exist, operate and network. But without the charisma of bin Laden — and his web of financing — terror groups affiliated with al Qaeda can be reduced to a chronic, but manageable, problem.