December 08, 2003

Interview: Sidney Blumenthal with William Rivers Pitt

Andrew Card, White House Chief of Sissies, is upset
that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mekong Delta) used a four
letter word to characterize the _resident's failing
policy in Iraq. Of course, Kerry, who the LNS
otherwise admires very much, made an awful blunder
(disasterous politically, disturbing morally) in
voting for the resolution on Iraq last year. The LNS
cheered, later, when he went up to New Hampshire and
called for "regime change" here at home, but he has
not kept his rhetoric hot enough or sharp enough to
capture the political imagination of the Electorate --
as both Howard Dean (D-Jeffords) and Wesley Clark
(D-NATO) have...Well, here is another opportunity for
Sen. Kerry, perhaps it is not too late...Do not
apologize, sir!!! Indeed, we implore you to stand in
front of the microphones and say: "I am not going to
apologize for using a four letter word to describe the
Bush performance on Iraq, in fact, here are two more
four letter obscenities that characterize his failed
leadership: BUSH AWOL!!!" Meanwhile, here is some
astute political analysis, a marvelous interview:
William Rivers Pitt and Sidney Blumenthal, two heroes
of the Information Rebelion in the U.S....

Sidney Blumenthal: "Recently, there has been some recovery on the part of elements of some major news organizations, but for the most part, the passivity of much of the press is consistent with the rote hostility it showed towards Clinton, and the gullibility it demonstrated in propagating the psuedoscandals and scurrilous stories that were generated on the fringes of the extreme right and then massaged by the Republican Party. The press showed itself all too frequently to be manipulated, to become an instrument, even an arm, of repressive parts of the government. One has to remember that the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, was the government. The idea that reporters doing his bidding somehow were acting as brave, independent characters in the tradition of intrepid reporters who have uncovered serious crimes against public office in the past is ludicrous. "

Support our Troops, Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)

Interview: Sidney Blumenthal with William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Interview

Monday 8 December 2004

Sidney Blumenthal was a former assistant and
senior advisor to President Clinton. He is the author
of several books, including ‘The Permanent Campaign,’
‘The Rise of the Counter-Establishment,’ ‘Our Long
National Daydream,’ ‘Pledging Allegiance – The Last
Campaign of the Cold War,’ and most recently ‘The
Clinton Wars.’ This interview took place two days
before Thanksgiving. – wrp

WRP: My editor and I had a series of discussions
about this interview. He believes, as I do, that this
administration will succeed in the upcoming election
if they are allowed to use the divide-and-conquer
tactics that were so successful in the 2002 midterms.
He was concerned that discussing the Clinton
administration would play into this tactic, since many
Americans have been well-trained to hate Bill Clinton.
In your opinion, how might an argument be framed that
explains the reality of the Clinton legacy without
playing into those divisions?

SB: The legacy of the Clinton administration
serves as a marker to measure what Bush has done, his
efforts to roll back the social gains made by the
American people. In every single area, the
accomplishments of the Clinton administration stand as
a rebuke to Bush on the environment, in the law and
appointments to the courts, on women’s rights, on
labor rights – just yesterday, Congress voted to
repeal overtime for workers, mainly the working poor.

The record of the Clinton administration should
be made clear to people: Not only are we talking about
22 million new jobs, the longest expansion of economic
prosperity in the country’s history, but we are also
talking about the greatest rise in family income in
real wages in a generation and a half, and a reduction
of poverty by 25%, the greatest reduction since the
Great Society brought the elderly out of poverty. This
came largely through Medicare, a program Bush has
begun to systematically unravel.

WRP: The Senate today just completed the process
of privatizing Medicare, turning Medicare into an HMO.

SB: That was just a first step. Bush has an
incremental strategy across the board on how to undo
the progress that has been made, not only by the
Clinton administration, but all the way back to the
Roosevelt administration. For example, the undoing of
Medicare by privatizing it and making it a large HMO –
but one that cannot negotiate lower prices and
excludes senior citizens who today receive benefits –
is very similar to the strategy that is employed on
abortion. The late-term abortion bill that Bush
signed, which has no exemption for the health of the
mother, is part of an incremental strategy that he
hopes will lead to the overturning of abortion,
period. He wants the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and that
will require court appointments, including
appointments to the Supreme Court. Karl Rove, earlier
this week, spoke about applying this strategy to
Social Security.

For the record, the American people did not
dislike Bill Clinton. They liked Bill Clinton. Bill
Clinton was the most popular President since John F.
Kennedy. There’s just no question about it, and he
sustained this popularity longer than any President
since Kennedy. The idea that people didn’t like
Clinton is completely belied by all of the polls that
show they approved of him as President. There was an
intense minority that hated Clinton, and they still
hate him, and they engaged in demonization. But the
idea that Clinton is hated by a majority of the
American people is a myth.

WRP: Your book 'The Clinton Wars' was highly
critical of the mainstream news media across a broad
spectrum, specifically dealing with the mayhem
surrounding the Clinton 'scandals' and subsequent
impeachment. It's been a few years since all that
ended. What do you think of the quality of the
mainstream news media today?

SB: Recently, there has been some recovery on the
part of elements of some major news organizations, but
for the most part, the passivity of much of the press
is consistent with the rote hostility it showed
towards Clinton, and the gullibility it demonstrated
in propagating the psuedoscandals and scurrilous
stories that were generated on the fringes of the
extreme right and then massaged by the Republican
Party. The press showed itself all too frequently to
be manipulated, to become an instrument, even an arm,
of repressive parts of the government. One has to
remember that the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, was
the government. The idea that reporters doing his
bidding somehow were acting as brave, independent
characters in the tradition of intrepid reporters who
have uncovered serious crimes against public office in
the past is ludicrous.

Right now, the Republicans and the Bush
administration are putting out the line that there is
progress being made in Iraq, and that things are much
better there than what is being depicted in the media.
The media has gone out of its way to show what it
considers progress. But what if the opposite is true?
What if, in fact, the reality on the ground in Iraq is
far worse than anyone thinks, in terms of being able
to put together a long-term, stable situation that can
lead to anything resembling a state, much less a
democracy? What if it is not working out at all? Why
should the press decide to follow the administration’s
lead on this sort of thing? Why doesn’t it follow its
own instincts and simply report facts, and let the
facts stand on their own merit?

The press bears a great deal of responsibility in
the common depiction of George W. Bush, in building up
his image, which, as it has been projected, bears very
little resemblance to how he performs as President. He
was depicted as decisive, in command, somebody who
completely grasped and was in synch with the needs of
the difficult moment the country faced on September
11. In fact, he is manipulated by his staff, buffeted
by the neoconservatives inside his administration,
kept from important information, unknowledgeable about
so much information, makes decisions on the most
simplistic basis, never carries through on his own
policies such as the Roadmap to Peace in the Middle
East, operates in a closed, small circle, doesn’t seek
out information independently, has fostered
internecine warfare within the National Security
apparatus between the intelligence agencies –
including the CIA – and the Defense Department and the
National Security Council.

What kind of President is that? The picture that
appears in Bob Woodward’s fantastical book ‘Bush at
War,’ which includes reporting that is totally at odds
with the image of Bush that Woodward swallows, has
done enormous mischief, and really is the basis and
the foundation stone of what remains of the public
esteem for Bush. If it were not for this image of
Bush, which grows out of the exploitation of 9/11 and
the lies surrounding the buildup to the Iraq war, and
the compliance of much of the press corps, Bush would
have nothing to stand on. The public actually
disapproves of all the consequences of his actions,
and yet it has a picture of him that is dissonant with
the kind of President who would bring about those
actions. Why does the public have that picture, and
what is the press doing about it? The press has a lot
to answer for.

WRP: A great deal of what the right puts out into
the mainstream news media comes from think tanks like
the Heritage Foundation. They have a fearsome machine
for crafting and disbursing messages. Why haven't
Democrats developed the same political infrastructure
the right has?

SB: In the 1980s, I studied the rise of
conservative infrastructure. I wrote a book about it
that was published in 1986 called ‘The Rise of the
Counter-Establishment.’ When I was a reporter with the
Washington Post, the Post published many of my reports
about this. It was considered to be a revelation by
people, but the right had already been devoting
decades to this, and it’s been now decades since I
first did that basic reporting. The right’s
infrastructure is now far larger than, I think, all
but a few people understand.

I believe they spend about one quarter of a
billion dollars a year on this infrastructure. Their
funding is highly centralized and coordinated; call it
a ‘Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’ if you like, but it is
done through a small group of people who generally
direct funds to dozens of right-wing groups including
the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise
Institute, the Federalist Society, and so on. There is
nothing like it beyond the right.

The reason for this is that, for may years,
people thought the right was on the margins, on the
fringe, not to be taken seriously. Part of that is
because there is very little genuine scholarship going
on over on the right. There are a lot of polemics, a
lot of ideological sharpshooting, a lot of tendentious
studies done that use and manipulate statistics. The
Heritage Foundation doesn’t have a single scholar of
any standing. AEI is filled with the likes of Richard
Perle and Robert Bork. Liberals, if you will, believe
in the broad-based institutions of American society,
including universities. The right wing is doing
everything it can to polarize every single institution
it can, from the media to the academy, and now trying
to consume even religion in its ideological wars.

You can see that through the heavily-funded,
carefully targeted splitting of religions by the
right, such as the Episcopal Church over the gay
bishop. All of that is funded and directed, part of a
strategy. Do not doubt it. Now, the Methodists are
targeted. The Southern Baptists convention was turned
in the 1980s. Its very theology, on the question of
abortion, was altered. It was altered directly by a
political aide sitting in the Reagan White House as it
was being re-written. Such is the priesthood of the

Democrats have only lately come to this
realization that there is such a conservative
infrastructure, that it has an enormous impact on
politics, and that it is fully integrated into, and
even taken over, parts of the Republican party.

One of the glitches in the Democratic state of
mind was that the accusations against the Clintons
were somehow just about the Clintons. There had to be
something to it, because where there is smoke, there
is fire. There were so many accusations. How could it
all be untrue? After all, the Clintons came from
darkest Arkansas. There had to be something wrong,
some dark spot in their background. And so the
Democrats believed it was about the Clintons
personally. Then Al Gore ran for President, an Eagle
Scout. And he was transformed into a liar and an
exaggerator, though the charges against him were lies
and exaggerations. Then Tom Daschle, a mild person of
integrity, was demonized as lacking patriotism. Then
Max Cleland, the Senator from Georgia who lost three
limbs in Vietnam, was conflated with Osama bin Laden
and Saddam Hussein, and was too stunned and shocked
even to reply. He lost his seat, the one seat that was
the margin in turning the Senate.

So, the Democrats have slowly and belatedly come
to the realization that the whole campaign to grab
power against them may not be about individual persons
and their foibles. Maybe its about power itself, and
the Republican impulse and will to power.

WRP: The Clinton administration stopped a massive
and coordinated series of terrorist attacks that had
been planned for the Millennium celebrations. The
Clinton administration had a huge body of intelligence
gathered on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Could you go
into some detail about the stopping of those terrorist
attacks? A lot of people don’t know this happened.

SB: There were many terrorist attacks that were
stopped during the Clinton presidency. There were
planned embassy bombings. There was a whole series of
attacks on the scale of September 11 that were stopped
around the Millennium. There was, in effect, a
coordinated and highly effective struggle against
terrorism going on. It lacked the kind of support it
ought to have had from Congress, and from certain
nations that were complicit with the terrorists.
Pakistan, for example. Uzbekistan was not helpful.

There was not a single Republican member of
Congress who ever raised a single question or put a
query to the Clinton National Security Council about
its efforts against terrorism. Not one. When we left
office, our National Security team conducted three
extensive briefings of the incoming Bush team. Their
attitude was, essentially, dismissive, that it was a
“Clinton thing.” It was considered to be part of the
package of soft foreign policy issues. They thought of
themselves as the adults, the real men, interested in
hard things like Star Wars. So they blew off the
Middle East peace process. They blew up the long
negotiations involving North Korea, and humiliated the
South Korean president, who had won a Nobel Peace
Prize for his efforts. This has set us down the road
to where we are today with North Korea, as they try to
rediscover, essentially, the Clinton position.

On terrorism, they assigned the matter to Vice
President Dick Cheney “for study.” Anyone who has been
in government knows that when you do that, you are
essentially taking it off the table and not taking it
seriously. As I reported in my book, Donald Kerrick,
who is a three-star general, was a deputy National
Security Advisor in the late Clinton administration.
He stayed on into the Bush administration. He was
absolutely not political. He was a general. He told me
that when the Bush people came in, he wrote a memo
about terrorism, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The
memo said, “We will be struck again.” As a result of
writing that memo, he was not invited to any more
meetings. No one responded to his memo. He felt that,
from what he could see from inside the National
Security Council, terrorism was demoted.

Richard Clarke was Director of Counter-Terrorism
in the national Security Council. He has since left.
Clark urgently tried to draw the attention of the Bush
administration to the threat of al Qaeda. Right at the
present, the Bush administration is trying to withhold
documents from the 9/11 bipartisan commission. I
believe one of the things that they do not want to be
known is what happened on August 6, 2001. It was on
that day that George W. Bush received his last, and
one of the few, briefings on terrorism. I believe he
told Richard Clarke that he didn’t want to be briefed
on this again, even though Clarke was panicked about
the alarms he was hearing regarding potential attacks.
Bush was blithe, indifferent, ultimately
irresponsible. The public has a right to know what
happened on August 6, what Bush did, what Condi Rice
did, what all the rest of them did, and what Richard
Clarke’s memos and statements were. Then the public
will be able to judge exactly what this presidency has

WRP: Do you think September 11 would have
happened under President Gore, who almost certainly
would have picked up where Clinton left off on these

SB: I have no idea. Clearly, the terrorists
intended it to happen regardless of who was President.
Gore would have paid intense interest to whatever he
learned from Richard Clarke, and would have done
everything in his power to coordinate the effort
against this. He took this issue very, very seriously.
It is hard to talk about what-ifs regarding 9/11
because the one thing that we know for certain, among
other things, is the dysfunctionality of the FBI, and
how it wound up suppressing the crucial information
that might have prevented 9/11. Whether or not that
would have happened under Gore is entirely
conjectural. But the FBI operated according to its own
dynamic and its own rules. If any governmental entity
bears responsibility for failure, the FBI has a lot to
answer for.

WRP: In what other ways do the lingering echoes
of the Clinton wars affect this country today?

SB: Our politics are more polarized today than
ever before. The people who tried to overthrow
President Clinton, who brought the country to an
unconstitutional impeachment trial, are still in
power. They are Tom Delay, who is essentially running
the Congress. He is essentially segregating Texas and
destroying Democratic representation through
redistricting there. Ted Olson, the dirty-trickster,
is now the Solicitor General and is involved in
packing the courts. Many of the individuals who were
involved in ginning up the attacks to prevent
progressive government from doing its business are in
power, and are more powerful than ever, and have been
invested with power by George W. Bush. What happened
in Florida was a continuation of all that. What
happened in 2002, the exploitation of 9/11, the recent
ad we saw this week, in which the patriotism of anyone
who opposes Bush policies was questioned, was produced
by the Republican National Committee. All that is a
straight continuation of the Clinton wars.

We can expect in 2004 that all of the divisions
in the country will be widened, that the polarizations
will become more intense, and that the Clinton wars
should be seen as not only a warning of what was to
come, but an important period in which the stakes were
made clear: Progressive government, the needs of the
American people, the realities of the new world, the
right’s will to power, and the fact that they are
willing to pursue that power by any means necessary,
even if it means bending or breaking any rules, or
even the Constitution.

WRP: You went into a great amount of detail about
Tony Blair in your book. He was a great partner of
Clinton in the Third Way movement. Why do you think
Blair has attached himself so profoundly to George W.
Bush, given that Bush is about as far from a Third Way
politician as one can get?

SB: In the beginning, Blair acted on the idea
that the enduring interests of Britain and the United
States had to be upheld, regardless of who was
President. He was very intent of establishing a
relationship with Bush. It is necessary for a British
Prime Minister to do that, and the role of Britain has
always been to be a transatlantic partner, and to play
a role between Europe and the United States. Blair
felt he had to do that.

The problem was that Bush had his own strategies.
When 9/11 happened, Blair stepped into the void
initially left by Bush, and articulated the meaning of
what had happened. He was widely appreciated for this
by the American people. Then, Bush pushed for war in
Iraq. At every turn, Blair, acting in conjunction with
Colin Powell, sought to channel where Bush was going.
He pushed Bush into the UN, and then sought a second
UN resolution. Bush‘s disastrous diplomacy undermined,
ultimately, Blair’s efforts. In the end, Blair wrung
from Bush a concession whereby Bush rhetorically
called for a renewal of the peace process between
Israel and Palestine. Bush may believe he is pursuing
it, but Eliot Abrams on his National Security Council,
who is in charge of the Middle East, has been
undermining that action.

Blair, now, I think, has an almost mystical
understanding of the so-called “special relationship.”
I wrote a column for the Guardian in which I quoted
Harold McMillan, who defined early that special
relationship in which, after World War II, Britain
would play the Greeks to the American Romans. I
pointed out that he neglected to mention that the
Greeks were often slaves.

Blair recently played the host, along with the
Queen, to Bush on his visit to London. Blair raised a
number of very important matters with Bush. He raised
tariffs, including steel tariffs. He raised British
prisoners in Guantanamo. He raised the Middle East. On
every single one of these issues, he was denied by
Bush. I believe that Blair’s influence is diminished,
because Bush does not need him as he needed him in the
run-up to the Iraq war, and yet symbolically Blair
stands by Bush. All that remains, though, is the husk
of a relationship. How special is it? Blair,
essentially, has very little influence with Bush, and
yet has provided Bush with the photo-ops Bush wanted.
Those photo-ops are all that remains of the special

WRP: What is your take on the current crop of
Democratic candidates?

SB: I am not aligned with any candidate. I’m not
with any candidate, or working for any candidate at
all. I think that what is important for the Democratic
candidates is to level their fire, their critiques, at
Bush, and not to bite each other on the ankles. It is
natural in a primary season, given the competition, to
attack each other. But I have not seen, so far, any
candidate advance themselves by attacking another
candidate. I have seen candidates advance by focusing
on Bush’s accountability for what has been going on.
There is a lesson in there for all the Democratic


William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of He is a New York Times and international
best-selling author of three books - "War On Iraq,"
available from Context Books, "The Greatest Sedition
is Silence," available from Pluto Press, and "Our
Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism," available in
August from Context Books.


Posted by richard at December 8, 2003 09:45 AM