Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Waking up with your socks on

Nora Ephron faults Bill Clinton for not pulling up his socks during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox. Except for the hosiery malfunction, however, she thinks that Clinton still had a chance to hit the ball out of the park.

What surprised me most about the Clinton meltdown yesterday was that no one told him to pull up his socks. This is a man who never goes anywhere without staff, lots of staff. Was there no one there to see that his pants were hiked up too high and his socks were pulled down too low and the flesh on his legs was showing? ...

Clinton should simply have answered Wallace's question. He should have said that he went after Bin Laden and that if Al Gore had been elected (which he was) we probably would have killed him and 9/11 would never have happened. And then Clinton should have moved on to his real subject, which is not rescuing his legacy from his self-inflicted wounds, but helping elect a Democratic Congress in 2006.

That's the hypothetical syllogism accepted on both sides of the aisle, the premise underpinning the many excellent documentaries and books detailing the days leading up to September 11. If we had killed Bin Laden then 9/11 would never have happened. On one level that has to be true in the specific sense that if Mohammed Atta's team had been arrested then they could not have carried out their plan to strike the twin towers. But in the more general sense the hypothetical fails. It is probably not true to say if we had killed Bin Laden then radical Islamic terrorism would never have happened. Before the September 11 it was already on the march, striking at two US embassies in Africa and nearly sinking the USS Cole. Perhaps the World Trade Center might still be standing but the drumbeat would have continued until some sufficiently horrible event, perhaps the gassing of the New York City subways, perhaps a dirty bomb -- until something -- got America's attention. Killing Bin Laden would probably have put the alarm clock on snooze but eventually it would have rung again.

Some retrospectives of the attack on Pearl Harbor have argued that the carnage on battleship row was ultimately a blessing in disguise. Many of the ships were salvageable in the shallow water. Some sailors were even cut out of the hulls of capsized warships. The US was forced to rely on aircraft carriers, because the Battle Fleet was hors de combat. And that was better in the long run. While this type of analysis is always dangerous, it often contains the ghost of a valid point. And that point is that on September 11, as at Pearl Harbor, America lay asleep but got lucky. But to think that the problem was only bin Laden is to suggest that America is still asleep. Let's hope it stays lucky.


Blogger RWE said...

You echo my thoughts. I did not see the whole interview but excerpts of it and I thought that Newt Gingrich came closest to realize that people were talking past one another - but even he did not get it.

Bill Clinton, with his emphasis on "getting Bin Laden" remains utterly committed to the idea that terrorism is a crimminal problem. As far as he was concerned, knock off Bin Laden and the problem goes away. And it does - for five minutes. And when the Sudan offered up Bin Laden to Clinton he did not accept the offer, since it did not fit within his crimminal problem, hyperlegal framework - they had nothing to justify holding Bin Laden from the legal standpoint.

Pres Bush issued orders to develop a plan to eliminate Al Queda shortly after he took office. The Plan was supposed to be presented to him the week of 9 Sep 2001.

So when Bill Clinton sayd that Bush had no plan to get Bin Laden he was right - in Clintonian terms. Bush realized that getting Bin Laden was pointless and they needed to "get" the organization and preferably the philosophy behind it.

9/26/2006 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

Neither here nor there... I remember my WWII history course and the instructor looking at the Pearl Harbor attack and what it did and *did not* go after.

Many of the Battleships were of older design and would have hampered the new, swiftly moving carriers, thus causing the USN to re-evaluate their actual use. Until the attack they had served as a political warning to Japan that the US was prepared to defend its interests in the Pacific, and so the Japanese strike was symbolic of their response.

What they did *not* hit were the fuel oil storage facilities and the main port facilities. This had actually been contemplated by launching another wave of bombers to go after them in a serious manner, but over-ruled as it would leave the fleet relatively exposed and without aircover late in the day. Also, they reasoned that the US was a rich nation and would rapidly and *easily* replace its fuel oil...

Those two things proved to have different consequences. The first is that the US could *not* replace those stocks on a timely basis and any offensive planning would need to be delayed by six to eight months while the facilities were re-built and re-stocked. The USN would have to operate out of San Diego and other western US ports and was ill-prepared to do so which would have put a larger hamper on operations.

The port facilities, however, coupled with that would have revealed the one strength the US had that no one expected: port building. From most higher level accounts the one thing that comes across is that Pearl Harbor was not properly scaled for wartime operations with the modern Navy. If the US had to rebuild it, it would have properly scaled the new port and its fuel storage facilities. The largest late war hamper to operations was not fleet availability, but fuel oil supply and refit capability at Pearl Harbor.

Similarly al Qaeda thought that direcly hitting centers of US commerce, military and politics would so weaken the US that it would not effectively rebound to fight it. So Flight 93 being taken down by its passangers was a good thing... but left the political centroid of the Nation unmoved. The consequences are that the US was swifter to respond in the short run, but in the longer run that political centroid, by not being directly hit even just in a symbolic way, hampers long term efforts to re-orient the nation against Transnational Terrorism which threatens the entire system of Nation States....

9/26/2006 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Clinton has a legal background. He's a lawyer. Gee, he sees terrorism as a criminal problem. What a surprise.

Dubya has a political and business background. Not only that but politics as they are played in Texas. He sees terrorism as a systemic problem, with its root causes to be dug up and stamped out.

Would anyone but a non-lawyer have OK'd the Gitmo set-up with its emphasis on holding people for an indefinite time without charging them with a specific criminal offense? I understand that most of the War on Terror has been "making it up as we go" because it's never been done before but some of the decisions (such at Gitmo) have been *so* short-sighted it's breath-taking.

9/26/2006 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

The flip side of enjoying generations of remarkable security and prosperity is reflected in Ephron's made-for-TV-movie understanding of the world outside the West's hothouse.

Simplisme, indeed.

9/26/2006 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

War for Western countries has always been a 'pickup game', because all of the time we have better things to be doing. That's unlikely to change.

What our opponents always miss is our adaptability. They take on one opponent and rapidly find themselves facing something very different from what they expected: an 'ad hoc' machine constructed on the fly from available components and technology, designed specifically to destroy them. If they survive the first opnslaught from that then they find they have to deal with a flood of new technology invented specifically to target them. Not a pretty sight if you're on the receiving end.

9/26/2006 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Clinton's lawyerly background is no excuse for his refusing to see the attack on the USS Cole as anything but a military threat. Bill decided terror was better served as a crimminal matter because it relieved him of the responsibility of having to take action. Action could only be taken if the CIA could come up with enough evidence to indict bin Laden in an American court. That is a foolish threshold to adhere to, particularly when the person in question put his name on a document declaring war against our country and the West in general.

9/26/2006 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

IF we allow terrorists time to access our criminal/court system they will always demand to be treated as American citizens are. Always.

Which is why it seems to me that decisions need to be made not only on defining "torture" but whether or not each individual terrorist is valuable enough to keep him alive for later discussions, or to just shoot him on the spot so he doesn't become fodder for the lawyers.

I suppose another alternative is setting up camps like Gitmo in "friendly" countries like Russia who don't have as many qualms about dealing with human scum but ultimately that would be used as a bargaining chip to gain the host this, that or the other thing which is also not somewhere we want to go.

What the Muslims need to recognize is that in working outside the Geneva conventions, THEY are forcing new conventions to be written, and increasingly these conventions will preclude the taking of prisoners of war at all, as well as defining to the nth degree the amount of discomfort and insanity to be inflicted on those who are not immediately assassinated.

9/26/2006 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/26/2006 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

nahncee gets close to the heart of what's being done to the Conventions -- that they are being undermined by the removal of incentives to modify behavior on or off the battlefield. What started out as a set of rewards for restraint have been turned into a set of protections for anyone caught on a battlefield.

Slaughter as many innocents in as gruesome a fashion as you wish -- instead of the summary execution in the field you have been rewarded with in the past for your behavior, you're now entitled to three hots, a cot and U.S. taxpayer-funded legal representation.

And what's to stop any murderous band of media-savvy psychopaths from claiming the mantle of 'insurgency' to gain the Convention's extended protection?

9/26/2006 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/26/2006 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

In other words, I'm against extending the Conventions' protections to those who are, by the Conventions' very definitions, war criminals.

9/26/2006 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Policy does not occur in a vacuum. Regardless of circumstance, a national leader of character and integrity would have found the imagination and nerve, the guts, to orchestrate an appropriate --by no means "proportionate"-- response to global jihadi terrorism.

Clinton's historical precursors are Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and above all James Buchanan-- aside from Benjamin Harrison and Warren Harding, the most ineffectual non-entities in American political history. Put Jimmy Carter on that list, and add our Bill-- but Clinton has an additional dimension. Beyond malfeasance and incompetence, he was and remains personally corrupt.

No President before or since WJC has been guilty of basic, deep-seated, fraud and theft. Grant and Harding were victimized by associates, but in context they were honorable men. Clinton manifestly is without a semblance of honesty, a notorious cheat and crook and liar, becoming the butt of escalating off-color jokes as times goes by. His wife is not only tainted by this record, but as one who actively participated in every aspect of it, deserves utmost contempt.

Together, Bill and Hillary Clinton have permanently demeaned the Presidency of the United States. Regardless of contributing factors, that is their lasting legacy. It's who they are, not what they did, that matters.

Neither Bill nor MzBill ever have had honorable intentions: They will simply say or do absolutely anything to gain political power at their constituents' expense. We all know partisans who say, "What a laugh-- go, Bill!" On that note alone, substantive evaluation of Clinton's so-called "legacy" becomes irrelevent. Whatever his diseased psychological state, he is genuinely stupid enough to think that no-one can see through him in two seconds.

9/26/2006 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I think we're sneaking up again on the concept of "honor" here, in that for me (and I rather think for a lot of other people) the Clintons (both of them) are in it for the power with absolutely no concept of honorable behavior to go along with it. I don't know that Bush would claim "honor" but I think he at least has a nodding acquintance with the concept.

I voted for Clinton. Twice. Because I thought he was amusing, and it was funny to me that all the moralist Republicans were in such a tizzy over what I saw as being something relatively unimportant in the scheme of things. I *still* think the Monica thing was not important, but the fact that he let it distract him from being President of the United States and taking care of Presidential business is NOT funny. And I resent him for putting himself in that situation and I no longer think either Mr. Clinton or his attitude are amusing or are in any way something to be tolerated.

9/26/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Not only was the Clinton administration hyperlegal when dealing with terrorism, they were unimaginative."
They simply used it as a Framework to "Explain" inaction.
The true reasons for inaction being fear of negative fallout, and a lack of appreciation for the NEED for Military Action.

9/26/2006 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Nora's Secret Weapon:
We all would have laughed ourselves to death at the thought of Algore Saving the World, and the Dems could coast to Victory.
Luckily, Hillary is saying something similar about what HER BILL Woulda done if he Coulda had a chance after 9-11.
We shall see who laughs, and who votes for more sick hillarity.

9/26/2006 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Harry Smith:
President Clinton basically laid the blame at the feet of the CIA and the FBI for not being able to certify or verify that bin Laden was responsible for a number of different attacks. Does that ring true with you, Michael Scheuer?"

SCHEUER: No, sir, I don't think so. Former president seems to be able to deny facts with impunity.

Bin Laden is alive today because Mr. Clinton, Mr. Sandy Berger and Mr. Richard Clarke refused to kill him. That's the bottom line. And every time he says what he said to Chris Wallace on Fox, he defames the CIA especially, and the men who risked their lives to give his administration repeated chances to kill bin Laden.

Harry Smith: "Is the Bush administration any less responsible for not finishing the job in Tora Bora?"

SCHEUER: There's plenty of blame to go around, sir, but the fact of the matter is the Bush administration had one chance that they botched, and the Clinton administration had eight to ten chances that they refused to try. At least at Tora Bora our forces were on the ground. We didn't push the point.

But it's just -- it's an incredible kind of situation for the American people over the weekend to hear their former president mislead them.


9/26/2006 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger Jamie Irons said...


Hillary is a harpie who still basks in the acclaim she got for her "daring" valedictory at Smith or whatever elite school she dazzled...

Hillary graduated from Wellesley, Class of '69, with my high school girlfriend.


(The latter is a much nicer person! And quite good looking.)

Jamie Irons

9/26/2006 07:46:00 PM  

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