Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now he tells us

By now I'm assuming that you've heard the news that in Tom Ridge's book, he suggests that he was pushed to raise terror alerts for political reasons prior to the 2004 election. Glenn Greenwald has already covered the failure of our press to take allegations of political manipulation of the Department of Homeland Security seriously quite adequately, noting that I noted that Ridge had already made similar allegations back in 2005, yet the story failed to make waves while it could make a difference.

So I'd like to focus on a different point raised by Ed Brayton.

Rather than resigning immediately and going public in order to alert voters to the nature of the administration they ended up returning to office, Ridge waited until after the election. And he gives himself quite a pat on the back for that:

"I believe our strong interventions had pulled the 'go-up' advocates back from the brink," Ridge writes. "But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington's recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility and security."

"After that episode, I knew I had to follow through with my plans to leave the federal government for the private sector," Ridge, who resigned soon after the election where Bush defeated Democrat John F. Kerry, writes in "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege ... And How We Can Be Safe Again."
In other words, he waited until it was far too late to actually do anything about this.
Right. This reminds of something Daniel Ellsberg wrote for Harper's a few years ago.

One insider aware of the Iraq plans, and knowledgeable about the inevitably disastrous result of executing those plans, was Richard Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for George W. Bush and adviser to three presidents before him. He had spent September 11, 2001, in the White House, coordinating the nation’s response to the attacks. He reports in his memoir, Against All Enemies, discovering the next morning, to his amazement, that most discussions there were about attacking Iraq.

Clarke told Bush and Rumsfeld that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, or with its perpetrator, Al Qaeda. As Clarke said to Secretary of State Colin Powell that afternoon, “Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response”—which Rumsfeld was already urging—“would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.”

Actually, Clarke foresaw that it would be much worse than that. Attacking Iraq not only would be a crippling distraction from the task of pursuing the real enemy but would in fact aid that enemy: “Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country.”

I single out Clarke—by all accounts among the best of the best of public servants—only because of his unique role in counterterrorism and because, thanks to his illuminating 2004 memoir, we know his thoughts at that time, and, in particular, the intensity of his anguish and frustration. Such a memoir allows us, as we read each new revelation, to ask a simple question: What difference might it have made to events if he had told us this at the time?

No comments: