ABC’s Path to 9/11

Howard Kurtz writes in today's Washington Post that former Clinton Administration officials have launched a preemptive attack against the ABC mini-series "Path to 9/11." Having watched the first three hours last night, I can see why. The film, a docudrama based on the 9/11 Commission Report and The Cell, is a strong indictment of the Clinton Administration. It  portrays  President Clinton as distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal  and dramatizes several missed opportunities to capture or kill bin Laden.  In one scene,  then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger refuses to order a raid to capture bin Laden when  covert operatives have him surrounded with the Northern Alliance. In another scene, an angry Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defends Clinton's decision to alert Pakistan about the August 1998 cruise missile strikes  on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Albright and Berger dispute the accounts.

I've never been one to get my history from TV movies, and I'm not going to start now — that would make me  no better than liberals who get their history from Michael Moore. However, if any good can come of this, it could  generate an honest debate on the national security failures of the 1990s. President Bush has taken most of the blame in the media for  not acting on  pre-9/11 intelligence,  but the Clinton Administration has largely gotten a free pass. That is absurd considering that Clinton was president for eight years as terrorist attacks against the  United States increased in frequency and boldness (his presidency is nearly book-ended by the first World Trade Center  bombing and the attack on the U.S.S.  Cole).  

The reason this is an important debate to have is not to attack Clinton (Republicans were not  vocally pushing for more aggressive action during the 1990s, and President Bush didn't run in 2000 on a platform of getting tougher on terrorists).  Americans, as a whole, underestimated the dangers of terrorism.

But as we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11 without a major attack on U.S. soil, many voices are starting to say that we're exaggerating the terrorist threat. Democrats are itching to return to the way things were done in the 1990s. It's important to remember how much danger those policies put us in, and if this movie does any good, hopefully it will jump-start that debate.

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Dems and the Middle East

Kevin Drum attempts to lay out what most Democrats agree on when it comes to the War on Terror.  That is, if you exclude  "the Chomsky wing on the left and the Lieberman wing on the right." Among the many aspects of his Democratic national security plan is this:

On the overseas front, we largely agree that, in the long term, we can only eliminate militant jihadism if we eliminate support for jihadists among the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East. This requires genuine support for democracy, serious economic and trade programs aimed at the Middle East, and a public diplomacy program vastly superior to the laughable efforts currently underway. We support a far more active role for the United States in negotiating a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. We support a hardnosed dedication to diplomacy and negotiation, Richard Holbrooke style. We recognize that the moral high ground isn't just a nice thing to have, it's crucial to winning support for our policies – and that means a renewed dedication to taking seriously international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. Military action, when absolutely necessary, should be as sharp and pointed as possible, oriented toward counterinsurgency, not invasion and regime change.

In a nutshell, Drum says Democrats want to return to a Clinton-era forign policy. Somehow, a dependence on "arms control regimes and  the United Nations," and even an agreement negotiated by Jimmy Carter,  failed to stop the North Koreans from acquiring nuclear weapons. Should we try the same approach with Iran? Madeline Albright and Bill Clinton dedicated over a year of concentrated diplomacy to reaching a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the Israelis offered Arafat the best deal conceivable. All it accomplished was to prove that — Surprise! — the Palestinians don't want peace.  How a U.S.-led peace effort would have any better chance of succeeding now, with the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, is beyond comprehension.  

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Zakaria on Saddam’s Nukes

In the midst of arguing that the Iranian threat is being overblown, Fareed Zakaria mentions historical examples of past threats that he says were also overblown. He writes:

Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons-and because he was a madman, he would use them.

It’s one thing to say that we were told that Saddam had WMD, but nobody was assuring us in 2003 that Saddam had nuclear weapons. The farthest the Bush Administration went was to say that Saddam was seeking them. That’s a crucial difference, and I’m surprised that Zakaria would be so careless.

Re: Irwin

Shawn, I think Irwin proved himself fearless and special before he had children. So, had he quit a few years ago, his children could have grown up proud of what their father acomplished when he was younger, but they still would have been able to grow up with a father. When they got older, they would realize that their father sacrificed something he loved, but it was only because his love for them was even greater.

Re: Steve Irwin

Obviously, it’s a tragedy when anybody dies, but in my view Irwin was being very selfish and irresponsible as a husband and father by doing what he was doing. It’s one thing to play around with deadly animals when you’re a young, single, guy, but if you love doing something dangerous, you simply should not have a family. That’s just a sacrifice you’re going to have to make, because it’s not fair to make your wife a widow and your children fatherless. If having a family means a lot to you, then give up hunting Crocodiles.

Did Hezbollah really lose?

In his Washington Post column today, Charles Krauthammer counters the conventional wisdom that Hezbollah won, joining Amir Taheri, who made similar points last week. The gist is, Hezbollah's military  suffered heavy causualties, and it lost politically because the Lebanese people blame the terrorist group for bringing so much devastation  to  the  country. This view was bolstered by the following statement by Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, which Krauthammer cites in his article:

"We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 . . . that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."

While both Krauthammer and Taheri make strong cases, in my view Hezbollah won because it is still around, and because Nasrallah lives to make such statements.

Krauthammer concludes his article by writing:

In the Middle East, however, promising moments pass quickly. This one needs to be seized. We must pretend that Security Council Resolution 1701 was meant to be implemented and exert unrelieved pressure on behalf of those Lebanese — a large majority — who want to do the implementing.

But Krauthammer is obviously smart enough to know that the chances of 1701 being implemented are  nonexistent. Lebanon has already said it won't disarm Hezbollah  and Kofi Annan has said that U.N. peacekeepers won't disarm Hezbollah either.

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