Archive for March, 2004

Clarke’s Collateral Damage

Sunday, March 28th, 2004

There is probably no single person in the decade before the September 11, 2001 attacks who labored more passionately than Richard Clarke to convince US political leadership of the dangers posed by bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Clarke began his career in the Federal Government’s Senior Executive Service in 1973 under Richard Nixon and has served the presidents in between in various capacities. During the Clinton Administration, Clarke served as chairman of the National Security Group, which coordinates the anti-terrorist activities of the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice. Ironically, Clarke was so persistently focused on Al Qaeda that he may have undercut his own credibility. Government officials familiar with Clarke were not sure whether he possessed the single mindedness of a genius or a nut.

It is easy to appreciate the reluctance of political leaders to act on Clarke’s recommendations. Undercutting Al Qaeda would require military action in Afghanistan, literally American boots on the ground. Until September 11, it was much easier, and perhaps more prudent, to believe that the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda could be managed by more aggressive intelligence gathering and law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any president would be so concerned about Al Qaeda prior to September 11 that he would have led the country into a difficult foreign war probably without allies.

By the mid-1990s, Clarke believed the Al Qaeda threat was sufficiently grave to justify the capture or killing of bin Laden. A similar consensus did not exist in the Clinton Administration. For example, despite zealous arguments from Clarke, the US did not accept Sudan’s offers to turn over bin Laden. The Justice Department was not convinced there was sufficient legal evidence to convict bin Laden. With the perfect clarity and wisdom of retrospection, this and other opportunities were lost.

With this prescient history, Clarke could legitimately assume the mantle of a prophet in the wilderness. The experience, judgments, and credibility he could have brought to the 9/11 Commission have now been squandered with his book Against All Enemies. There are real systemic issues about intelligence gathering and fighting terrorism that will now be lost in partisan battling. Before Clarke’s book and excluding some silly speculation by presidential candidate Howard Dean, there was little partisan effort to blame any particular Administration for September 11, 2001.

The few critiques of the Clinton Administration are at best second guessing, while the Bush Administration simply had too little time to come to grips with the situation. In his testimony before 9/11, Clarke even conceded as much. Clarke was specifically asked, “Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001 which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?” Clarke answered “No.”

It is now clear that the best way to stop Al Qaeda would have been to launch a pre-emptive strike against Al Qaeda and the Taliban years before September 11, 2001. It is more than ironic that many who now criticize Bush’s action in Iraq and the pre-emption doctrine in general seem to be suggesting that the US should have launched a pre-emptive strike. If Bush had launched such an attack against Al Qaeda and 9/11 had still happened (which is likely given that the attack had been two years in planning), the second-guessers who infest Washington like locusts would have blamed 9/11 on the pre-emptive action.

It is unprecedented for a national security official to write a critical book about an Administration that he served in while that Administration is still in office. National security is not supposed to be a partisan issue. Indeed, although Clarke had a high level position in the Clinton Administration, he was retained by the Bush Administration in the hopes of maintaining national security continuity. After the new precedent of Clarke’s book, if there is a Kerry Administration, it will likely sweep all former national security personnel away, sacrificing continuity for fear that a Bush partisan may use his or her access to later undercut Kerry Administration foreign policy. After Clarke’s book, we are now arguing about who to blame for September 11, when we should reserve anger for Al Qaeda. Too much energy is being wasted pointing fingers at each other.

The two most contentious arguments by Clarke are: (1) The Clinton Administration had no higher priority than anti-terrorism, while the Bush Administration did not appreciate the urgency of the threat. (2) The Bush Administration was too preoccupied with Iraq to the detriment of the fight against Al Qaeda. Clarke argues there was no relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

The first argument is so obviously untrue to even the most casual political observer that it must be disingenuous. Depending on your view of the Clinton Administration, the last months were preoccupied with either mediating negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians or arranging for pardons of political contributors. Anti-terrorism may have been important, even very important, but it certainly was not the highest priority of the Clinton Administration. Indeed, Clarke himself, in an incredible intellectual somersault illustrated that higher priorities did exist for the Clinton Administration. He explained in a Frontline interview that a specific response to the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors was withheld for fear of derailing the Middle East peace process. Perhaps that was a wise decision at the time, but the fight against Al Qaeda was clearly not the highest priority as Clarke recently claimed.

In a 2002 press briefing, Clarke outlined how the Bush Administration was not content just to maintain the Clinton Administration policy of merely keeping Al Qaeda at bay, but it was willing to go aggressively after Al Qaeda. This implies that anti-terrorism was a higher priority in the Bush Administration. If Clarke’s previous testimony to Congress is declassified, we may learn for certain, that apparently, Clarke made similar positive representations about the Bush Administration under oath.

When questioned about the apparent contradictions by the 9/11 Commission, Clarke, in essence, said he was spinning to give a positive impression of Bush Administration policies in 2002. Clarke hints that to do otherwise would have jeopardized his position. What a self-damning statement. If one is willing to mislead to preserve one’s job, is the one also willing to publicly mislead to sell a book? Once Clarke admits to selling out the truth for personal aggrandizement, he devastates his own credibility.

In his 60 Minutes interview Clarke claimed there was never any connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq and criticized Bush for inquiring about such a relationship. Despite Clarke’s claim, and he should know better, there have been a number of connections, including a visit between bin Laden’s chief deputy in the Sudan to Iraq in1998. A chief suspect, Abdul Rahman Yasin in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings fled to Iraq. According to the Washington Post, Clarke himself made the association between Iraq and Al Qaeda as partial justification for the attacks on the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in August 1998. The attack was a response to the bombings of US embassys in Africa by Al Qaeda.

It is not possible to look into another person’s soul, but Clarke’s own words are now at odds with the recent assertions in his book. Even when they are not contradictory they seem rancorous, bitter, and petty. Why else would Clarke suggest that someone as smart and experienced as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice did not know about Al Qaeda until he told her? This latter assertion has since been disproved by pre-Bush Administration interviews with Rice.

Is Clarke just pushing a book to make money? Does he have partisan aspirations? Is he just angry at not having received a higher level position in the Bush Administration? Does he believe that Rice did not accord him sufficient respect? Did he take offense that CIA Director George Tenet rather than he provided the President Bush’s daily threat briefing. Perhaps Clarke is just a powerful mind that has gotten confused like a ship with billowing sails and no rudder. Whatever his current motivations, the public record of pre-2003 Clarke is irrefutably at war with the current Clarke. The collateral damage of this war has been to politicize the 9/11 Commission, to introduce unnecessary partisan rancor over a national security issue, and to insure there will be less national security continuity between Administrations of different political parties. Shame on Clarke.

Yielding to the Global Bully

Sunday, March 21st, 2004

In the immediate wake of the bombings in Madrid now attributed to Al Qaeda that killed over 200, Socialists won an election that days before the massacre, conventional wisdom believed the more conservative party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar would win by a safe margin. The public did not support Aznar’s modest contribution of troops to the Coalition that is now stabilizing Iraq, but given the totality of issues, they were set on returning Aznar’s party to power. Now apologists for the Spaniards suggest that the last minute electoral reversal was not appeasement to the killers of 200 Spaniards, rather it was a show of anger and frustration over the fact that the ruling party had at first attributed the explosion to the native Basque Separatists.

There may be some merit to that argument, but that is certainly not what the Spaniards and the Socialists, in particular, are saying. The New York Times made a point of highlighting the quote from a Spaniard, who lamented “Maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq and Al Qaeda will forget about Spain so we will be less frightened.” Yes, and maybe the Nazis will be satisfied with the Sudetenland.

Let us stand back for a moment. An evil (Why are people so reluctant to use such an obviously apt description?) group decides that to advance its political agenda (Which is to impose a global Islamic theocracy?) it will deliberately kill innocent civilians. The response of the Spanish people is to grant the Islamofascists the political victory they crave. A dangerous precedent is set: kill a large number of random civilians and you can change elections. Will this make groups like Al Qaeda more or less likely to plan similar actions against countries that are ambivalent about the War on Terror? Will the Basque terrorists that have plagued Spain for so long be persuaded that force is a fruitless strategy? British Prime Minister Tony Blair is under political pressure. Is it not more likely that terrorist groups will now try to influence British elections by killing British citizens?

The new Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calls the situation is Iraq a “fiasco.” Current Iraqi problems are not the fault of the majority of the Iraqi people who want to move to a democratic government. They are not the fault of the Coalition forces that are trying to provide security and are helping Iraqis build a free and prosperous Iraq. Before the war, Iraq was slowly collapsing with negative growth rates, Iraq had enormous economic growth in the last year and in 2004, it expected to achieve experience 19% growth. All of this while schools and hospitals have been rehabilitated and opened. Before the war, thousands were killed by the oppressive Iraqi regime who skimmed enough money from the Oil-for-Food program to insure the death of thousands of children from malnutrition. Now the Iraqis have a provisional legal structure that protects individual liberties.

The remaining problems in Iraq are primarily the consequence of a minority of Baathist Party remnants angry at their loss of totalitarian control and Al Qaeda bent on nipping an incipient Arab democracy in the bud. The Spanish have just granted such forces a symbolic victory. If everyone followed the Spanish example and pulled out of Iraq without completing the necessary economic and political development, it would invite untold hardship and oppression of the Iraqi people by the same movement that killed 200 Spaniards.

The new foreign minister of Spain Miguel Moratinos has sagely intoned, “We think we have to use very complex and different instruments to counter terrorism, rather than simply force.” This statement is so deliberately and willfully untruthful that it is not even wrong. Certainly, force has not been the only response. A large fraction of the effort in Iraq, a noble effort that the Spanish may be withdrawing from, is to build a functional and free society in Iraq that will help stand as a bulwark against terrorism. Moreover, Moratinos’s statement illustrates a systemic confusion about terrorism. The cause of terrorism is not poverty or ignorance any more than Nazism was justified by the German post World War I experience. There are many who are poor or disenfranchised who will not target civilian populations with bombings calculated to maximize deaths. Islamic-radicalism like Nazism is an evil ideology based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and rights of man.

Hundreds of Spaniards are killed, millions in Iraq need help, and Spain cowers behind its borders congratulating itself on its fine-tuned moral sensitivities. Others will remember the admonishment of Dante, that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in time of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”

Who Wants Who to Win

Sunday, March 14th, 2004

Former Democratic contender Governor Howard Dean can testify to the notion that endorsements are not always as desirable as they appear. When Vice-President Al Gore endorsed Dean on December 9, 2003, he passed along to Dean not only an endorsement, but the famous Gore luck and impeccable sense of timing. Less than a week later, the United States armed forces captured former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein and punctured the balloon of Dean’s previously ascending anti-war campaign. The event was a symbolic turning point for Dean.

Nonetheless, politicians instinctively seek out endorsements like moths to a flame. Sometimes, they even boast of them when the endorsers are too shy to make their endorsements public. On March 8 of this year, the sure-to-be Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry bragged that, “I’ve met with foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly. But, boy they look at you and say: `You’ve got to win this. You have got to beat this guy. We need a new policy.’ Things like that.” Of course, the way the boast is framed, it is impossible to refute. There have been some public denials by foreign governments, but these could be proforma so as not to spoil relations with the Bush Administration.

The Washington Times tried to infer which foreign leaders Kerry might have met and from whom Kerry might have received an endorsement by looking at State Department and other public records. The only time when Kerry and a foreign leader were in the same city at the same time since Kerry became a presidential candidate was when the New Zealand Foreign Minister Philip Goff was at the State Department in Washington. There is no record of a Kerry-Goff meeting.

But it is too demanding to hold politicians to exact literal interpretations of their remarks. They often engage in self-aggrandizing exaggerations and short-hand ways of making a point, particularly when speaking extemporaneously. It would not be difficult to infer that there are some foreign leaders who prefer Kerry to President Bush. Surely, French President Jacques Chirac would, and despite German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s public denial of a Kerry endorsement, Schroeder’s preferences are obvious from his previous positions. On the other hand, Tony Blair’s political fortunes are tied to Bush so in his heart-of-hearts, Blair would probably prefer a Bush victory. Certainly, current free Iraqi leaders would prefer Bush. They are probably more convinced of a Bush commitment to Iraq’s long term stability than any Kerry commitment based on Kerry’s vote against authorizing $87 billion to support US troops and Iraqi reconstruction.

Since Kerry has brought up the issue of endorsements by foreign leaders, it seems fair to explore them. Although the opinions of allies are, in general, valuable, they are by no means dispositive. It has been said that nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. Hence, endorsement by foreign powers of American political candidates is a double edged sword.

Can we extend our analysis of approval by allies to disapproval of candidates by foreign enemies? David Broeder of the Washington Post did a little research and found that Democratic Senator Samuel Jackson of Indiana, who chaired the 1944 Democratic National Convention, had no problem using the wishes of our enemies as a political stick with which to pound Republicans over the head. Jackson said of a Republican victory, “How many battleships would a Democratic defeat be worth to Tojo? How many Nazi legions would it be worth to Hitler? … We must not let the American ballot box to be made Hitler’s secret weapon.”

Given his current predicament, it is a safe bet that Saddam Hussein would have preferred that Bush were not president last year. European papers report that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il expressed a preference for Kerry.

Let us affirm absolutely, that Kerry is no friend to our enemies and would embrace the capture of Osma bin Laden or the containment of Korea’s nuclear program with as much relish as anyone in the current Administration. However, he presumably has a different approach for the War on Terror and foreign policy. If Kerry boasts of foreign endorsements, is it fair to ask the question, who would Osma bin Laden prefer to win? Andres Mckenna Polling and Research asked a sample of 800 registered voters who would “the terrorists prefer.” By a substantial margin, 60 to 25 percent, voters assumed that terrorist would prefer Kerry. Perhaps both the public and the terrorists are wrong and Kerry would prove to more formidable than Bush, but are we allowed to ask the question? Would Bush or Kerry be more adept at executing the War on Terror?

Campaign Finance Justice

Sunday, March 7th, 2004

In the movie Amadeus, composer Antonio Salieri was profoundly jealous of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s innate musical gifts. Not only was Mozart a vastly more talented composer, but his compositions flowed from his pen with apparent ease, as if he were merely transcribing the notes from angels. Mozart could carouse and give himself to debauchery, yet still easily produce heavenly compositions. While Salieri led a pious, contemplative life and diligently labored at his craft, he produced far more pedestrian pieces of music. God’s apparent injustice gnawed at Salieri and ultimately destroyed him. Salieri could never accept that it is often too much to expect justice in this world. Nonetheless, there are precious occasions when we may enjoy the prospect that someone or some group receives their proper comeuppance. Campaign finance reform may yet represent this proper reward for Democrats.

The problem fundamentally lies with the mythology of Democrats, that they are the party of the little guy while vile Republicans represent the upper class interests. This mythology causes them to pursue policies even against their own best interests. The only way Democrats can reconcile the success of Republicans at the polls is to argue that Republicans buy elections with resources provided by moneyed interests. The inevitable logic of this tenet of their faith is that if campaign contributions are limited or even eliminated, electoral success for Democrats would follow.

The first efforts at campaign finance reform could only be made to jive with that pesky First Amendment if it could be argued that campaign finance laws help avoid the appearance of corruption. Hence, money donated directly to a candidate’s campaign could be regulated, but people and institutions would retain the freedom to advocate their positions, independent of the campaigns. Money could only be donated to campaigns in modest increments of $1,000 per donor per election. However, independent organizations could raise amounts from people, corporations, unions, or other interest groups in any amount. Money raised directly for a candidate is called “hard money.” Money contributed to other interest groups has come to be called “soft money.”

Unfortunately for Democrats, Republicans turned out to be much more proficient at raising lots of money from modestly affluent donors, particularly small business people, in increments of $1,000. Democrats, however, had to rely on limousine liberals willing to donate money in far larger chunks. Democrats extricated themselves from this dilemma by campaign finance alchemy, in effect, turning soft money into hard money.

It turned out, the money given to political parties could be considered soft, if it were used for general party building and issue advocacy and not “expressed advocacy” for the election or defeat of any particular candidate. The limit of any contribution to a political party was $20,000 per year. Under President Bill Clinton, Democrats masterfully exploited this loophole and Republicans soon followed. Using soft money, one could argue that Candidate A’s position on public policy was wise and prudent, but one could not expressly advocate for the election of Candidate A with words to the effect, “Vote for A.” However, the cumulative effect of such ads are much the same as expressed advocacy ads.

In addition, issue ads which were not directly tied to a candidate and funded by an organization independent of a political party or candidate could not be regulated. Pro-life and pro-choice groups, for example, could run ads critical of certain positions without limit. The expenditures of closely allied groups could help a campaign as long as there was no provable collusion between a campaign and independent groups. However, for many independent interest groups it is pretty easy to divine the campaign themes of their favorite candidates and run political ads accordingly.

Both political parties used soft money funneled both through political parties and other groups as a means to fund campaigns. As long as political ads did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, there was no violation of the law.

Again responding to the mythology that further limiting free speech exercised through the medium of campaign financing would create pristine politics, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold bill. Despite Senator John McCain’s (R) joint sponsorship of the bill, it was largely a Democratic bill. This new law prevented the political parties from acting as conduits for soft money in the same way as before. Political parties could still help out with generic “Vote Democratic” or “Vote Republican” ads, but the money for these activities must come from contributions that are limited to $5,000 increments. Larger donations for general party activities were capped at $25,000. Moreover, within the last 60 days before an election, issue ads (ads that do not expressly advocate the election or rejection of a candidate) are limited. To the benefit of Republicans, the individual contribution limit to candidates was doubled from $1,000 per donor per election to $2,000.

Some of McCain-Feingold, particularly the one limiting independent expenditures in the last 60 days before the election, were challenged in court. In yet another erosion of the First Amendment, the US Supreme Court ruled that the restrictions on third-party expenditures within 60 days of an election were constitutional. Indeed, the ruling was so broad that it blurred the distinction between the actions and contributions permitted of political parties and those permitted of independent groups.

What are Democrats to do now? They appear to be at a permanent disadvantage in raising hard money. They do, however, have extremely wealthy allies like George Soros who donates money in units of wheelbarrows and who has publicly stated that he will spare no expense to defeat President Bush in the November election. The solution Democrats and the Left have conjured up is to create independent organizations that will advocate Democratic themes on state and local levels. By careful coordination these themes will benefit Democratic candidates at the federal level and contribute to organizational efforts and get-out-the-vote activities that will benefit federal Democratic candidates as well. The idea was so good that Soros immediately pledged $10,000,000 to America Coming Together (ACT), one of the umbrella independent organizations set up by the Left.

The Republicans responded by establishing Americans for a Better Country (ABC). The goal of ABC was a clever and cynical attempt to derail the entire Democratic soft money effort. The crucial point to recognize is that the activities that these independent organizations are performing are close to the activities of traditional political parties. They can, in effect, become shadow political parties. Should these independent organizations not be limited to raising money in small increments like political parties?

ABC claims they intend to engage in activities similar to ACT. They then asked the Federal Election Commission for a pre-emptory advisory ruling about any fund-raising restrictions. On February 17, the Federal Election Commission ruled that:

  • If you support or attack any candidate, even if there is no expressed call for election or defeat, the funds for such ads can only come from hard money funds.
  • Generic pro- or anti-Republican and Democratic ads must be funded at least in half by accounts subject to hard money limits.
  • Get out the vote campaigns must also come from hard money accounts.
  • The money for any federal election activities must come from hard money accounts.

In other words, a large fraction of the money donated by Soros and other well-healed Lefties cannot be used to go after Bush, even in indirect ways.

Democrats have gotten what they wanted. They have limited speech through campaign finance reform and it has come back to hit them in the tail. Usually the Democrats could count on the fact that the FEC is usually slow to act against wayward activities. However, in this case the FEC has already issued a ruling. So the Left will have to resort to the old tactic of simply righteously ignoring the law. As reported by USA Today, Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, has “suggested the Sierra Club would even consider ignoring any new FEC restrictions and proceeding with its activities as planned, letting the chips fall where they may.”

Tell, David, Who’s Afraid of George Soros, The Weekly Standard, March 9, 2004, 19-25