25 March 2004

Man On The Hot Seat

Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism chief, has just come up with his book, Against All Enemies : Inside the White House's War on Terror--What Really Happened that has stirred so much response lately. He has been summoned today to appear before the special presidential commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.

What a way to promote your book. Clarke alleges the Bush administration of ignoring repeated warnings about an Al-Qaeda threat in 2001 and looking for an excuse to attack Iraq at the expense of battling terrorism.

Two years after the 9/11 attacks, the Yankees are still playing the blaming game. If you watch Fox News and CNN, it seems like Clinton did 'too little,' while the Bush team did 'nothing.' Most of the analysts, however, suggest that the blame could be spread equally, as if it's everyone's fault and no one's fault.

Bush defenders are quick to label Clarke as a "Democratic hit man," and that his "real beef is political and personal". White House officials for their part, describe the Clarke allegations as "deeply irresponsible" and "flat-out wrong."

For my part, I think it is worth noting that the said hearing is taking place during a US presidential campaign and it will be foolish to assume that a spirit of bipartisan decorum will prevail. I think part of the arguments rest on the fact that Dubya is using his stance on terrorism as a campaign slogan. As Clarke said in CBS 60 Minutes last Sunday, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe, we'll never know."

If I was a member of the panel asking questions, I would like to ask Dubya officials like Powell and Cheney why Iraq arose as the major target in early 2002 while the fight against Bin Laden and his worldwide network was far from over.

At the end of the hearing today, the 9/11 panel found some intelligence lapses. CIA Diector George Tenet after testifying issued a warning that another US attack is coming. "It's coming. They are still going to try and do it, and we need to sort of -- men and women here who have lost their families have to know that we've got to do a hell of a lot better," he said, in remarks that elicited loud applause from members of the 9/11 victims' families seated in the audience.

The hearings should place some balance into how both administrations (Clinton and Dubya) met the challenge of terrorism before 9/11. And since this is election year, there will certainly be political partisans on both sides, but I do hope they will be able to come up with recommendations that will help save lives in the future.

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