Thursday, March 25, 2004

Richard Clarke

Nails the Bush Administration.
An E-Mail Dialogue with Walt and Gabe

So, Walt, your tongue-in-cheek review of "The Passion" still leaves me a bit in the dark. Was it really that bad? Did the movie have any 'redeeming' qualities at all? Any take on the purported anti-Semitism of the movie? Supposedly Mel Gibson is going to tackle the Maccabean revolt against the Romans next, which should be interesting: at least it would a form of penance, if Gibson feels that is necessary.

Gabe, I wasn't a "fierce" advocate of the Iraq War, but I did support it at the time. There was a long-term danger in leaving Saddam in power, and he was doing no favors for the Iraqis. Still, there was a question of trust: as a Democrat, I felt very uncomfortable trusting partisan Republican ideologues like Bush and Co. with responsibility for starting a war based largely on classified intelligence. How could one second-guess their judgements? The greatest strength of a democracy is open and free dialogue, and we did not have that luxury leading up to the Iraqi War. Even though there was plenty of time to have a debate (more time, actually, than just about any war in U.S. history), the absence of public information meant we were going into the fight willy-nilly, with blinders on. You'd think the Internet would have changed things, but the American people had better and more reliable information going into the Civil War than the Iraqi War of 2003.

My biggest fear at the time was that the Administration was underestimating the danger posed by chemical warfare on American battlefield troops. The fact that a war was even under consideration showed that the Administration had already determined, based on God knows what intelligence and with what kind of flaky thought process, that Saddam didn't have nuclear weapons. What if they were wrong?

What a surprise to find no WMD! At first, I had a sense of relief, but then there was the inevitable reaction: not only had the American public been bamboozled, but the Administration had bamboozled itself, as ideologue pinheads are wont to do. Saddam had apparently gotten rid of the WMD in the early 90's, in response to intrusive UN inspections and the onerous investments required to keep WMD programs going (Saddam preferred to loot Iraq rather than make investments). Nevertheless Saddam couldn't acknowledge having gotten rid of the WMD, because it was fear of WMD that kept so many of the Shias, and especially the Kurds, in a state of terror. So that liar Saddam lied and lied and lied, and if governments weren't so successful in compartmentalizing the important information and keeping it from the public, it's possible we, meaning we, the American public, would have eventually caught on to Saddam's con game, perhaps even earlier than the government did, and with no lives lost either.

In retrospect, the anti-war position was, sadly, correct. Even though Iraqi society is better off because of the war, Americans are dying every day because of it, and our future security is compromised. Bush pulled the lid off Pandora's Box. We will have precious little influence on the emerging postwar society there (partly because of Rumsfeld's irrational refusal to make Iraq safer by investing the place with more troops), although we must influence it as much as we can, just to mitigate the harm to come.

On your other issues, Gabe, I don't think Bush cares at all about either partial birth abortion or gay marriage: these are strictly political wedge issues, and his 'backbone' would evaporate instantly if he thought they could cost him even one vote of his overall total in November. Why get worked up over partial-birth abortion? It's a third-trimester sort of thing usually undertaken with a pregnancy gone tragically wrong. Why stand directly between a patient and her doctor when her life is on the line? If one wants to take a easy moral stand, ban first trimester abortion: the third trimester stuff is strictly for people who can take hard responsibilities. Indeed, laws aimed at partial-birth abortions are horrible, deceitful things that can kill otherwise healthy women. Let the doctors and their patients make these tragic decisions on their merits, on a case-by-case basis. Of course, the politicos went after partial-birth abortion because these things happen infrequently, and the costs for making that move were low - for them!

What was I talking about? Oh yes, the entire supposed purpose of this communication, the War on Terror. The issue is still of great importance, despite of all that has happened, mostly for two reasons:

1.) 9/11 was the test bed, the template, for a much-more ambitious form of terrorism: Mega-terror. Even if Al Qaeda falters, other groups or splinter organizations might carry on with the example.

2.) The infrastructure that financed and gave succor to the Al Qaeda has barely been affected by U.S. attacks. The Saudi charities still hand over the cash, the radical clerics still preach to their flocks, the Wahhabist schools are still open - little has changed except that future terrorists have been given hope by bin Laden's example.

U.S. attacks have (probably temporarily) deprived Al Qaeda of its Afghan base, but other bases are open. The chief radical Malaysian cleric will be freed from prison shortly, and I'm sure he is ready for action. Kenya looks like a good place to expand operations. Pakistan is still in good shape for Al Qaeda. Disaffected Muslim populations in Europe continue to expand. So, even though bin Laden apparently underestimated U.S. reflexes with 9/11, he may not have been mistaken about American resolve.

I would characterize 9/11 as being akin to personal violence: rape for example. Rape victims often act irrationally for years afterwards when assessing risks: America as a whole is doing the same after 9/11. Going to war in Iraq did nothing to help the war against Al Qaeda. Valuable resources were pulled off the case. We have, what, 140,000 troops in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan? The numbers should be reversed. Many terrorists have lived to fight another day, and needlessly so.

One big trouble with Bush is that he and his clan conflate personal loyalty with loyalty to the country. Time and again, Bush and his folks wage vicious personal attacks when faced with criticism, even well-founded criticism. How is the CIA supposed to maintain morale when Karl Rove and Dick Cheney expose Agent Valerie Plame (a terrible crime), when her husband diplomat Joseph Wilson continued to insist that yellowcake uranium wasn't coming from Niger, counter to White House spin? Now the White House is going after Richard Clarke, a right-wing Republican who's been working the terrorism beat in four Administrations for 20 years, the man who they all turned to to save their asses on 9/11, because Clarke has made valid complaints about Bush's priorities, mostly about how terrorism wasn't such a big deal for Bush. Dick Cheney said on Rush Limbaugh's show that Clarke wasn't really in the loop on the important issues. Unfortunately, on terror and in the White House, Clarke WAS the loop. Clarke's only problem was that he was loyal to the country first, and Bush second (same problem as with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, by the way). So, in the White House, loyalty to Bush is such an overriding priority that any other loyalty, like loyalty to the United States of America, must take second place. Forgive me, but that's total horse****!

Regarding the War on Terror, I think Bush is approaching exhaustion. He can offer nothing more except broken bureaucracies and hopeful terrorists. A new start is required, and Bush is so stubborn and poorly-educated that he can't provide it. Besides, more lies can't carry you very far. As the Spanish electorate recently showed regarding Prime Minister Aznar's brazen attempt to pin the Madrid subway bombings on ETA, people hate it when they catch you lying right to their face, and they can kick you, and hard.

Now, who knows what John Kerry's real take is on the War on Terror: I haven't been following Kerry, so I can't say. I've read some hopeful things, though. Kerry's father was a diplomat stationed in Europe during the Cold War, and in the Kerry household conversation was apparently always about the Berlin War, or MAD, or similar such issues. Also, Kerry's father was quite a bit farther left than Kerry himself: the father disapproved of the younger Kerry volunteering for Vietnam, for example. So I suspect that Kerry actually has a much deeper education on diplomatic issues than Bush ever had, just from years of spirited household debate. Plus it couldn't have hurt to see action in Vietnam, and to have been in the U.S. Senate. Real life experience and all. Unlike Bush, Kerry married into wealth, and so he's not quite as smug, or narrow, or self-satisfied. He defied his father by going to Vietnam, and defied his government with his Winter Soldier hearings. He's had a rather mediocre career as a Senator, though. Maybe it's the absence of a real challenge.

I suspect that terror is high on Kerry's list of priorities, but he hasn't been talking about it much because most of the Democratic primary electorate this year (as in most years) is motivated mostly by economic considerations (even given Dean's meteoric flash across the sky). It's hard to get the terror sound bites out when the outsourcing sound bites have to get out first.

I would have a problem voting Democratic if I thought Kerry came from the pacificist wing of the party. I was shocked at how many supposedly intelligent writers and media types living in New York or San Francisco didn't quite grasp the immediate horror of 9/11: Jonathan Schell, Gary Kamiya, Alexander Cockburn, etc. The reason was partly cultural - those writers didn't mix with bond traders, or firemen, or police officers, even though these were their neighbors: it's not hard not to miss people you never knew, I suppose. I despaired that the Democratic Party had been set back an entire generation, and deservedly so, with tribunes like these bozos. There's no sign that Kerry is part of that nexus, though: for example, he urged Spain's new Prime Minister Zapatero to keep Spanish troops in Iraq and not withdraw them in the face of Al Qaeda's attack. In any event, I have no trouble voting Democratic this year - all it would take would be one more terror incident to show how really badly Bush and his Frankenstein Department of Homeland Security (there's fascist-sounding name if there ever was one) would respond - that is, if Bush could be called away from his golf game with Prince Bandar, or from his month-long vacation in Crawford, Texas.

With Bush's Iraq War, supposedly part of the War Against Terror, but in reality anything but, the worm has turned. No premature Fukuyaman End of History for us! History is on the move again! About time: I was getting depressed there! My recommendation is to abandon that decrepit scow, 'Bush 43', with its idiotic 'Mission Accomplished' banner, and jump on board Kerry's PT Boat, despite its inscrutable direction. Better the devil you don't know, I say.

(From Walt)
So I saw the Passion. It sucked: a total rip-off of "Jesus Christ Superstar". That scene of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss -- that was stolen straight out, except that in the Passion they didn't sing as much. And the part about Pilate washing his hands, that was in Superstar, too! I sense a big copyright infringement lawsuit here. The other thing, the sound quality was terrible; I could hardly understand what the characters were saying most of the time.

(From Gabe)
I would be curious to hear what Marc thinks. I am a bit frustrated because I am not entirely impressed by the GOP agenda but I am one of those "horrible" cultural conservatives who feel very strongly that the Democratic Party left us in the dust, particularly since 1992, where Pro-Life Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania was not allowed to speak at the Democratic convention because he opposed abortion as a right (at least the GOP allows pro-abortion advocates like Christy Todd Whitman and Tom Kean--and maybe Governor Schwartzennegger--an opportunity to speak at conventions and represent the party on a national basis). I am bothered by the emphasis that the Republican Party puts upon the acquistion of wealth and I am not exactly a supporter of the Iraqi War of 2003 (Marc was a fierce advocate--where are you now, you armchair general)? However, the President does show backbone for things he believes in, such as a ban on partial birth abortion and the definition of marriage embedded in law as a union between a man and a woman (as if it needs a legal definition--this whole thing smacks to me as the death of common law, since our whole culture is going haywire, and there seems to be a strong desire to define nearly everything by statute and amendment on the part of both sides of the enlarging gulf in the culture divide, and maybe it cannot be helped). Well, Marc?

Did you ever see The Passion of the Christ? I would be curious to hear your thoughts (you've already read mine...)

(From Walt)
Hey Marc: I've been wondering about your take on Kerry & the war against
terrorism. There are three Democrats which I knew in school, who I still
correspond with: John, Pete, and you.

John and Pete both put the war on terrorism at a low priority. In December
John listed for me his 5 biggest issues of concern for 2004; tort reform was
on the list, but terrorism wasn't. Pete thinks that Al Qaeda got lucky on
9/11 and they'll never be able to repeat it again. I think John's & Pete's
priorities fit well with the priorities of the Democratic Party, so they can
vote Democratic with untroubled minds.

My impression is that the war on terrorism is a high priority with you
(please correct me if I am wrong), and my conclusion after watching
Democratic candidates during the primaries, watching Kerry now, and
listening to Democratic friends and co-workers, is that the war on terrorism
is not a big priority for Kerry, or for the Democrats, or for liberals. For
me, the defining moment this year, when I knew I would not vote Democrat in
2004, was a full-page Candidate Comparison done by AP right after New
Hampshire. They had a row of candidate photos across the top, with each
candidate listing his/her positions on the issues down columns to the
bottom. The issues were defined in rows. There was a row for Health Care,
a row for Jobs, a row for the Deficit, the Environment, Education, and a row
for Iraq -- about 8 or 10 rows in all. The war on terrorism did not have a
row! It looks like none of the candidates felt terrorism was important
enough to emphasize! All -except Lieberman- opposed the war in Iraq. Fine.
However, the war in Iraq is only part of the war on terrorism, and if a
candidate is against the war on Iraq, and has no other plans regarding
terrorism, the actual plan must be to return the initiative to the
terrorists. So Kerry might truly represent John's and Pete's views, but I
sense that you may be conflicted about this election.

Please explain. Is terrorism actually a high priority for Kerry, despite
indications otherwise? What is his plan? Why isn't he talking about it? I
haven't heard his plan yet, except that I know he doesn't like the Iraq war.
Is terrorism still a high priority for you? Are you comfortable voting
Democratic this year?