A Plague On Both Your Parties

One of the things that bothers me about conservative Republicans is that they usually seem more interested in playing power politics than advancing liberty or the welfare of the nation. Their subliminal slogan is, "Power over principle; power over you." Most of their energy is focused on attacking liberal Democrats, distorting the truth in the process when necessary, and sloughing off responsibility for their own miserable policy failures.

Case in point: Failing to prevent the attacks of September 11th. How many times have we heard since then that this was all Bill Clinton’s fault? He shrunk the military; denuded the CIA; he wasn’t tough enough; he was distracted by his libido and his libido cover-ups. Whoa, let’s back up a little. What about that great modern conservative icon, Ronald Reagan? In a major speech on July 8, 1985, he called recent terrorist attacks on American citizens and military personnel “acts of war,” and a threat to “our way of life” and our “democracy.” He put the blame for terrorism squarely on the backs of the depraved states that allow terrorists to operate freely.

Reagan named names and promised coordinated action against those states. He made it clear that he believed that the terrorists who were murdering American citizens and attacking American installations were being trained, financed, and directly or indirectly controlled by a core group of radical and totalitarian governments, a new international version of Murder, Incorporated. He said the goal of the terrorists was to force America to withdraw from the world and abandon its friends. He compared their tactics to those of Nazi Germany and called on all “civilized” nations to rise up against them. He promised to bring the terrorists to justice.

What did Reagan do? First, he helped bin Laden get his start by funding the Mujahidin. Then, he lobbed a missile at Colonel Qaddafi that miraculously bounced off his tent, resumed orbit, headed northwest, and knocked a plane out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland. Okay, so the Gipper dropped the ball, but why didn’t his protégé George Bush, Sr. pick it up and run with it? I know. Bush, Sr., did nothing because he knew pretty boy Clinton was coming in, thought he would do nothing and then conservatives could criticize him for it, and George Bush, Jr. could get elected. Yeah, that’s it.

So now Bill Clinton is dictator of the United States. Strike that, he’s president in a constitutional system with a supreme legislative branch controlled by, you guessed it, Republicans. Here are the talking points to the Republican troops about the Clinton-era: (1) the Republicans were totally responsible for anything good that happened to the economy; (2) the Republicans were not responsible for anything bad that happened with terrorism (even though we controlled oversight and the purse strings).

Of course, everybody "knows" Clinton did nothing to stop terrorism. Not quite. According to an exhaustive analysis in the New York Times on Sunday, he did quite a bit. Yes, there was the usual bureaucratic bumbling, and there were missed opportunities, but the Clinton Administration made numerous efforts over many years to thwart bin Laden and Al Qaeda:

  • The CIA created a virtual station to track bin Laden.
  • American diplomats pressed Sudan to expel bin Laden.
  • State Dept. circulated a dossier that accused bin Laden of financing radical Islamic causes around the world.
  • NSA eavesdropped on telephone lines used by Al Qaeda and broke up one Al Qaeda unit as a result.
  • Ordered cruise missile strike on Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.
  • The United States disrupted other Al Qaeda cells, and got several Al Qaeda members prosecuted in Egypt.
  • President Clinton approved the use of lethal covert force against bin Laden and a dozen of his top lieutenants.
  • Four times Clinton authorized the CIA to kill or capture bin Laden.
  • The C.I.A. stationed submarines in the Indian Ocean to track bin Laden’s movements in preparation for a cruise missile attack.
  • The White House asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop plans for a commando raid to capture or kill bin Laden. The Pentagon balked.
  • Clinton administration tried to choke off Al Qaeda’s financial network by threatening states and banks with sanctions if they dealt with the terrorist group.
  • In 1999 and 2000, some $255 million of Taliban-controlled assets was blocked in United States accounts.
  • Arrested Ahmed Ressam when he tried to enter the United States in Port Angeles, Wash., on Dec. 14, 1999. Ressam had 130 pounds of bomb-making chemicals.
  • In March 2000, the FBI, started a series of anti-terrorism seminars with agents who headed the bureau’s 56 field offices, encouraging them to hire more Arabic translators and develop better sources of information.
  • The FBI asked for money for a computer system that would allow various field offices to share and analyze information collected by agents–the Republican Congress initially said no.
  • In September 2000, an unarmed, unmanned spy plane flew over Afghanistan searching for bin Laden.
  • In October 2000, the administration unsuccessfully tried to kill bin Laden.

Currently, we are led to believe that the Republicans, prior to September 11th, knew that Clinton’s efforts were too little and too timid, and that the country was at imminent risk of a disastrous terrorist attack as a result, and that, given half a chance, they would take quick, decisive and aggressive action. Therefore, on January 20, 2001, right after the swearing-in ceremony was over, Team Bush did — nothing! Well, not exactly nothing. Condoleezza Rice did meet with Sandy Berger who warned her about bin Laden. Also, Bush retained George Tenet, Clinton’s CIA man.

According to the Times, "until Sept. 11, the people at the top levels of the Bush administration may, if anything, have been less preoccupied by terrorism than the Clinton aides." The Bushies apparently did little in response to intelligence indicating that "Al Qaeda was planning to attack an American target in late June or perhaps over the July 4 holiday." The Bush Administration was drafting plans for dealing with terrorism, but somehow, even though, we are led to believe, any idiot could have instantly seen the flaws in Clinton’s approach, those plans had not even been presented to Bush for review by September 11!

So let’s cut the bull, Republicans. Take a deep breath and some truth serum and repeat after me: "On terrorism, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats and Republicans are the two factions of the one-party state that rules America. Both factions are to blame for pointlessly stirring up foreign enemies to hate America, then failing to marshal federal military and intelligence resources to protect Americans on September 11th. Nostra culpa!"

January 3, 2002

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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