October 30, 2003

Wesley Clark's Gutsy New Tack: Blame Bush for not Preventing 9-11

Until now, only Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fraudida) had been
courageous enough to go down this dark political road.
Unfortunately, Graham could not get traction. Now, at
last, we have one national leader willing to pull the
pin out of this political grenade and hurl it where it
belongs...And unlike Sen. Graham, Wesley Clark
D-NATO)is in position to take the fight to the enemy
and win...There is hope...

American Prospect: Clark, assaying pre-9-11 intelligence failures, said that responsibility for those failures can't be fobbed off on "lower-level intelligence officers," and he came within a few inches of saying outright that the Bush administration was responsible for the attacks having happened.


Published on Thursday, October 30, 2003 by the
American Prospect
Wesley Clark's Gutsy New Tack: Blame Bush for not Preventing 9-11
by Michael Tomasky

Wesley Clark, speaking on Tuesday to a liberal
foreign-policy conference sponsored by the Prospect,
the Center for American Progress (John Podesta's new
outfit) and The Century Foundation, could have gone in
any of several directions in attacking the Bush
administration's foreign policy. The $87 billion, so
unpopular with voters, would have been the obvious
target. The lack of a postwar plan, a close second.
The intentionally failed diplomacy in the run-up to
hostility, a pretty clear bronze medalist.

He didn't ignore those issues entirely, but the heart
of his attack came in the form of "a blistering
review" (The New York Times' words) of the
administration's actions prior to September 11. Clark,
assaying pre-9-11 intelligence failures, said that
responsibility for those failures can't be fobbed off
on "lower-level intelligence officers," and he came
within a few inches of saying outright that the Bush
administration was responsible for the attacks having

"Shocking" might be putting it too strongly, but
certainly it was surprising that Clark chose to reopen
that temporarily sealed can of worms. Politicians
don't often say something you don't expect to hear,
and when they do, you wonder why. Clark either took a
major risk here to breath some life into a campaign
that nearly every Washington insider thinks is melting
(which probably means it's just fine, thanks) or he
knows something the rest of us don't. But first, some

The question of Bush administration responsibility for
9-11, you may recall, was explored by some in the
media in May 2002. Newsweek offered the most notable
entry, with a 3,300-word cover package headlined "What
Went Wrong?" In it, some of the magazine's lead
writers on intelligence and foreign policy (Michael
Isikoff, Mark Hosenball, Christopher Dickey) delved
into various aspects of the story and came up with
several tantalizing angles that had the potential to
do real political damage to the White House. Bill
Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger,
briefed successor Condi Rice on al-Qaeda -- and she
yawned. John Ashcroft nixed an FBI request for
"hundreds more counter-intelligence agents," as the
magazine put it, and reduced Justice Department
funding for anti-terrorism activity. Donald Rumsfeld
chose not to renew the Predator Drone, which tracked
terrorist cells, and emphasized Star Wars Redux.

It was tough stuff. Other outlets piled on, and for
two weeks the administration was playing defense. The
problem was that no one -- the Democrats, say -- was
playing offense. The charges dissolved into a fog of
unprovables; the story lost its momentum; George W.
Bush seized the security issue during the midterm
elections. And that was the end of that.

Fast-forward now to the independent 9-11 commission,
chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean. In an
amazing interview with Philip Shenon of The New York
Times published this past Sunday, Kean tore into the
administration for withholding information from his
commission. "I will not stand for" stonewalling, Kean
said. "That means we will use every tool at our
command to get hold of every document."

With a Republican talking like that, the
administration -- and remember, it resisted the
creation of this commission to begin with -- is going
to face tremendous pressure to produce the relevant
information. And the relevant information brings us
back to Clark.

It is exceedingly difficult for a candidate running a
presidential campaign against an incumbent to
establish a favorable story line and make it stick.
And, of all possible story lines, Clark has landed on
one of the most difficult: He will apparently seek in
the coming weeks and months to convince Americans that
a failure of presidential leadership before 9-11 may
have been partly responsible for the disaster's
occurrence in the first place.

On the surface, it seems the odds against his
succeeding here might be long ones. But the surface is
the surface. It could be that Clark -- who surely has
his own sources in the U.S. intelligence world, after
all -- has drawn a bead on certain pieces of
information that are bound to come out one way or

And, more important, it is also the case, as the old
dialecticians used to say, that the historical
circumstances have changed. In May 2002, when Newsweek
did its cover story, neither the major media nor the
Democrats nor, arguably, the average American citizen
was quite ready to hear the most candid unpleasantries
about whether this administration had acted seriously
on any pre-9-11 warnings it may have received. But
that was then. The Democrats have since learned how to
flex their biceps (at least some of them, some of the
time; hey, it's a start), and the average citizen is
now roughly as likely to be dubious of this president
as not.

The Dems are doing their part. Will the media do its?
Two months before the Newsweek cover package ran,
Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie took part
in a panel discussion at the Kennedy School's
Shorenstein Center on the future of investigative
reporting. The conversation zigged and zagged about
the then-current Washington climate, until finally
Downie weighed in with this: "So if you do tough
investigative reporting about Democrats or about
issues that are important to the left, you'll get a
strong backlash from the left. Similarly, if you do
tough investigative reporting of the Republicans or
people on the right, you'll get a strong backlash from
them. And I think this is also having an impact on the
media. It's scaring people." (Click here and scroll to
page 17.)

I scarcely need to comment on the idea that the man
sitting in Ben Bradlee's old chair is afraid that
doing tough reporting is too scary. Rather, in a
spirit of positive thinking and uplift, I will merely
hope that his attitude may have changed. As Clark and
Kean advance their story line, we may behold our

Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's executive editor.

Copyright 2003 by The American Prospect, Inc

Posted by richard at October 30, 2003 07:28 AM