The mess in Iraq gets messier, and so does the mess of how we got into this mess. Last week's visual highlight: the pinched face of Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, testifying under oath before the 9/11 commission, seeking to answer the questions: What did the president know, and why didn't he give a rat's ass?
Dubya couldn't answer that question because he was bass fishing in Crawford, Texas.
Former Washington Sen. Slade Gorton predicted, prior to Rice's testimony, that there would be nothing new in it. "At most, she will probably only add a little to what we already know," the Republican told the Tri-City Herald.
Gorton should have known better, for it was he who had asked a key, unplanned question of former terrorism honcho Richard Clarke during earlier testimony. Gorton asked Clarke if "there was the remotest chance" that 9/11 could have been prevented if the administration had heeded Clarke's recommendations from January 2001. "No," Clarke said. It was an important admission from one of the administration's most credible critics, an admission that could contribute to helping Bush and company wriggle off the 9/11 hook. Gorton, the scion of a seafood fortune, was delighted with the results of his fishing expedition.
But Rice did make news, even if it took the weekend for it to come out. In her testimony, she insisted that the infamous presidential daily intelligence briefing (PDB) from Aug. 6, 2001, contained only stuff of historical interest. No predictions, no call to action, no real news. This despite the fact that the commissioners already knew—and now we all know, since the document was declassified over the weekend—that it outlined Osama bin Laden's intent to attack on American soil, possibly hijacking planes; that operatives were living in the United States; and that someone had been casing federal buildings in New York.
The defense seems to be that since it didn't predict exactly what happened, the briefing document was useless. Clearly, Rice wasn't interested in learning from "history." And the president said that the PDB didn't tell him anything that he didn't already know.
But that wasn't the point. The urgency of the document and its warnings seems pretty clear, in plain English. Even if it didn't convey much new information, it was clearly designed to convey what needed to be known. "It's terrorism, stupid!" When Bush was warned of a possible, impending plan to attack, did he say, "Let's roll?" No. Incurious George rolled over. As the terror climate intensified, the attitude of the administration seems to have been: Let's deal with it after Labor Day.
Gorton again—bless his heart—helped tease out the administration's terrorism timetable when he offered to Rice during her testimony that "you and the administration simply believed that you had more time to meet the challenge of Al Qaeda than was in fact the case." She replied that they knew the challenge would take time, and they were developing a "multiyear program" to deal with the terrorist group. In this way, former state Attorney General Gorton, who coaxed Clarke into undercutting himself, coaxed Rice into underscoring one of Clarke's chief contentions: that the problem wasn't the administration's values regarding terrorism but its lack of urgency. No amount of waving of red flags seemed to catch anyone's attention, which is corroborated at the bottom of the anti-terror food chain by FBI agents and others who couldn't get anyone to listen to them about those Arabs taking one-way flying lessons.
When former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart, co-chair of an earlier bipartisan national security commission, went to Rice a few days before 9/11 to push the administration to stop foot-dragging and take action on his group's recommendations to go after Al Qaeda, her reply, according to Hart, was: "I'll talk to the vice president about it."
When it comes to 9/11, the Bush administration is passionate in its defense that it didn't, and couldn't, have known more or changed the outcome of events. They're passing more bucks than Great Society liberals. It's also a big contrast with the weapons-of-mass-destruction defense. Remember, there's another commission—this one handpicked by Bush—that's supposed to investigate the intelligence failures regarding Iraq. In the run-up to 9/11, we didn't know anything, the Bush people contend. In the run-up to the Iraq war, though, we knew everything. Except most of what we "knew" about WMDs was false, in some cases fabricated. Which suggests either that a severe mental illness afflicts this administration, involving denial, delusions, and trickery, or that it's faking dementia like a Mafia don in order to get a mistrial.
On some days, I yearn for the more innocent times of third-rate burglaries, stained dresses, and what the meaning of "is" is. Those things made sense. But the Through the Looking Glass world of the Bush scandals and the terror years is beyond comprehension. When the national security adviser stands up on national television and lies about a document that her questioners have read—a document shortly thereafter made public, so we can all see her lies—she does this for only one reason, and it's not falling on her sword. She does it because she and her bosses believe they'll get away with it. Amazingly, half of the American people still support this criminally negligent—or insane—regime.
This administration is in Lincoln mode: You can fool all of the people some of the time. But please tell me, when will that time run out?