THE MOTHER OF ALL MEMOES

Check out this astonishing memo from 1997, unearthed by the Washington Monthly. It’s from the Justice Department’s self-study of emergency responses to terrorism. The illustration almost gets the actual floor of the WTC right. No-one can say we weren’t warned. Except, maybe, Sandy Berger.

THE HATE MAIL POURS IN: I’ve printed just one of the many, many hate emails I’ve received after my piece yesterday in the Sunday Times of London about the legacy of the Clinton administration in security and intelligence. Most make no points, and most seem not to have read the piece, but there is a general, loopy claim that is baldly untrue. I do not blame Bill Clinton for the September 11 massacre. Far from it. I say quite clearly early on: “We put the blame – rightly – on the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for the massacre.” Emphatic enough? I do not even blame our former president solely for the security failure. Among others directly or indirectly responsible, I cite former President George H.W. Bush, General Colin Powell, CIA director George Tenet, the FBI, “senators and congressmen and lobbyists and civil liberties advocates and journalists – all of whom failed to see the danger staring us in the face. Very few of us are free from blame.” I include myself in that list. Like many others, I didn’t see what was coming, and I’ve been asking myself why. Part of the reason is that we couldn’t actually visualize an attack of that gravity. For that oversight, I write, our leaders “deserve some sympathy. They were imperfect human beings in a world where September 11 was still an abstraction.” I also write: “Hindsight is easy of course. In the halcyon and feckless climate of the 1990s, it would have required real political leadership to dragoon various, stubborn government agencies into a difficult reorganization to counter terrorism. It would have been extremely hard to persuade a skeptical public and a prickly civil liberties lobby that vast new government powers were necessary to prevent catastrophe.” All of this is true, and is an important context. But it’s also true that the president of the United States is ultimately responsible for the security of the United States and its citizens. The buck stops there. It is not partisan or unfair to question the record of our last president, who presided over the weakening of our intelligence and security apparatus for eight years, while the threat of Islamo-fascism clearly grew and grew. This is not written out of “hatred.” It is written because accountability is an essential part of democracy. And our last president is accountable for the decay of our intelligence and security that preceded this nightmare. Clearly the Clinton alums see this, which is why they’re engaging in a furious spin operation (see “ASS-COVERING WATCH” below). Read the piece to see if you disagree. It’s called “The Fruits of Negligence,” and should be posted opposite by 9.30 am Monday.

LETTERS: A gay marine for the war; how peaceful is Islam really?; why Colin Powell is right; etc.

POSTCARD FROM ACADEMIA: A beleaguered student from the University of Wisconsin writes to share a letter written by a fellow student to the student newspaper, the Badger Herald. Yes, it’s just a student letter. No it’s not earth-shattering. But it seems to me it’s newsworthy that a student at a major university could even think these things. Here’s an excerpt: “Make no mistake about it, the attacks of a couple weeks ago were a great national and international tragedy. But tearing up the Middle East, murdering every brown-skinned person in sight, is not going solve anything. The U.S. government is, without a doubt, one of the most genocidal and murderous political entities of the 20th century. In the name of ruthless capitalism and neo-colonialism, our government has murdered over 500,000 Iraqi children, thousands of Palestinians, and many more throughout the world in places like Latin America and East Timor. Brian Marquardt wrote in his letter that, “Those [protesters] are using the rights defended by our military during wars.” What could be further from the truth? Not since World War II has the United States ever been involved in military activity defending our freedoms and liberties. Rather, they have defended a racist, imperialistic American hegemony which, believe it or not, is greatly resented by nearly every other country and their peoples around the world. So before you preach at us about the evil terrorists, why don’t you try getting your facts straight and face up to the reality that our leaders are war criminals just as much as people like Hitler, Stalin and other monsters of the 20th century.”

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “In war there is much to be said for magnanimity in victory. But not before victory.” – Margaret Thatcher, “The Downing Street Years” (1993).

THE TALIBAN’S METHODS: A former Taliban secret policeman debriefs London’s Sunday Telegraph. What he describes is beyond belief. “As we drove around at night with our guns, local people would come to us and say there’s someone watching a video in this house or some men playing cards in that house,” he said. “Basically any form of pleasure was outlawed,” Mr. Hassani said, “and if we found people doing any of these things we would beat them with staves soaked in water – like a knife cutting through meat – until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no food or water in rooms filled with insects until they died. We always tried to do different things: we would put some of them standing on their heads to sleep, hang others upside down with their legs tied together. We would stretch the arms out of others and nail them to posts like crucifixions. Sometimes we would throw bread to them to make them crawl. Then I would write the report to our commanding officer so he could see how innovative we had been.” Ah, but compared to the sins of America’s genocidal leaders, these are piddling offenses.

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ASS-COVERING WATCH

Aware perhaps that the next turn in this story will be a thorough examination of how American intelligence failed so badly to avoid the September 11 Massacre, the Clinton administration uses its favorite paper, the New York Times, for spin control. One major leak about past efforts to get bin Laden killed must have come from someone. Who? Sandy Berger? Does this leak in any way imperil intelligence today? Key ass-covering quotes from Berger and Albright follow. “It was something that we focused on on a daily basis, and pursued with vigor, and I think we accomplished quite a lot,” said former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. “‘I think we took it as far as was possible to go at the time, and I think what we did has provided the basis for things the Bush administration is trying to do now.'” Yeah, right. And here’s Berger: “‘This was a top priority for us over the past several years, and not a day went by when we didn’t press as hard as we could,” said Samuel R. Berger, national security adviser in the Clinton administration. “But this is a tough, tough problem. I think we were pushing it as hard as we could. And I think the Bush administration is handling it in a smart way.'” The Times is forced to concede “mixed results” and it notably doesn’t finger Robert Rubin as the main obstacle for shutting down al Qaeda’s financial network. How could they when they spent major front-page space puffing Rubin earlier this week? No critic is quoted in the article. I’d say this piece is the first sign that the Clintonites are rattled. They know they bear the bulk of responsibility for this – although, of course, not alone. I’m not absolving any of us from some responsibility – including the two Bush administrations, and pundits who didn’t sound the alarm loudly enough. But all signs point to the Clinton administration as the major source of responsibility. No surprise that the Times would be out in front trying to exculpate them.

MUST READ: I was struck by the following sentences in a piece by Gustav Neibuhr in Saturday’s New York Times. A scholar was asked to comment on the extraordinarily pious notes found in the possession of the murderers of September 11. “Some of the letter invokes prayers and uses ‘very mainstream religious language,’ John L. Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim- Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said, referring to excerpts published on Friday. But, he said, ‘all of a sudden, after you’ve read through 90 percent of it, then you get to that set of lines that this is being wrapped around that militant action – You get your ID’s, you’re carrying your knives.'” Now what does that tell you? What it tells me is that perhaps the extremist version of Islam is not that different from the mainstream version of Islam in the eyes of the hijackers. Maybe the links between “good Islam” and “bad Islam” are actually closer than you might think. This is not politically correct; but it may be true. You don’t need a whole new religion to do what these fanatics did; you just need to believe in your creed with greater zeal and fanaticism. This is about religion – or rather about the evil things that fundamentalism can do in any faith. Here are the hijacker’s notes. See what you think.

SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s dark doppelgxe4nger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of “full-spectrum dominance”, its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable.” – Arundhati Roy, The Guardian. I have seen no more eloquent statement of the fusion of anti-globalization and Islamo-fascism that is now resurgent. This is what the far left is becoming. And this is what so many in the mainstream left refuse to take on.

LEWIS VERSUS ME AND KRISTOL

Anthony Lewis, who has opposed almost every conceivable measure to halt or impede terrorism for his entire professional life, is relieved that the Bush administration seems to be abandoning a fully-fledged effort to remove the bases for terrorism’s reach – in Baghdad, Damascus and Kandahar. He blathers on about a new “consensus” – which turns out to be his own vision of what we should do. He wants a multilateral coalition regardless of its ability to solve the real problem, he wants massive Keynesian reflation, he wants Clinton Treasury Secretary back in power, he wants John Ashcroft’s belated measures to stop terrorism watered down. None of this should be surprising. Then he lobs a couple of cruise missiles at me and Kristol. I’m not going to defend myself again here from the grotesque distortion of my obvious meaning in Lewis’s citation of two sentences from my piece for the Sunday Times (although I’ve written a brief letter to the Times). Anyone who reads it will see he’s deliberately distorting its meaning. But I will point out that the dubious loyalty of some on the fringe left does not amount to a “disgusting diatribe” but a mere statement of fact. A movement to oppose all and every Western response to terrorism is already afoot, and it is based on the notion, widely held in these quarters, that the United States is morally inferior to the hoodlums who killed thousands, or is so morally crippled that it has no right to a robust response. Similarly, Lewis’ attack on the alleged partisanship of those who have criticized Colin Powell’s war strategy is simply unfair. Powell is clearly attempting to neuter the fight against terrorism and restrict it as tightly as he restricted the Gulf War. What is partsian about opposing a repetition of an already failed policy? Many on both left and right sincerely hold this view; the editors in chief of both the Weekly Standard and the New Republic have signed on to such a statement. There is nothing partisan about it at all. All Lewis is trying to do, in his usual pompous fashion, is to write people out of a genuine debate on the meaning, context and conduct of this war. Apart from the New York Times op-ed page, where true dissent from liberal orthodoxy is forbidden, Lewis will mercifully fail to silence us.

SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “We’ve been treated to some astonishingly vile images over the last two weeks: office workers hurling themselves into a hundred-floor-high abyss. A gaping, smouldering hole in the financial center of our greatest city. George W. Bush passing himself off as a patriot, even as he disassembles the Constitution with the voracious glee of piranha skeletonizing a cowx85 [E]ven if it’s mainly the result of our pathetic desire to follow someone — anyone — in the aftermath of Sept. 11, there’s little opposition out in the cities and towns across our vast continent: Bush’s job-approval rating is hovering up there with puppies and sunny days. It may have seemed meaningless at the time, but now we know why 7,000 people sacrificed their lives — so that we’d all forget how Bush stole a presidential election.” –Ted Rall, cartoonist, September 27.

ACCOUNTABILITY WATCH

Superb piece by my colleague Frankie Foer in The New Republic on how the National Commission on Terrorism was simply ignored. It even had a picture of the World Trade Center on its cover!

THE BEGINNINGS OF A RECKONING I

I’m surprised more people haven’t picked up on Joe Klein’s excellent piece in the New Yorker this week. Klein doesn’t quite draw the lines between the dots (I’ve just tried to do that in my upcoming piece for the Sunday Times in London), but the piece stands as a damning indictment of the Clinton administration’s anti-terrorism negligence nonetheless. The warnings about bin Laden were copious throughout the 1990s. The recommendations for tackling the Islamic fundamentalist threat were all made repeatedly and with increasing urgency. It’s not fair to say that nothing was done by the Clintonites; and I appreciate that hindsight is easy. But it’s equally clear that not enough was done. Sooner rather than later, historians will need to go back and piece together the pieces that were ignored, undone, or simply denied as the Clinton administration concentrated on more important matters like avoiding impeachment. Klein concludes that “there seems to be near-unanimous agreement among experts: in the ten years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost every aspect of American national-security policy-from military operations to intelligence gathering, from border control to political leadership-has been marked by x85 institutional lassitude and bureaucratic arrogance.” And who was responsible for eight of those ten years? Yes, many of us are to blame for not taking this more seriously. But only one man is ultimately supposed to take responsibility for this. There is no greater duty for a government than the maintenance of national security, and the physical protection of its own citizens from harm. When a senior Clinton official can tell Klein that Clinton “spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other President in recent memory,” and when this presidency is followed by the most grievous breach of domestic security in American history, it is not unreasonable to demand some accounting. With each passing day, the Clinton legacy gets darker and darker.

THE BEGINNINGS OF A RECKONING II: Alongside Klein’s piece, check out a truly prescient and damning account of the failure of our counter-intelligence services to deal with the Islamo-fascist threat. Reuel Marc Gerecht deserves some sort of medal for prescience in this affair, penning superb pieces for the Atlantic and the Weekly Standard over the past few years. Here’s his most insightful essay from the July/August issue of the Atlantic, a piece that reflects the great work Mike Kelly has been doing with that magazine. In it, he emphasized the extreme need for trained spies to go underground in the Muslim world of Afghanistan and Pakistan if the West were ever to get adequate intelligence on bin Laden’s operation. But as late as 1999, not a single such “non-official-cover” spy had been trained or used for such a purpose. A former senior Near East Division operative tells Gerecht, “The CIA probably doesn’t have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ’s sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don’t do that kind of thing.” A younger case officer summed up the policy to Gerecht thus: “Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don’t happen.” Meanwhile, the man who presided over this catastrophe, George Tenet, is still sitting pretty. Wouldn’t anyone with a sense of responsibility after this intelligence debacle have resigned by now? I agree with the Washington Times on this one.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2001

Though mild clear weather
Smile again on the shire of your esteem
And its colors come back, the storm has changed you:
You will not forget, ever,
The darkness blotting out hope, the gale
Prophesying your downfall.

You must live with your knowledge.
Way back, beyond, outside of you are others,
In moonless absences you never heard of,
Who have certainly heard of you,
Beings of unknown number and gender:
And they do not like you.

What have you done to them?
Nothing? Nothing is not an answer;
You will come to believe – how can you help it? –
That you did, you did do something;
You will find yourself wishing you could make them laugh,
You will long for their friendship.

There will be no peace.
Fight back, then, with such courage as you have
And every unchivalrous dodge you know of,
Clear in your conscience on this:
Their cause, if they had one, is nothing to them now;
They hate for hate’s sake.

– “There Will Be No Peace”, by W. H. Auden, 1956, (with thanks to L.M. Moore who first posted this on a Slate fray discussion thread).

HATHOS ALERT: If you really want to engage in an orgiastic feast of Blame-America-First-ism, take a look at these contributions to the insufferably smug and irredeemably leftist London Review of Books. There are some American writers here, and some worthwhile thoughts, but there’s plenty of pretentious cant as well. My favorite is lit-crit guru Fredric Jameson, who manages to blame the event on the suppression of the left in the Third World. Here’s a snippet: “Historical events, however, are not punctual, but extend in a before and after of time which only gradually reveal themselves. It has, to be sure, been pointed out that the Americans created bin Laden during the Cold War (and in particular during the Soviet war in Afghanistan), and that this is therefore a textbook example of dialectical reversal. But the seeds of the event are buried deeper than that. They are to be found in the wholesale massacres of the Left systematically encouraged and directed by the Americans in an even earlier period. The physical extermination of the Iraqi and the Indonesian Communist Parties, although now historically repressed and forgotten, were crimes as abominable as any contemporary genocide. It is, however, only now that the results are working their way out into actuality, for the resultant absence of any Left alternative means that popular revolt and resistance in the Third World have nowhere to go but into religious and ‘fundamentalist’ forms.” Bet you never thought of that. Marxism could have saved us!

SPIN-ZONE: Several of you have asked for sources for my statement that it now seems that there was a) no basis for the assertion that Air Force One and president Bush received a phoned coded threat on September 11 and b) that the plane that hit the Pentagon was destined for the White House. My source for a) was an Associated Press report that “administration officials said they now doubt whether there was actually a call made threatening the president’s plane, Air Force One.” There was some “misunderstanding” among officials, apparently. No record of the alleged call can be found. CBS News also reported Tuesday night that no such threat had been made. My source for b) was also CBS News correspondent Bob Orr’s examination of the radar evidence for the plane’s flight path. The story is followed up today by Jake Tapper at Salon. I’d be only too happy to be shown evidence backing the administration’s claims, but so far, the evidence seems to be overwhelmingly against them. Some of you have pointed out that is a deeply petty issue. I couldn’t agree more. But that’s all the more reason why the White House shouldn’t be sending out these misleading signals – to people who are basically friendly to them.

THE ONION PULLS IT OFF

The first attempt to laugh our way through this that actually works. The TV listings are priceless.