April 11, 2004

Giving Away The Game

I guess this means the gloves are off. Bob Kerrey and the rest of the Democratic team have abandoned all pretense of objectivity or bipartisanship, even in advance of their final findings and the report of the 9/11 Commission. The former Senator's op-ed in the N.Y. Times is a vehicle for a partisan broadside on George Bush and his policies. No, partisan opinion in an op-ed doesn't shock me, but this is so irresponsible that I'm embarrassed for the other members of the commission, and yet gratified that Kerrey has shredded his last bit of credibility as any kind of above-the-fray patriot, doing a service for the country.

Kerrey intentionally "leaks" his own personal commission report with what may be the most emotional, inflammatory and politically charged statement he could possibly make;

"9/11 could have been prevented", he pronounced matter-of-factly, saying volumes and saying nothing at the same time.

No sense waiting around for the conclusions or report of the prestigious Commission, Mr. Kerrey. The New York Times chariot awaits you, sir...to carry you to the Vice-President's coronation ball.

Is there no sense among Democrats that this attack, in this forum or any forum, is breathtakingly inappropriate for a sitting member of the commission? Is there indeed any doubt that this is an important moment in the campaign, when the Democrats officially decide that there shall be no remaining restraints on their rhetoric of opposition to the policies of the Commander-in-Chief and his conduct of the war?

In the Democratic version of "politics stopping at the water's edge", Kerrey announced that:

"I believe President Bush's overall vision for the war on terrorism is wrong. — military and civilian alike."...

...In particular, our military and political tactics in Iraq are creating the conditions for civil war there and giving Al Qaeda a powerful rationale to recruit young people to declare jihad on the United States.

Bob Kerrey wants to denounce the President's military tactics in Iraq from his seat on the 9/11 Commission. This is helpful, I suppose, in convincing the last few remaining holdouts that the Commission is a sad joke, its mission sadly sacrificed on the altar of politics.

Kerrey has a solution to the War on Terror though, by the way. It is so simple too...

the importance of this distinction is that it forces us to face the Muslim world squarely and to make an effort to understand it. It also allows us to insist that we be judged on our merits — and not on the hate-filled myths of the street. Absent an effort to establish a dialogue that permits respectful criticism and disagreement, the war on terrorism will surely fail. The violence against us will continue.

So, that's the mistake George Bush made. He failed to "make an effort to understand" the Muslim world. The Democrats promise more "making an effort to understand the Muslim World". That's their answer. And it is also sure to be a key part of the John F. Kerry presidential campaign platform as far as I can tell. The vision thing. And what the hell are "the hate-filled myths of the street"?

So, what's needed is more dialogue.....so as to permit respectful criticism and disagreement (of us, by them of course). Sounds like a good plan for ending Islamic terror attacks, Bob. Last time I checked, the promise of martyrdom for murder in pursuit of world domination was winning out over "dialogue" when the theocrats put it to a vote.

This is just the most disappointing and distatsteful exhibition of political interference in foreign policy since....well, since Jimmy Carter last week. Americans have a right to be furious with Kerrey for politicizing the Commission so shamelessly. Scoring political points is more important than the integrity of the Commission and its Report. That's the message, loud and clear, from Democratic headquarters.

I do hope this "gloves-off" Kerrey tactic backfires on the Democrats and candidate Kerry. First, because our policy in Iraq simply must succeed, so any attempts to undermine it are setting back the process of democratization in Iraq and the handover of power. I think most Americans get that, and have pride in what we have accomplished so far. They are also appreciative of the aggressive posture of George Bush and his administration in taking the fight to our enemies, and so far, preventing another major attack on American soil.

My hope that the electorate will see through the rhetorical smokescreen is based on the fact that the criticism is so devoid of alternatives, absurdly extreme in tone, and counterintuitive in its suggestions. In short, the American people are not stupid enough to believe that a Democratic administration, much less one led by John Kerry, will "dialogue" or "understand" its way to ending to Islamic terror. We watched eight years of that play in the 90's.

My hope is also owing to the way George Bush is viewed by large numbers of Americans. I think most people in this country reject the idea that George Bush has not "made an effort to understand" the Muslim world. They reject the notion that the War on Terror is being waged due to a dialogue deficit in the United States. They don't hear policy alternatives coming from Bush's critics, just bluster and wind. They don't believe we are being attacked because we are not cozy enough with the governments of western Europe, or because we have not conducted our foreign policy by giving veto power over our conduct to the United Nations.

Most people I know think Bush is a fundamentally good man who has led the country admirably in a difficult time. They see the importance of gaining a foothold for democracy in the Middle East, and can see good progress on other fronts, like Syria, Libya, that flow from the hopes of free Iraqis. I think what is most vexing to Democrats is that Bush still has strong support among the people, and seems perfectly willing to stand for re-election before them, and be "judged on his merits."

Hence the necessity of the smear job by the Left, of which the unprofessional and transparent attack by Bob Kerrey is only the latest salvo.

(Since the Times archives things pretty quickly, I have excerpted liberally [wink, wink] the Kerrey text below)

Also check out Armed Liberal's take and the comments at Winds of Change.


April 11, 2004

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Fighting the Wrong War

By BOB KERREY

At Thursday's hearing before the 9/11 commission, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, gave a triumphal presentation. She was a spectacular witness.

I was a tough critic of some of her answers and assertions, though I believe I was at least as tough with the national security adviser for President Clinton. At the beginning and end of every criticism I have made in this process, I have also offered this disclaimer: anyone who was in Congress, as I was during the critical years leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, must accept some of the blame for the catastrophe. It was a collective failure.

Two things about that failure are clear to me at this point in our investigation. The first is that 9/11 could have been prevented, and the second is that our current strategy against terrorism is deeply flawed. In particular, our military and political tactics in Iraq are creating the conditions for civil war there and giving Al Qaeda a powerful rationale to recruit young people to declare jihad on the United States.

The case for the first conclusion begins with this fact: On 9/11, 19 men defeated every defense mechanism the United States had placed in their way. They succeeded in murdering 3,000 men and women whose only crime was going to work that morning. And they succeeded at a time of heightened alert — long after we recognized that Al Qaeda was capable of sophisticated military operations.

Remember, the attack occurred after President Clinton had let pass opportunities to arrest or kill Al Qaeda's leadership when the threat was much smaller. It occurred after President Bush and Ms. Rice were told on Jan. 25, 2001, that Al Qaeda was in the United States, and after President Bush was told on Aug. 6, 2001, that "70 F.B.I. field investigations were open against Al Qaeda" and that the "F.B.I. had found patterns of suspicious activities in the U.S. consistent with preparation for hijacking."

Once again I know that President Clinton, President Bush and Ms. Rice all faced difficult challenges in the years and months before 9/11; I do not know if I would have handled things differently had I been in their shoes. It has been difficult for all of us to understand and accept the idea that a non-state actor like Osama bin Laden, in conjunction with Al Qaeda, could be a more serious strategic threat to us than the nation-states we grew up fearing.

But this recognition does not absolve me of my obligation to ask those who were responsible for our national security at the time what they did to protect us against this terrorist threat.

One episode strikes me as particularly important. On July 5, 2001, Ms. Rice asked Richard Clarke, then the administration's counterterrorism chief, to help domestic agencies prepare against an attack. Five days later an F.B.I. field agent in Phoenix recommended that the agency investigate whether Qaeda operatives were training at American flight schools. He speculated that Mr. bin Laden's followers might be trying to infiltrate the civil aviation system as pilots, security guards or other personnel.

Ms. Rice did not receive this information, a failure for which she blames the structure of government. And, while I am not blaming her, I have not seen the kind of urgent follow-up after this July 5 meeting that anyone who has worked in government knows is needed to make things happen. I have not found evidence that federal agencies were directed clearly, forcefully and unambiguously to tell the president everything they were doing to eliminate Qaeda cells in the United States.

My second conclusion about the president's terrorism strategy has three parts. First, I believe President Bush's overall vision for the war on terrorism is wrong. — military and civilian alike.

Second, the importance of this distinction is that it forces us to face the Muslim world squarely and to make an effort to understand it. It also allows us to insist that we be judged on our merits — and not on the hate-filled myths of the street. Absent an effort to establish a dialogue that permits respectful criticism and disagreement, the war on terrorism will surely fail. The violence against us will continue.

Such a dialogue does not require us to cease our forceful and at times deadly pursuit of those who have declared war on us. Quite the contrary. It would enable us to gather Muslim allies in a cause that will bring as much benefit to them as it does to us. That's why President Bush was right to go to a Washington mosque shortly after Sept. 11. His visit — and his words of assurance that ours was not a war against Islam but against a much smaller group that has perverted the teachings of the Koran — earned the sympathy of much of the Muslim world.

That the sympathy wasn't universal, that some in the Arab world thought the murder of 3,000 innocents was justified, caused many Americans to question whether the effort to be fair was well placed. It was — and we would be advised to make the effort more often.

Third, we should swallow our pride and appeal to the United Nations for help in Iraq. We should begin by ceding joint authority to the United Nations to help us make the decisions about how to transfer power to a legitimate government in Iraq. Until recently I have not supported such a move. But I do now. Rather than sending in more American forces or extending the stay of those already there, we need an international occupation that includes Muslim and Arab forces.

Time is not on our side in Iraq. We do not need a little more of the same thing. We need a lot more of something completely different.


Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission and a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, is president of New School University.

Posted by dan at April 11, 2004 9:52 PM