bureaucracybusters

FORGIVABLE–AND UNFORGIVABLE–TRAGEDIES: PART THREE (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on November 29, 2012 at 12:01 am

Republicans claim to be “deeply troubled” by the conduct of Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, after the Benghazi tragedy, which left four dead Americans in its wake.

But they showed no such concerns when the George W. Bush administration refused to seriously address the mounting evidence that Al Qaeda intended to strike at the United States.

And when that refusal snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans.

Nigel Hamilton is the bestselling author of American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. 

In his chapter on George W. Bush, he chronicles the futile struggles of counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke to warn his superiors of an upcoming Al Qaeda attack.

As chef counter-terrorism advisor to President Bill Clinton, he had held cabinet-level access. But now he faced a serious handicap:  Although he retained his position under Bush, he was now denied such access.

This put him at a severe disadvantage when dealing with higher-ranking Bush officials–-who refused to believe that Al-Qaeda posed a lethal threat to the United States.

National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject.  Then she insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting in April, 2001.

Paul Wolfowitz, the number-two man at the Department of Defense, said: “I don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.”

Even after Clarke outlined the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz–whose real target was Saddam Hussein–said: “You give bin Laden too much credit.”

Wolfowitz insisted that bin Laden couldn’t carry out his terrorist acts without the aid of a state sponsor–namely, Iraq.

Wolfowitz, in fact, blamed Iraq for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Clarke was stunned, since there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in this.

Paul Wolfowitz

“Al-Qaeda plans major acts of terrorism against the United States,” Clarke warned his colleagues.

He pointed out that, like Adolf Hitler, bin Laden had actually published his plans for future destruction.

And he added: “Sometimes, as with Hitler in Mein Kampf, you have to believe that these people will actually do what they say they will do.”

Wolfowitz heatedly traded on his Jewish heritage to bring Clarke’s arguments to a halt: “I resent any comparison between the Holocaust and this little terrorist in Afghanistan.”

Writing in outraged fury, Hamilton sums up Clarke’s agonizing frustrations:

  • Bush’s senior advisors treated their colleagues who had served in the Clinton administration with contempt.
  • President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz seemed content to ignore the danger signals of an impending al-Qaeda attack.
  • This left only Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Richard Clarke and a skeptical Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to wage “a lonely battle to waken a seemingly deranged new administration.”

Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.

Finally, at a meeting with Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged Rice: 

“Picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”

Apparently Rice couldn’t imagine such a scenario, because she took no action to prevent it. Nor did she urge anyone else to do so.

Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically–and needlessly.

Neither Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld nor Wolowitz ever admitted their negligence.  Nor would any of them be brought to account.

Condoleeze Rice, Dick Cheney, George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld

Disgustingly, these are the same officials who, afterward, posed as the Nation’s  saviors-–and branded anyone who disagreed with them as a traitor, practices Republicans continue to use to this day.

Only Richard Clarke-–who had vainly argued for stepped-up security precautions and taking the fight to Al Qaeda–gave that apology.

On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. Addressing relatives of victims in the audience, he said: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”

Yet even worse was to come.

On the evening after the September 11 attacks, Bush took Clarke aside during a meeting in the White House Situation Room:

“I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything.  See if Saddam [Hussein, the dictator of Iraq] did this.  See if he’s linked in any way.”

Clarke was stunned: “But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this.”

“I know, I know,” said Bush.  “But see if Saddam was involved.  I want to know.”

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