In today’s WaPo, former NSC counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke makes the obvious rejoinders to the Cheney argument that the trauma of 9/11 justified any and all actions so long as they were intended to protect America:
The main reason Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Bush were shocked by 9/11 was that they hadn’t been listening to his and the CIA’s threat assessments. (Remember that the Bush NSC was putting a much higher priority on the projects of right-wing ideologues — eviscerating old arms control regimes, ramping up concern with the Chinese military, reversing engagement with North Korea, and regime change in Iraq — than anything having to do with protecting America from terrorism.)
The Cheney/Rove response to 9/11 was as much political, aimed at the 2004 election, as it was calculated to protect America. The responsibility for dealing with a severe threat involves not just taking all tough measures, but in realistically adjusting means to ends, but the administration was more concerned with showing it had done everything possible and in using 9/11 as a club to vanquish its political enemies.
It can also be said that Cheney used the 9/11 aftermath to pursue his project of advancing Executive power over that of Congress and the Courts — objectives he had nursed since the aftermath of Watergate.
It’s also worth remembering, as Jim Fallows does (picking up on a line in Obama’s National Archives speech), that Al Qaeda in 2001 was actually a relatively small threat compared to others the US has dealt with (in the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War). Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice, in moving to Iraq rather than focusing on Al Qaeda and Afghanistan/Pakistan, allowed the problem to fester and become much worse.
Panic is not a defense for trammeling the constitution, attacking political opponents as unpatriotic, or self-defeating policies–especially if the panic resulted from willfully ignoring warnings.
Update Frank Rich in the NYT also has a useful analysis of the Cheney speech and the spinelessness of most of the news media. Rich usefully points to the McClatchy analysis of the facts Cheney ignored or traduced in his speech.
Rich’s apt conclusion:
The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there’s another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone’s control well before Americans could throw the bums out.