Sunday, January 04, 2004

The 9/11 Factor 

A few thoughts struck me when I was reading this James Traub article in the The New York Times Magazine about the Democrats' "troublesome" national-security image, etc. etc. This passage describes Wes Clark's address to the Center for American Progress conference on nat'l security last fall:
And then, his mien grave and gaunt, Clark said something that produced an audible murmur in the room: ''There is no way this administration can walk away from its responsibility for 9/11. You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers.''

...here was the former Supreme Allied Commander positioning himself slightly to Howard Dean's left. Indeed, the central paradox of Clark's campaign, which in recent months has neither gained nor lost much altitude, and remains fixed in a flight path well below Dean's, is that a candidate whose chief virtue was his credibility on national security issues has proved to be such a peacenik. People around Clark disagree as to the source of his surprising politics. One figure who has given Clark substantial advice says that Clark has moved left owing to the ''political dynamic'' fostered by Dean. Clark himself says that he's just angry at the commander in chief's failure to take responsibility. When Clark and I spoke in November, I said that those of us in the audience at the conference assumed that he believed the Bush administration could have and should have stopped the terrorist attacks -- a terrible charge, almost a calumny. No, he said; he meant that the administration had refused to conduct ''an after-action review,'' as he would have done. Of course, if that's what he meant, he could have said so. It seemed, rather, that he had decided to mine the vein that Dean had worked so effectively.
Now, I have a few questions for Mr. Traub.

1.) How exactly does raising the issue of the Bush administration's possible culpability in the 9/11 attacks signify a move to the "left"? What exactly are the "left" and "right" positions on who may or may not have failed to take certain actions prior to 9/11 that may or may not have prevented the attacks? I grant you, Mr. Traub, that Bush occupies the ideological "right." But does that mean that anyone who speculates on a perhaps different shape our national post-9/11 metanarrative could have taken--a narrative in which Bush, as president, is seen inherently to bear some responsibility for the breaches in security that allowed those attacks to happen, in the broad sense, independent of specific findings of administrative oversight or negligence which may or may not yet be reported by the commissions investigating the attacks--has anyone who speculates in this manner, simply by virtue of their being "against Bush," taken a position on the "left"?

2.) Aside from being an affront to national propriety, seemliness, and the new hardline Bush-as-9/11-leader political correctness, how does someone's believing "the Bush administration could have and should have stopped the terrorist attacks" constitute "a terrible charge, almost a calumny"? Even without the findings of the Kean-led commission (which will have limited access to the president's daily intelligence briefings) haven't there already been numerous admissions from decidedly non-ideological quarters that it seems highly probable that the terrorist hijackings could have been thwarted (we won't even touch should for now), had certain relatively basic procedures been enforced at agencies like the INS, at the FBI, and in terms of airline security policy?

Does anyone even dispute anymore that (20/20 hindsight notwithstanding) it really would not have been all that hard to prevent 9/11, had the administration taken a different view of national security threat priorities, and had they taken certain specific policy and enforcement actions? Condi Rice's "Never in our wildest dreams could we have anticipated this"-era claims have long since been dismissed as inaccurate, if not outright dishonest and manipulative.

So whence the "calumny"?

I mean these questions rhetorically, because I'm quite sure James Traub knows everything I've just said and more. Surely the only reason he lapsed into the fallacy-cliches of anti-Bushism-as-leftism and Bush's-9/11-halo-of-innocence-as-sacred-doctrine is because he is a shitty, whoreish journalist who would rather arrange words into decorous combinations than actually take two fucking seconds to question whether he ought to think first, then write. There are plenty more acts of petty whoredom and turd-peddling in the article. These range from the so-unspeakably-insulting-to-the-reader's-intelligence-it's-not-even-worth-laughing-at:
It may be that in his years with NATO, Clark so thoroughly absorbed the European perspective that he has trouble recognizing how very deeply, and differently, Americans were affected by 9/11.
to the merely bad, as when he not only takes a Dean quote so out of context that he reverses its meaning, but doesn't even bother to attempt to say what that meaning might be:
A candidate who says, as Dean does, ''We're all just cogs in a big machine someplace,'' is not catering to the middle.
to the complexly illogical:
If the capture of Saddam Hussein leads to a rapid improvement of conditions in Iraq, the Democratic litmus test could change, and the party could nominate a candidate who couldn't be stereotyped as soft.
(What candidate, anywhere, ever, can't be stereotyped "as soft"? Newsflash to Traub: stereotyping results from the opponent promulgating the stereotype, not the candidate. Ever heard of Max Cleland?)

But my point isn't to sit here all day sniffing over Traub's verbal deposits. It's to ponder the larger problem about 9/11 that Traub raises despite himself. For if even esteemed journalists like Traub are characterizing questions about Bush's 9/11 culpability as "almost a calumny," what are the Bushies going to be saying and doing? Even many anti-Bush and pro-Dem folks are still buying into this baseless "Bush's leadership after 9/11" crock of dogshit, as if to upend the crock might usher in the Death of God.

It occurs to me that we Dems may all be in a bit of a "spider-hole of denial" when it comes to the impending spectacle of a GOP shit-corpse-flag-and-ash fest IN NEW YORK CITY on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary.

What will the response be? What are we going to be saying then? What will the Dem candidate say? What will the media say about what the candidate says?

I have no fucking idea, but I know this: we better start writing the script NOW. Through all the debate about Iraq, Saddam and the rest, 9/11 is the elephant in the room. It is Bush's greatest strength, and that is a horrific embarrassment, because it should be his greatest weakness.

President Bush allowed the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the United States to occur on his watch.

The buck stops there. Bush is responsible for 9/11.

I don't know if that's the right script, but I know this: if the Dems don't fight all the way to the inner-goddamn-sanctum of GOP "strength," they will almost definitely lose.

And whoever the candidate is cannot wait until September, or even August, to start talking about this, because it will take time, cause backlash, and produce damage and scar tissue before the message can be swallowed: Bush didn't protect you against 9/11, and he won't protect you next time either, because he is a bad leader.

Let me close with the closing of James Traub's article:
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has a nightmare in which Dean wins the nomination, conditions in Iraq improve modestly and in the course of a debate, President Bush says: ''Go to Iraq and see the mass graves. Have you been, Governor Dean?'' In this nightmare, Bush has been, and Dean hasn't. ''Saddam killed 300,000 people. He gassed many of these people. You mean I should have thought there were no chemical weapons in the hands of a guy who impeded our inspectors for 12 years and gassed his own people and the Iranians?''
O'Hanlon continued: "And then Governor Dean walks over, drops his trousers, and takes an enormous shit right at the foot of Bush's podium. 'Have you seen this?' asks the governor. 'This is you.' And then I wake up with a smile on my face, knowing it was all a dream."


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