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April 2, 2004 PERMALINK
The $11B 2001 Terror Dodge
(posted April 2 1 AM ET)
(minor edit April 2 5:45 PM ET)

In yesterday's W. Post scoop on Condi Rice's Osama-free national security speech, that she planned to give on 9/11 but never did, this item was buried without much elaboration:

In the speech...Rice intended to point out that the United States had spent $11 billion on counterterrorism, about twice as much as it spent on missile defense, during the previous year, although the speech did not point out that that was when President Bill Clinton was still in office.

That was no throwaway line.

As of late, Bushies have tried to argue that Democrats didn't take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11.

The fact is Dems couldn't shut up about terrorism in the days and weeks before 9/11, as they tried to stop Bush's missile defense plans by showing Bush was ignoring the most pressing threat.

The GOP needed a talking point to fend off the Dem argument. The $11B was it.

Here's Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld on CNN's Late Edition, Sept. 9, 2001:

...what you need to do is try to deal with as many [different threats] as you can.

That's why the United States spends so much money...on terrorists. We spend a $11 billion trying to deal with terrorism and force protection.

To select out one and suggest to the American people, if you cannot defend against everything, you should defend against nothing, would be a policy of vulnerability, which I find incomprehensible.

Here's Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz on Fox News, July 13, 2001:

Look, I'm worried about the terrorist threat, too. And I think we should do everything we reasonably can.

By some estimates, by the way -- and I don't know how reliable they are -- if you add it up everything we're doing, we're spending $11 billion a year countering terrorism.

We should be.

[But] I don't believe you can say which [threat] is more likely, which is less likely.

We lost 19 Americans to a truck bomb in Saudi Arabia, terrorist threat, in, I guess, 1996. We lost 28 Americans to a Scud missile attack during the Gulf war.

Which is the bigger threat? I'd say they're both serious threats. Let's work on both of them.

They were implicitly sending the message: We already do a lot on terrorism. We're on top of it. It's missile defense that's underfunded.

In fact, then-Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) made the point more explicitly, on Fox News, May 1, 2001:

The suitcase bomb, the proverbial suitcase bomb we all talk about. That's certainly a threat.

But we spend about $11 billion a year on terrorism in general.

We spend much, much less than that, $2 billion or $3 billion a year on a national missile defense program right now.

That would increase, obviously, under the president's plan.

They fell into the trap that conservatives always accuse liberals of doing: assuming that throwing money at a problem is enough.

And while Wolfie said he thought we should "work" on the terror threat too, we know from the 9/11 Commission that Rumsfeld "did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11."

Clearly, they were working very hard.

Immeasurably more appalling than the Bushies simply being asleep at the switch, they were actively giving lip service to a threat they were doing little about.

While they were citing dollar figures, Americans across the country were sounding the alarm about the terror threat, and criticizing White House priorities, in the summer of ╬01.

For the record, here's an extended sampling.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), CNN, 9/10/01

North Korea or any other regime, thinking about their future would have to think twice before launching a missile attack on the United States.

We could identify the source of a threat and we could counterattack vigoroussly and decisively.

The difference between that type of attack and someone carrying across a suitcase full of biological weapons is that we -- it would be hard for us to retaliate.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), NBC's Meet The Press, 9/9/01

Missile defense would protect us from virtually nothing.

It will not protect us from cruise missiles. It will not protect us from something being smuggled in.

It will not protect us from an atom bomb in the rusty hull of a ship coming into a harbor.

It will not protect us from anthrax...

...all of which the Defense Department says are much more likely, much more likely threats than somebody sending an ICBM with a return address it on, saying, we just struck you, knowing that'll result in immediate annihilation.

Tom Bigler, Wilkes Barre Times Leader columnist, 9/9/01

...our nation is in far greater danger, not from a random incoming nuclear missile, but from an innocuous-looking visitor carrying a briefcase and walking through major traffic centers.

It is almost impossible to recognize a terrorist at this stage.

But the briefcase could contain vials of such samples of biological warfare as a smallpox virus.

Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, 9/7/01

The Bush administration is seeking $18 billion for missile defenses against rogue nukes, but it can't find a few million to keep bomb matriel out of the hands of terrorists.

Never mind that U.S. intelligence agencies are much more worried about a terrorist's suitcase bomb than they are about a nuclear missile from Pyongyang.

Former Labor Sec. Robert Reich, Salon.com, 9/4/01

To spend an additional $300 billion on a missile-defense shield that no one believes is technologically feasible and most insiders understand would be useless against terrorists who smuggle nuclear bombs into America inside suitcases is the height of irrationality.

Harry Austin, Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist, 8/31/01

...terrorism experts agree that smuggled suitcase devices are a far larger nuclear threat to security, and one not addressed by the all-consuming, expensive focus on a limited missile shield.

Bangor Daily News editorial, 8/30/01

...a threat no [missile] shield will ever stop, but one that security experts the world over agree is possibly the most serious [is] nuclear devices hand-delivered by terrorists, such as by suitcase bomb.

The technology to build such bombs is widely known; the only real impediment is the difficulty of obtaining the necessary weapons-grade plutonium.

James Klurfeld, NY Newsday columnist, 8/30/01

...there was a report that the administration was killing a program to purchase weapons-grade plutonium that comes from dismantled nuclear bombs because, at a time of tight budgets, it wanted the money for missile defense.

The more real national security threat, of course, is from terrorists obtaining weapons-grade plutonium to build a suitcase bomb...

...there is a screw loose in the Bush administration's approach to national security.

NY Newsday editorial, 8/27/01

...the White House is going to scuttle a promising and feasible plan that would address a real nuclear threat - a terrorist fashioning a crude but effective portable nuclear weapon that could be delivered in a steamer trunk - to pay instead for a grandiose system that's not even fully tested, to protect against a far less likely threat.

Tulsa World editorial, 8/27/01

In 1993 Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin announced a joint commission that would help Russia decommission and disable its nuclear weapons.

Included in the $6.6 billion price tag would be a program to move Russian nuclear scientists to peaceful projects...

...The Bush administration, however, is trying to get out of the agreement. It claims that the $6.6 billion cost is too high.

But the administration is willing to fork over $8.3 billion next year alone for its pie-in-the-sky Star Wars missile defense system...

...[Nuclear] material in the wrong hands would make the suicide bombers in Jerusalem look like amateurs. A suitcase full of plutonium could wipe out a large city...

...Just because it was a plan made under a Democratic administration doesn't necessarily make it a bad one.

Los Angeles Times editorial, 8/23/01

Now the Bush administration is trying to back out [of the Russia agreement], complaining that at $6.6 billion it is too costly.

As opposed to what?

The administration is requesting $8.3 billion for missile defense for fiscal 2002, a 57% increase over current spending.

The U.S. should be doing all it can to disable plutonium before corruption spreads it around.

It's precisely the idea of a suitcase bomber armed with bootleg plutonium that should concern the administration.

The governing assumption in Washington these days appears to be that all Clinton-Gore foreign policy should be abandoned. But Gore had this one right.

Sen. Tom Daschle, 8/9/01

The chief threat to America is not from big, lumbering ICBMs, launched with a clear return address.

The chief threats today come from biological and chemical weapons and bombs that could be smuggled in a cargo container, bus, or backpack.

They come from attacks to our economic infrastructure - the computer systems, communications networks and power grids on which America is dependent.

They come from terrorists who do not have the infrastructure to launch ICBMs, and who leave no return address.

The Oregonian editorial, 8/8/01

President Bush's national missile defense plan puts America in grave danger.

The plan is politically and militarily destabilizing, complex, expensive, unreliable, easily countered and militarizes space and the world's oceans.

It aims at the least likely threat, as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons can be delivered by airplane, ship or suitcase.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), CNN's Late Edition, 8/5/01

The greatest threat to us are the terrorist who could use a truck, who could use a ship, who could use a suitcase against us. That system does nothing for that.

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist, 7/26/01

...the most serious nuclear threat we face these days is from someone who smuggles a nuclear bomb into the continental United States, not from a world away.

Maybe Bush can get his guys to spend billions coming up with something that can shoot down a suitcase.

Star Tribune (MN), "Does missile defense make the world safer?",7/22/01

Terrorists, who are far more likely to risk attacking the United States because they don't have a national territory against which the United States can retaliate, don't have missile capabilities.

"Osama bin Laden doesn't think of building an ICBM and launching it against the United States," [Macalester College Political scientist Andrew] Latham said.

But terrorists are working on chemical or biological weapons, nuclear devices deliverable in suitcases or other covert means, and acts of cyberterrorism that attack U.S. computer systems.

Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times columnist, 7/20/01

Estimates for the antimissile system already range as high as $300 billion, which is a lot of clams.

Particularly if the future of war is nerve gas in the subway and exploding suitcases in airports and train stations, rather than a nuclear shootout.

And that's precisely the scenario painted recently in a New York courtroom by a convicted terrorist trained in Afghani camps financed by Saudi militant Osama bin Laden.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, 7/17/01

"The least likely threat we face is some third-rate nation developing an ICBM and launching it at the United States, knowing they'll get back 50 times what they sent," said retired Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll of the Center for Defense Information.

"There are all kinds of ways that are cheaper and more reliable -- smuggling in a suitcase bomb, for example -- to inflict harm and not be subject to instantaneous retaliation."

As you can see, a lot of folks understood how urgent the terrorist threat was in the summer of 2001, and spoke up about it.

But none of them controlled the White House.

April 1, 2004 PERMALINK
They Never Learn
(posted April 1 1:30 AM ET)

The Condi Cave was humiliating enough, without these blind quotes ending up in the NY Times:

...one senior American diplomat who has sat in on some White House strategy meetings said Tuesday[,] "... now people know that if you keep [the pressure] on long enough, these guys will give way."

...

"They wait until a gallon of blood has been shed," one administration official said.

Fortunately for us, Bushies aren't good at learning from mistakes.

Before you could say, "have another pretzel, Mr. President", they walked into another "executive privilege" mess.

Yesterday, the White House said it won't let its health policy adviser Doug Badger testify to a House committee today on whether he played a role in hiding from Congress a pricey cost estimate of the Medicare drug bill.

As you may know, that led Congress to think the bill was more than $100 billion cheaper than the Administration privately predicted, and both Dems and some deficit hawk GOPers on the Hill are not happy.

And since Medicare's top actuary, Richard Foster, says the program's Administrator Thomas Scully threatened to fire him if he released the estimate, there are calls for a criminal investigation.

It's unclear at the moment what the immediate impact of yesterday's announcement, coming off the heels of the Condi Cave, will be.

Does the media note the recycling the executive privilege line mere hours after chucking it?

Do they call the Administration on saying executive privilege "preserve[s] the White House's ability to get the best information possible and to speak candidly," while using it to shield an attempt to give out false information and punish a colleague for speaking candidly?

Or does the relatively wonky Medicare dispute get overshadowed by the Rice drama?

Whatever the instant reaction, the Condi Cave (as the White House insiders helpfully explained) gives Dems the incentive to turn up the heat on matters just like the Medicare scandal.

Which is why it's amazing the Bushies don't try a different tack.

You'd think they'd be able to get Scully (who recently transferred out of Bush Inc.'s government branch to its lobbying branch) or Badger to simply take the fall, and take it quick.

It'd be a one or two-day story for the Bushies, and Scully and/or Badger would score big Bush loyalty points to cash in later.

Instead, they're reflexively opting for another stonewall go-round.

In turn, they risk a festering scandal that could explode at a far less opportune time this election year, on a major issue where they've already lost support from senior voters.

Even though it's mostly been a second-tier story, Dems have been valiantly pushing this issue.

They need to keep it up, and get that "gallon of blood."

March 31, 2004 PERMALINK
Poll Nuggets
(posted Mar. 31 2:30 AM ET)

On March 10, at the onset of Dubya's anti-Kerry offensive, LiberalOasis said:

If Bush can get back to a tie with Kerry, or gain a slight lead, in the polls, that will mean the attacks worked, and they have found some real Kerry vulnerabilities to exploit.

That will put some pressure on Kerry to step up efforts to proactively define himself.

But that's something Kerry needs to do anyway. And it's to be expected that Kerry will have some weaknesses.

So such a development, while unpleasant, shouldn't cause any panic in Kerry quarters.

However, if the numbers remain as they are, then Bush will be in real trouble, and his people should panic, [because he] will have already used up a lot of ammo.

As we have seen in this week's USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll and Pew poll, the former was proven to be true.

(Though it should be noted, in polls that didn't have Kerry far out in front as of early March -- Newsweek, Fox News, AP -- there has been little movement this month, with the two still in an effective dead heat.)

There may be more disappointment in that Richard Clarke's bombshells didn't do more immediate damage to Bush's overall standing than hoped.

(Though as TNR's Ryan Lizza flagged, the Pew poll found Bush lost ground with swing voters on his ability to fight terror.)

But with Bush doing major negative campaigning all month, and Kerry on vacation, focusing on fundraising, no longer getting weekly gushing coverage from primary wins -- the polls are neither surprising nor fatal.

It just means there's work for the Kerry campaign to do.

In addition, there are some other interesting findings in this week's polling that are sure to be overlooked by the media:

1. Myth: People may disagree with Bush's policies, but most Americans find him likeable.

In the Pew poll, when asked which candidate is more "personally likeable" Bush and Kerry run even at 40%.

So forget this canard that more people would feel comfortable having a beer with Bush.

Bush's personality grates on as many people as it charms.

And Kerry does not need a personality transplant to win.

2. Bush's assumed national security edge is somewhat deceiving.

While Pew gives Bush a 24-point lead over Kerry on "defending the country from future terrorist attacks," it only gives Bush a 6-point edge on "making wise decisions about foreign policy".

LO would interpret those findings to say:

Most trust Bush to blow up somebody if anybody thinks about hitting us, but fewer trust Bush to keep a level head when dealing with difficult global issues that affect national security.

Kerry has an opening here.

His multilateral credentials are solid, and in an inflamed, precarious world, a potential net plus.

His international outlook just needs to be rounded out, firmly tying it to personal toughness.

His Vietnam crewmates have shown they can sell that.

The Bushies are trying to psyche Kerry out from utilizing his war record.

Last week, a Bush spokesman mocked Kerry's message as, "I went to Vietnam, yada yada yada. I want to be president."

But Kerry should be undeterred.

His service is the simplest, easiest way to convey his comfort with exercising the power of the military, a necessary bar to clear to be Commander-in-Chief.

And when that's combined with a reassuring approach to world affairs, Kerry should be able to overtake Bush on "making wise decisions about foreign policy," and close the "defending the country" gap.

3. Hey Bush, your credibility gap is showing.

In the Gallup poll, 53% said Bush has "misled the public for political reasons."

Like the "likeability" canard, the "straight-shooter" canard has been exposed as well.

This is where Kerry should be able to mitigate Bush's attacks -- by discrediting the messenger (a tack Richard Clarke knows all too well).

Just responding issue by issue keeps you on the defensive too much.

(And as one GOP operative succinctly put it recently, "When you're explaining, you're losing.")

But since a majority of Americans do not accept Bush's words at face value, Kerry can broadly dismiss all of his attacks as political distortions.

Of course, Kerry needs to positively fill in the blanks on his own record too (which he has begun to do).

Yet he should not let up on the "misleader" line of counterattack.

(For a detailed take on the Gallup numbers, check out Donkey Rising.)

March 30, 2004 PERMALINK
*** SPECIAL EDITION ***
Interview With Craig Unger
Author of "House of Bush, House of Saud"
(posted Mar. 30 12:30 AM ET)

Investigative journalist Craig Unger has been reporting on the connection between the Bushes and the Saudi royals since the Iran-Contra scandal broke, for publications such as The New Yorker, Esquire and Vanity Fair.

Now he has published the important book, "House of Bush, House of Saud," which explores how deeply intertwined the two dynastic families are, and how it may be hurting the war on terror.

"House of Bush, House of Saud" is the LiberalOasis Book of the Month for April '04. You can order the book here, and excerpts are available at Salon.com.

Craig Unger joined LiberalOasis for an exclusive interview on March 27, 2004. The following is an edited transcript.

LiberalOasis: How would you summarize the relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family?

Craig Unger: It's unique. Never before in history has a president of the United States -- and I'm really referring to both President Bushes -- has had such a close relationship with another foreign power.

Never have they had personal and financial relationships and their public policies so deeply tied to another foreign power.

And the Saudis, of course, are not a Western democracy. It's an Islamic theocracy. And they've played a huge role in the development of terror.

So, I think there's a piece of logic that has been missing from the American conversation about this...I think a strong case can be made that without the Saudis, there is no 9/11.

It's not just that 15 out of 19 hijackers were Saudi. The infrastructure of Al Qaeda, it's funding, was developed in many ways by Saudis.

That raises the question of: if you're in bed with the Saudis, how can you fight a real war on terrorism?

Click here for the full interview.

March 29, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Mar. 29 1:30 AM ET)

Richard Clarke is doing a hell of a job staying two steps ahead of the GOP attack machine.

After Sen. Bill Frist insinuated that Clarke perjured himself while calling for declassification of Clarke's past congressional testimony, Clarke went on NBC's Meet The Press ready to up the ante:

I would welcome [my '02 congressional testimony] being declassified, but not just a little line here or there. Let's declassify all six hours of my testimony...

...I want more declassified. I want Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission declassified...

...Let's declassify that memo I sent on January 25th and let's declassify the national security directive that Dr. Rice's committee approved nine months later on September 4th, and let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't...

... let's go further. The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press.

Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I've sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20 to September 11 and let's declassify all of it...as well as her responses.

This is not a guy you want to mess with.

But while Clarke is running circles around the GOP, he's also moving too fast for the media.

Clarke spent a good chunk of Sunday explaining in detail how Clinton took terrorism more seriously than Bush, which also helped explain what more could have been done to prevent 9/11.

On MTP, he said:

I've used the phrase in the book to describe [CIA Director] George Tenet's warnings as "He had his hair on fire."

He was about as excited as I'd ever seen him. And he said, "Something is going to happen."

Now, when he said that in December 1999 to the national security adviser... Sandy Berger,...Berger then held daily meetings throughout December 1999 in the White House Situation Room, with the FBI director, the attorney general, the head of the CIA, the head of the Defense Department.

And they shook out of their bureaucracies every last piece of information to prevent the attacks.

And we did prevent the attacks in December 1999.

Dr. Rice chose not to do that.

Now, in retrospect, we now know that there was information in the FBI that hadn't bubbled to the top, that two of the hijackers were in the United States.

If we had had that kind of process in the summer of 2001 that we had in December '99...maybe the information that was in the FBI would have shaken loose.

After Clarke showed how the right kind of meetings can matter, Secretary of State Colin Powell was on CBS' Face The Nation, maligning Clarke by fueling ignorance:

...it is the charge that somehow the administration that was leaving office, which focused on law enforcement and diplomatic activities, was dealing with this problem with greater energy and urgency and immediacy than the new administration coming in.

I'm sorry, that is not the case.

Mr. Clarke may not have been happy with the kinds of meetings that were being held, which meetings he went to.

But this president was seized with the problem.

This was an opportunity for CBS' Bob Schieffer, or his co-questioner Time's Karen Tumulty, to push Powell.

To note that Clinton's action meetings prevented loss of life, and Bush didn't follow suit.

In fact, another part of the MTP interview was referenced by Tumulty, so they were fully aware of Clarke's comments.

Yet they passed on the chance to challenge Powell on that key point, and so the baseless charge stood.

Powell also took a subtle swipe at the Clinton strategy, when he described it as "focused on law enforcement and diplomatic activities". (Never mind his own embrace of such a strategy two weeks ago.)

Former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, was more directly critical on CNN's Late Edition:

The Clinton anti-terror policy was hopelessly inadequate.

It was fundamentally wrong-headed because it treated terrorism as a matter for law enforcement.

The idea was, there's a terrorist act, you chase the terrorists to wherever they retreat, you try to catch them and bring them before a court.

But as Clarke showed, the Clinton policy was not waiting around for terrorists to strike to then serve them "legal papers" (as other Bushies have charged). It was about prevention.

And it wasn't just law enforcement either. It involved the military as well.

As Clarke described on CNN, just before the Perle interview:

35 Americans died over the course of those eight years at the hands of al Qaeda.

And based on that level of problem, Clinton authorized the unprecedented assassination of bin Laden and his top lieutenants, and he fired cruise missiles at him, and he launched a major covert action program...

He did a lot, and he was personally involved. He didn't just sit there in the morning and get intelligence briefings.

(That last line was another nice two-steps ahead move, as Bushies have been trying to show how involved Bush was because he had Tenet give him in-person briefings.)

But Judy Woodruff didn't respond to Perle's charge with, "But Clarke just told me five minutes ago about the proactive military component to the Clinton strategy."

Instead she said, "nothing was done to change that until after 9/11?"

Granted, that was an unfavorable question to Bush, but it still kept the audience ignorant about our nation's history in fighting terror in the 1990s.

And providing factual information is supposed to be the media's job.

Clarke is doing yeoman's work, not only defending himself from attack, but educating the nation about the terror threat.

Maybe, just maybe, if he keeps plugging away, the media will eventually catch up with him.

And make it harder for the Bushies to smear by playing on ignorance.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Osama Really Does Hate Freedom

We've heard the charge over and over: Al Qaeda and the terrorists "hate our freedoms." This is why, the Bush administration says, they blew up the World Trade Center on September 11th.

A lot of skeptics on the Left point to the sheer vapid nature of that statement as evidence that Bush is clueless, or simply reliant on empty rhetoric to make his points.

Other progressives point to the Bush administration's own hatred of freedoms --- like those of the democratically elected president of Haiti, for example --- to prove that Bush is pretty selective about which liberties he's concerned with.

But in a shocking revelation, I uncovered actual proof that, in fact, Osama bin Laden really does hate freedom.

It's not just goofy GOP rhetoric meant to puff up the patriotism of the ignorant, ill-mannered right-wing after all. It's really true.

I sent a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Saudi Arabian government (you didn't know they had a FOIA over there? Shame!) to release any information on their most notorious son, Osama bin Laden.

I was given a whole stack of stuff, mostly irrelevant documents about the bin Laden's links to the Bush family, the Carlyle Group, John Major's support for Osama, etc... -- you know, conspiracy theory stuff.

But one piece got my attention.

Back in 1963, a six-year old named Osama wrote a paper Mrs. Appletree's second grade class at Al-Aqsa Boy's School.

The paper was called "Why I Hate Freedom," and here it is in its entirety. As you read this you will understand that Bush was right: Arabs really are a one-dimensional, simplistic and evil.

WHY I HATE FREEDOM
By Osama bin Laden

I hate freedom because it means people can do anything they want even bad things.

I think freedom is really bad especially like when the older kids bully me in the school yard.

Like the time Mordecai hit me with a rake and stole my milk money. If he didn't have freedom then he wouldn't get my milk money. Some day I'm going to get even with him.

Freedom also sucks at home.

I think if my mom didn't have so much freedom she would never be able to spank me after I wet the bed.

If I ever become a world leader I will make sure moms don't get no freedom.

My dad told me that in other countries they got lots of freedom and that's why they are bad.

Like did you know that in the United States they got freedom to vote for Republicans? That is sick.

Some day I will become a world leader and blow them up just for that.

I hear they also got television in every house, which really makes me mad, so maybe I will blow them up for that, too. And for their plumbing.

If people didn't have freedom then the world would be a better place. And someday I hope I get big enough to blow people up so they know I don't like freedom.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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