Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Who's weak on terror?

One of the cornerstones of the Republican attack on liberals as "weak on terrorism" -- voiced most notoriously by Karl Rove last week, but really a constant and building theme since 9/11 -- is the notion that the Bush administration has been aggressive and "resolute" in tackling this threat.

Like most Republican themes these days, it is unadulterated bullshit. It pretends that the arrogant imposition of a long-planned policy is the same as resolve, and that the careless use of military power is the same as aggressiveness. It also pretends that all of these, somehow, are an adequate substitute for real competence.

The reality is that the Bush administration has foregone a serious and effective campaign against terrorism by pursuing an unrelated military misadventure that will, in the long run, weaken our national defense -- especially against terrorist attacks.

I've made this point several times previously. The recent resurgence of the "liberals are weak on terror" theme -- inspired, no doubt, by the Bush administration's reported panic over its sinking poll numbers and the steady drumbeat of worsening news out of Iraq -- makes it even more pertinent.

Most people with real experience in combating terrorism are perfectly aware of this. They know that, before 9/11 Bush did not take terrorism seriously (and if there was any question of that, we need only reflect briefly on the remarkable record of inaction -- except, of course, for brush-clearing on the Bush ranch -- after the Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing). They also know that after 9/11, he hasn't approached it seriously either. Bush has chosen instead to use "terra" as a club for advancing his political agenda while continually undermining and ignoring the difficult and intricate work that fighting terrorism in a serious fashion requires.

One of these people is former FBI agent Mike German, who specialized in cracking domestic-terrorism plots. I've posted on German's work previously. He recently sat for an interview with Amy Goodman (which should be read in its entirety) in which he said this:
I don't think that, you know, you're ever going to stop terrorism. You know, and part of the problem is, we use one word to describe very many different things, you know, whether it's the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, or the D.C. snipers or, you know, organized white supremacist groups and organized foreign terrorist groups. We're certainly never going to stop terrorism altogether. You know, I think we just have to try to do the best we can to prevent as many acts as we can, and it requires really a lot of proactive work. And I think one of the big problems is after 9/11, there was generated this idea that criminal law enforcement is somehow ineffective in preventing terrorist attacks.

Well, my two cases prove that you could prevent terrorist attacks. I mean, in both of my cases, we actually used criminal law enforcement techniques to prevent acts of terrorism. And unfortunately, the way the intelligence reform has gone has moved from criminal law enforcement to this intelligence model. Well, you know, basically the problem in 9/11 was the American public had no idea how dysfunctional the F.B.I. counterterrorism program had become, but now we're under this intelligence model, we actually know even less about what the government is doing to protect us from terrorism. You know, there's less accountability in the F.B.I., and I certainly know that there are problems, and I reported those problems to Congress, but so far, Congress hasn't been able to even get to the bottom of what I reported to them over a year ago.

So, there's just no oversight, and those things are really the problems. And until we fix what is internally wrong in the F.B.I., I don't think it's going to change. I think that we're still at great risk. You know, the 9/11 Commission found that the big problems were the F.B.I. had a poor ability to analyze intelligence that was coming in from the street, that they didn't share information well, and they didn't have a computerized system to share information, even among agents. And just last week, the 9/11 Commission discourse project came out and told us that -- gave us their report card, and it was that the F.B.I. still doesn't have an analytic capability, it still isn't sharing information in the intelligence community, and it still doesn't have a computer system. That's four years after 9/11.

So when attack dogs like Rush Limbaugh and Rove accuse Democrats of being "soft on terrorism" and remark: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," it is yet another mirror-image, Bizarro World reversal of reality.

The reality: When liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attack, they wanted to prepare an effective, nimble response combining military action with intelligence-gathering and law enforcement, as well as addressing the root causes of terrorism; conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and simply prepared to sell George W. Bush as a "war president."

Turns out they were pretty good at that. But fighting terror? These guys make Larry, Moe and Curly look like icons of competence.

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