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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 23 March 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Just who is saying what? A good day for commentary. Must be winter ending and folks waking up from a long slumber...

Items worth a look today...

See Fatal in Difference: Bush's catastrophic allergy to Clinton
William Saletan, SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2004, at 2:42 PM PT

The always amusing Saletan opens with this:

Every once in a while, in the course of spinning the issue of the day, an administration accidentally betrays its broader mentality. Six weeks ago on Meet the Press, President Bush revealed his abstract notion of reality. Three weeks ago in his re-election ads, Bush displayed a confidence unhinged from facts and circumstances. This week, in response to criticism of its terrorism policy by a former Bush aide, the administration is betraying a third fundamental flaw: a categorical aversion to the ideas of the Clinton years.
The middle is an analysis of how the Bush administration systematically tried to reverse the policies and methods of the Clinton administration. The idea was not to build to them, not to take from them what might have worked, but to do the opposite, whatever it was. Saletan gives four detailed examples.

Of course the discussion comes around to William Clarke's book, Against All Enemies which is so much in the news. See Sunday as seen from Monday - What do reporters actually do for a living? - my comments yesterday on that book.

Here's Saletan's take -

In his book, Clarke recalls, "In general, the Bush appointees distrusted anything invented by the Clinton administration." Thomas Maertens, a Clarke ally who ran the National Security Council's nuclear nonproliferation shop under Clinton and Bush, tells the New York Times that while Clarke was "saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S.," the Bush team discounted his pleas because he had served under Clinton. "They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration," Maertens tells the Times. "So anything [the Clinton aides] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it."

... Does this mean Clinton did an exemplary job of fighting terrorism? Hardly. Clarke has plenty of complaints about what Clinton did. Some of it was good; some of it was bad. Clinton was inconsistent. Bush is the opposite: He worships consistency. He simplifies. He can't see any good in what Clinton did, so he throws out the good with the bad. No more fly-swatting. No more law enforcement. No more pinpricks. No more reactive Cabinet meetings. As Rice put it on the Today show Monday, "The key here was not to have a meeting. The key was to have a strategy." Bush's approach to al-Qaida was all or nothing. On Sept. 11, 2001, a week after his grand strategy was finished, he got his answer: Nothing.

The same all-or-nothing attitude pervades the Bush team's attack on Clarke's motives. In their world, as Bush has said, you're either with us or against us. They can't fathom why a guy who worked with them for two years would openly rebuke them. He supported Bush! He lunched with Rice! He's a registered Republican! How could he turn on them? He must have been a double agent. "His best buddy is Sen. Kerry's principal foreign policy adviser," McClellan sneered Monday. Never mind that his best buddy, like Clarke, served Bush for two years after working under Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton. To the current Bush team, there's no such thing as criticism from within. If you challenge the president, you're one of the enemy.

It's funny, in retrospect, that Bush ran for president as a uniter. To unite a country, you have to acknowledge and reconcile differences. Bush doesn't work toward unity; he assumes it. He doesn't reconcile differences; he denies them. It's his tax cut or nothing. It's his homeland security bill or nothing. It's his terrorism policy or nothing. If you're playing politics, this is smart strategy. But if you're trying to help the country, it's foolish. The odds are that 50 percent of the other party's ideas are right. By ruling them out, you start your presidency 50 percent wrong.
Worth a read.

Then there's this...

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth: Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism
Fred Kaplan, SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2004, at 3:22 PM PT

The fellow know Richard Clarke pretty well and gives us this:

I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against President Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence.

First, his basic accusations are consistent with tales told by other officials, including some who had no significant dealings with Clarke.

Second, the White House's attempts at rebuttal have been extremely weak and contradictory. If Clarke were wrong, one would expect the comebacks--especially from Bush's aides, who excel at the counterstrike--to be stronger and more substantive.

Third, I went to graduate school with Clarke in the late 1970s, at MIT's political science department, and called him as an occasional source in the mid-'80s when he was in the State Department and I was a newspaper reporter. There were good things and dubious things about Clarke, traits that inspired both admiration and leeriness. The former: He was very smart, a highly skilled (and utterly nonpartisan) analyst, and he knew how to get things done in a calcified bureaucracy. The latter: He was arrogant, made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who disagreed with him, and blatantly maneuvered around all obstacles to make sure his views got through.

The key thing, though, is this: Both sets of traits tell me he's too shrewd to write or say anything in public that might be decisively refuted. As Daniel Benjamin, another terrorism specialist who worked alongside Clarke in the Clinton White House, put it in a phone conversation today, "Dick did not survive and flourish in the bureaucracy all those years by leaving himself open to attack."
So you might want to read this.

Yes, Clarke's main argument - made in his new book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in lengthy interviews on CBS's 60 Minutes and PBS's Charlie Rose Show, and presumably in his testimony scheduled for tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission - is that Bush has done (as Clarke put it on CBS) "a terrible job" at fighting terrorism.

The case? In the summer of 2001, Bush did almost nothing to deal with mounting evidence of an impending al-Qaida attack. Then, after 9/11, his main response was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. This, Clarke contends, move not only distracted us from the real war on terrorism, it fed into Osama Bin Laden's propaganda - that the United States would invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country - and thus served as the rallying cry for new terrorist recruits.

Kaplan suggests this should not be so controversial, because these are not new ideas. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill wrote about such things in his book, The Price of Loyalty - and Jim Mann's new book about Bush's war Cabinet, Rise of the Vulcans, gives the full history of this crew's obsession with Iraq.

And Kaplan discusses Rand Beers, the fellow who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House. Beers resigned in protest too - five days before the Iraqi war started - for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, Beers told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more."

There are more the a few unhappy ex-campers.

Kaplan says Clarke's distinction is that he was "the ultimate insider - as highly and deeply inside, on this issue, as anyone could imagine. And so his charges are more credible, potent, and dangerous."

And then Kaplan goes into detail. Click and read if you wish.

Over at the Washington Post you get this.

Bush, Clarke and A Shred of Doubt
Richard Cohen, Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

And Cohen is just funny -

Pity poor George Bush. For some reason, he has been beset by delusional aides who, once they leave the White House, write books containing lies and exaggerations and -- this is the lowest blow of all -- do not take into account the president's genius and all-around wisdom. The latest White House aide to betray the president is Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counterterrorism before and after the attacks of Sept. 11. He says Bush "failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda."

As with former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, another fool who had somehow risen to become chairman of Alcoa, Clarke's account of his more than two years in the Bush White House was immediately denounced by a host of administration aides, some of whom -- and this is just the sheerest of coincidences -- had once assured us that Iraq was armed to the teeth with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
And after a review of who said what Cohen notes the White House attacks on Clarke.

It's not a bad piece.

Oh and also in the Post David Ignatius has a bit to say about the Israeli assassination of that Hamas fellow.

See Machiavelli in the Middle East
David Ignatius, Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

This has one of the better openings I've come across:

"It is much safer to be feared than loved," wrote the philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli nearly 500 years ago. That harsh logic can be seen in Israel's assassination Monday of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the terrorist group Hamas.

It follows that for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it's better to be seen as ruthless than as weak. That's especially true now, when Sharon plans to make a concession to the Palestinians by withdrawing from settlements in Gaza. The danger in this unilateral withdrawal, one of Sharon's advisers told me several months ago, is that terrorist groups such as Hamas might think they had "won" by forcing an Israeli retreat. Israeli defense analyst Zeev Schiff explained in the online edition of the newspaper Haaretz on Monday: "The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheik Ahmed Yassin is that when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was promoted by the group's operations."

But even Machiavelli believed that intimidation has its limits. Just a few sentences after the famous passage quoted above, he cautioned: "Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred."
And the argument that follows is that by any real Machiavellian standard, Sharon has failed. There are a whole lot of angry people much more like now to kills and terrorize and all that sort of thing.

So why did Sharon do it? Ignatius suggests one obvious answer is that he is a gambler. Ignatius points out "Throughout his career, he has been willing to roll the dice on bold military operations that promise to transform the strategic landscape. That risk-taking instinct is part of Sharon's charisma among Israelis, and it explains his continuing popularity despite his many failures over the years."

But Ignatius suggests the real reason - Sharon symbolizes the belief that the Palestinians can be intimidated by military force - and that peace will be possible only when they are sufficiently weakened and humbled. If Israel is tough enough, by this logic, it will eventually break the Arabs' will and force them to accept Israel's right to exist.

Yep, that could happen. Maybe. But here it is suggested that rather than being humbled into submission, the Palestinians have embraced a strategy of suicidal rage.

Ignatius says perhaps both sides could begin by considering the possibility that Machiavelli was wrong. "Sometimes it may actually be safer to be loved than feared. An Israel that took risks for peace might find unexpected rewards."

Or that Israeli might not. Doesn't matter. That won't happen.


Oh yeah, also in the Post E. J. Dionne smacks Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia around quite a bit.

See Why Scalia Should Duck Out
E. J. Dionne Jr., Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A19

The opening?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Perhaps because I'm in Florida, I can't stop thinking about that bizarre memo Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia issued last week.
It's the one in which the justice heaped scorn and ridicule on all who questioned whether he could be fair in deciding whether Vice President Cheney should have to disclose which oil and gas bigwigs he consulted when he ran President Bush's energy task force.

Let me admit: My view is that Scalia should stay out of any case involving the political interests of this administration. Here, after all, is the man who played such a central role in putting Bush and Cheney into office through that abominable Bush v. Gore decision. How can the kingmaker be expected to offer a fair judgment on the king and his handpicked deputy?

But forget the past: Scalia's own argument for why he should stay on the Cheney case offers the best evidence for why he should get off.
And what is that?

The 21-page Scalia memo is, in part, a heartwarming buddy story.
Scalia fondly describes his tradition of going duck hunting at the camp of a friend named Wallace Carline. "During my December 2002 visit, I learned that Mr. Carline was an admirer of Vice President Cheney," Scalia wrote. "Knowing that the vice president, with whom I am well acquainted (from our years serving together in the Ford administration), is an enthusiastic duck-hunter, I asked whether Mr. Carline would like to invite him to our next year's hunt.

"The answer was yes," Scalia went on. "I conveyed the invitation (with my own warm recommendation) in the spring of 2003 and received an acceptance (subject, of course, to any superseding demands on the vice president's time) in the summer. The vice president said that if he did go, I would be welcome to fly down to Louisiana with him."

Please read those paragraphs over a couple of times. Is there any doubt that this is a justice who is great friends with the person whose case he is deciding? Would a rational person doubt that, all things being equal, the judge just might tilt toward the man with whom he is so "well acquainted?"

Imagine you were in a bitter court fight with a former business partner. Would you want the judge in your case to be someone who went duck hunting with your opponent and flew to the hunt on your opponent's plane? Would it make you feel confident to know that the judge was in a position to issue a "warm recommendation" that your opponent join a particular hunting expedition and thus make one of the judge's friends - an "admirer" of your opponent in the case - feel good?

And now consider that you, as a citizen, have a right to know with whom Cheney consulted in writing an energy bill that was overwhelmingly tilted toward the interests of an industry in which the vice president was once a central player. Scalia admits that recusal might be in order "where the personal fortune or the personal freedom of the friend is at issue." But not to worry. What's at stake here are only Cheney's political fortunes, the interests of the industry that Cheney once worked for, and the public's right to know. No big deal.
So Dionne says this is a scandal. Why? "Because of ideological connivance across the branches of our political system, we are abandoning the checks and balances that make our government work."

Yeah, yeah. But no one can do anything about it. There is no higher judicial authority. You cannot bump this upstairs. This is the top floor - the penthouse, so to speak.

And now you're caught up.

Posted by Alan at 16:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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