Monday, November 10, 2008


We were told repeatedly over the last seven years that George W. Bush, unlike Bill Clinton, wanted to keep Americans safe from terrorism -- in fact, Clinton was so indifferent to this duty that he had bin Laden in his sights back in the '90s and let him get away because (the pantywaist!) he was too wussy to let the mission proceed. This belief formed the basis of a scene in one of the right's favorite cinematic works of the era, the TV miniseries The Path to 9/11:

... In Sunday night's segment, one of the biggest distortions was that the CIA and Northern Alliance fighters had a clear shot at bin Laden in early 1998, but the Clinton Cabinet dithered. (In fact, the 9/11 Commission report found widespread doubt about the U.S. capacity to actually get its target at the time.) In the original version of "Path to 9/11," the situation is drained of ambiguity -- we've got bin Laden in our sights -- and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is the clear bad guy, insisting, "I don't have that authority" to OK the operation, and hanging up the phone on CIA director George Tenet.

In the final version aired Sunday, there's still no doubt that we can get bin Laden. Berger says the very same line, but doesn't hang up on Tenet. Instead, he passes the buck to him, and Tenet whines that he'll get all the blame if the operation goes awry, like Attorney General Janet Reno after she authorized a move on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The scene stands as a monument to Clinton-era impotence, with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud intoning darkly, "Are there no men in Washington?" Soon thereafter we see shots of a bouncy Monica Lewinsky as the president intones, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman..."

Well, guess what we learned from today's New York Times?

The United States military since 2004 has used broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, according to senior American officials.

... But as many as a dozen additional operations have been canceled in the past four years, often to the dismay of military commanders, senior military officials said. They said senior administration officials had decided in these cases that the missions were too risky, were too diplomatically explosive or relied on insufficient evidence.

The details of one of those aborted operations, in early 2005, were reported by The New York Times last June. In that case, an operation to send a team of the Navy Seals and the Army Rangers into Pakistan to capture Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, was aborted at the last minute.

Mr. Zawahri was believed by intelligence officials to be attending a meeting in Bajaur, in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command hastily put together a plan to capture him. There were strong disagreements inside the Pentagon and the C.I.A. about the quality of the intelligence, however, and some in the military expressed concern that the mission was unnecessarily risky.

Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director at the time, urged the military to carry out the mission, and some in the C.I.A. even wanted to execute it without informing Ryan C. Crocker, then the American ambassador to Pakistan. Mr. Rumsfeld ultimately refused to authorize the mission.

Former military and intelligence officials said that Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who recently completed his tour as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, had pressed for years to win approval for commando missions into Pakistan. But the missions were frequently rejected because officials in Washington determined that the risks to American troops and the alliance with Pakistan were too great....

All through the Bush years we were told that he and his crew were straight-shootin' gunslingers who were going to clean up Dodge because their mission was clear and their aim was true. We were told that moral relativism and liberal guilt and lack of testicular fortitude were the only reasons a president might fail to follow through when an evildoing terrorist scum was reportedly in America's gunsights. So much for that theiry.

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