The Belgravia Dispatch by GREGORY DJEREJIAN


The Partisan Agenda Of Against All Enemies

The very first lines of the preface to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" bear repeating:

"From inside the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon for thirty years, I disdained those who departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it. It seemed somehow inappropriate to expose, as Bismark put it, 'the making of sausage.'

So why the book? And why shouldn't people disdain Clarke per his own criteria?

Because, per Clarke's conceit, History (the capital H kind) demanded his tale be published:

"Nonetheless, there are some conversations that must be recalled because the citizenry and history have a justifiable need to know."

Very convenient. But misleading.

Rather, a primary reason the book was penned was likely simply in pursuit of aggressively partisan ends (rather than some noble dispensation of historical verities, as Clarke would have it).

Ironically, however, Clarke's account isn't hurting Bush's poll numbers--as Americans are smelling out Clarke's barely concealed partisan agenda (and significant biases).

Am I being unfair to Dick Clarke?

Here's a sampler from the book.

Lynne Cheney is a "right-wing idealogue" (p.18) and Dick Cheney is a "radical conservative[s]" with "almost extreme beliefs." (p.19)

Laurie Mylroie's account of the '93 WTC bombing "gathered a small cult following" consisting of people like Paul Wolfowitz and "cabalist" James Woolsey. (p.95)

"Republicans in the Senate, such as Orrin Hatch," are held culpable for opposing legislation that sought to expand use of the organized crime wiretap provisions to terrorist suspects. (p.99) (Trust me, it wasn't just Republican types who opposed the legislation).

But Clarke is just getting warmed up.

FBI Director Louis Freeh, who, er, Clarke isn't a big fan of:

"His back channels to Republicans in the Congress and to supporters in the media made it impossible for the President to dismiss him without running the risk of making him a martyr of the Republican right..." (p. 117)

Ah yes, that fearsome Republican right wing conspiracy! (Freeh is a particular target of Clarke's. Later, Clarke even ominously informs us Freeh is alleged to be a member of Opus Dei).

On John Ashcroft, Clarke approvingly quotes someone saying this about the Attorney General:

"He can't really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can't get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?" (p. 256)

Clarke's response: "...he did lose a Senate relection to a dead man."

Indeed, few senior members of the Bush Administration are spared.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld is painted in dark, Nixonian colors:

"There are probably days when Donald Rumsfeld thinks lots of Americans in America are enemies...but that should not give him the authority to lock them up without recourse." (p. 257)

Clarke could have made a sober point here (he was discoursing on the Jose Padilla arrest--intelligent people can disagree on the merits).

Instead, as so often in his book, his naked partisanship overcomes his judiciousness.

Contrast all this with his defense of Bill Clinton:

"I was angrier, almost incredulous, that the bitterness of Clinton's enemies knew no bounds, that they intended to hurt not just Clinton but the country by turning the President's personal problem into a global, public circus for their own political ends." (To hell with any violation of Paula Jones' civil rights!)

Or this gem:

"Ironically, Clinton was blamed for a 'Wag the Dog' strategy in 1998 dealing with the real threat from al-Qaeda but no one labeled Bush's 2003 war on Iraq as a 'Wag the Dog' move even though the 'crisis' was manufactured and Bush political advisor Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war.' (p. 242)

Talk about spin! Paul Begala (even evil Karl Rove) would blush at this one!

There's more, of course.

The war in Iraq was simply "gin[ned] up."

The view of Bush as a "dumb, lazy rich kid" was only "somewhat off the mark." (Which part was on the mark, the reader is left to wonder?)

Clarke approvingly quotes a journalist as describing the Bushies as "more vindictive than the Mafia."

Amidst all of this partisan vitriole, Clarke depicts Bill Clinton as a quasi-angelic figure, oozing empathy--when, that is, not mastering intricate policy details, perusing Gabriel Garcia Marquez' galleys (the man devoured Latin American magical realism, even before its publication, we are breathlessly informed) or not (ever so precociously) prosecuting the real War on Terror with resolute aplomb.

Clarke dutifully trots out several Clinton anecdotes that favorably showcase his empathy--particularly after terrorist incidents.

"He's so kind," a "grieving mother" is quoted as describing Clinton after the TWA 800 disaster.

Maybe, but Bush has comforted grieving families too.

Just don't look to Clarke to fill you in on the details.

Meanwhile, Al Gore comes off as a robust, Theodore Roosevelt type.

Amidst a debate regarding the merits of "snatch" operations, then White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler was advising Clinton such operations ran afoul of international law.

Enter Teddy Roosevelt (sorry, I mean Al Gore):

"That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass." (p.144)

One almost pictures Al Gore, amidst all the Rough Riders, rushing San Juan Hill!

Later, Leon Fuerth, Gore's National Security Advisor, is described thusly: "Feurth understood security and terrorism issues as well as anyone I knew." (p.97)


Is it just me, or do you think Clarke was bummed out about the Florida recount results?

Listen, Clarke is a smart, talented and highly experienced bureaucrat who is passionate about America, its security, the pursuit of our national interest generally.

His views therefore merit real and protracted attention.

In that vein, I'll be analyzing some of the policy points made in his book in a follow-on post soon.

But you can't divorce his policy analysis (about how best to prosecute the war on terror) from the unfortunate revisionistic tendency (Bush=Bad; Clinton=Good) he falls prey to so often given his rapacious partisanship.

And that's probably why his book (and the accompanying media feeding frenzy) isn't likely to materially hurt Bush politically.

Put simply, the American people are too smart to be spun this transparently and brazenly.

Finally, like Clarke, most Americans will likely end up disdaining someone who "departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it."

Put differently, and returning to Clarke's Bismarkian allusions, one shouldn't air the sausage-making so.

It ends up smelling pretty putrid.

[Note: Any emphasis above mine]

posted by Gregory| 3/31/2004 07:25:00 AM


Against All Enemies

I'm halfway through the book so far. Three main takeaways to date: 1) Clarke thinks (erroneously, I believe) that decisive blows were dealt Iran and Iraq by the Clinton Administration that deterred said states from pursuing terrorism against the U.S., 2) he is highly partisan, and 3) his ego, even by Washington standards, is healthy.

Given time constraints, I want to mostly focus on Point 1 above just now.

I'll have more on the other points (and the rest of the book) soon.

My post yesterday elucidates why Clarke believes that Iraq had been dealt a blow that would deter it, going forward, from any troublemaking against the U.S. And why, particularly given the changed strategic environment post 9/11, I don't find his argument particularly persuasive.

On Iran, Clarke writes how, post-Khobar towers, an anti-Iranian "intelligence operation" was mounted by the Clinton team.

But as even Clarke concedes: "(u)nfortunately, it would take months to put CIA assets in place to choreograph a more or less simultaneous series of intelligence actions around the world."

And regardless, we are left wondering what those actions really consisted of as Clarke doesn't provide much by way of detail.

The post-Khobar Iran discussion part of the book is quite telling as it helps showcase my three main take-aways to date, namely, Clarke's outsize ego (much ado about his key role), partisanship (attacks on Louis Freeh), and (I would argue) worrisome sanguinity re: state sponsors of terrorism.

Recall that the U.S. held Iran responsible for the bombing of the Khobar towers.

The Saudis (for a variety of reasons) dragged their feet, very significantly, on cooperating with the U.S. investigation.

Clarke puts much of the blame at then FBI Director Louis Freeh's feet--painting him as something of a provincial Keystone Cop in over his head in the complex world of international relations.

"Bandar [the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.] facilitated meetings in Saudi Arabia for Freeh, who went there to coordinate the investigation personally. John O'Neill accompanied Freeh to the Kingdom. O'Neill told me he was struck by the contrast between the fawning protocol the Saudis showed to Freeh and their mendacity whenever the conversation got around to the investigation. Freeh, according to O'Neill, did not seem to detect the duplicity."

While Freeh was getting bamboozled by the Saudis (or acting like he was in the pocket of Congressional Republicans), Clarke's account goes, the White House was getting ready for war with Iran.

Bill Clinton declaimed: "I don't want any pissant half-measures."

Enter Clarke to save the day with robust (yet sane) measures:

"What about the old nuclear strategy concept of escalation dominance," I asked, "where you hit the guy the first time so hard, where he loses some things he really values, and then you tell him if he responds, he will lose everything else he values?"

From this the myriad "intelligence actions around the world" unfurled.

Clarke then states that because of this (and unspecified "other reasons") Iran "ceased terrorism against the U.S."

Just like that, Clarke's story goes, Iran was no longer a real threat to the U.S.

But is this really true?

As even Clarke's book states, Iranian security services continued to allow "al Qaeda safe passage and other support."

Given how Clarke views al-Qaeda as the strategic peril to the U.S.--wouldn't a state that still supported al-Q manifestly still be a real threat to the U.S. (even if its security forces weren't supporting specific terror actions like Khobar)?

And, rather than al-Qaeda using Bosnia as a beachhead to export Islamic fundamentalism (and speaking as someone was was on the ground in the Balkans for two years and later worked on the "train and equip" program for the Bosnian Federation military) it was likely more Iran that sought to infiltrate the "train and equip" program and generally scuttle U.S. objectives in the region.

For these couple of reasons alone (among others), I disagree with Clarke that Iran was sufficiently deterred by the U.S. So, put differently, didn't Clarke's (and Clinton's) policy actually fail then?

Note, of course, that this is a similar point that people like Richard Perle, even per Josh Marshall, are making in judicious, non-ad hominem manner.

Finally, a couple more points.

As this book review makes clear, parts of Clarke's memoirs make for riveting reading.

The problem is, however, that Clarke appears to over-dramatize his role.

Others are now disputing parts of his (somewhat self-aggrandizing) account of the events surrounding 9/11.

I'll have more on all this soon.

posted by Gregory| 3/30/2004 08:23:00 AM


The Apogee of Dawdling

"As it happened, I was the one in Washington who first saw evidence of a true act of terrorism by Saddam against us, and the irony is that President Clinton's response to it successfully deterred Saddam from ever again using terror against us."

--Richard Clarke, writing in "Against all Enemies" about the Clinton Administration's reaction to the attempted assassination of George H.W. Bush, and appearing a tad sanguine about Saddam's going forward intentions (particularly given a post-9/11 risk matrix)

The response to the anticipated assassination of Herbert Walker, per Warren Chistopher's dogged lawyering-down, was a one-off cruise missile attack against the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence (on a Saturday night to minimize any casualties).

Once the cruise missiles were launched, Clinton asked Clarke:

"We can't communicate with the missiles? What if I wanted to turn them back?" (p. 83, "Against All Enemies).

I think we have a new contender for what POTUS utterance best sums up the serial irresolution of the Clinton years (the other, of course, being: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is").

But remember, per Clarke, Clinton was giving terrorism issues an "extraordinarily high" priority.

If only he could have had a third term! How much safer we would have all been!

Note: We'll have much more on the book shortly.

posted by Gregory| 3/29/2004 01:37:00 PM

The Merchandising of 9/11

"Al Qaeda's attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be a national tragedy and a moment of history shifting its gears irrevocably. But 9/11 is becoming something else as well: a consumable product to be packaged and merchandised for use by American politicians, bureaucrats, celebrity-mongers, journalists and others.

Self-serving memoirs, evasive or opaque testimony to a 9/11 investigatory commission, White House media briefings that degenerate into character assassination and highly selective media coverage of those and other events would not have been among Osama bin Laden's dreams of shaking America to its core. But the Saudi mass murderer is getting all that and more

And more:

"But since 9/11, Bush has shown leadership in foreign affairs. You may consider the results disastrous. But it is a leadership that contrasts vividly with the vacillations and vacuums on terrorism policy of Bill Clinton's last two years, as the hearings demonstrated.

That is why there is now a rapidly developing merchandising of 9/11 as a campaign tool against Bush. It is as partisan and petty as anything the White House offers. Bin Laden can only be cackling in his cave over how he has set Republicans and Democrats, Kerry-bashers and Bush-haters, at each other's throats

Jim Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post.

I don't agree with the entire op-ed--but it's worth reading in its entirety.

posted by Gregory| 3/29/2004 01:19:00 PM



I'm off to the perfidious precincts of Paris for the weekend.

That said, I've (with mixed feelings) just picked up a copy of Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" [ed. note: I doubt it will be as fun as Alan Clark's Diaries].

I guess I'll be reading it on the Eurostar.

Look for some initial reaction Monday night London time.

Sadly, my read won't be quite as dramatic as those who get to digest Clarke's tome per a "Washington read."

THOMPSON: Would it cheer you to know that in more than a year that this commission has been in operation we've never taken a partisan vote?

ARMITAGE: I'm not surprised.

THOMPSON: Have you read this book?

ARMITAGE: I'm the only honest person in Washington.


I gave it the Washington read.

THOMPSON: You looked in the index to see if your name was in it?

ARMITAGE: And then what was said about me.


THOMPSON: I think I ought to quit there, Mr. Chairman.


posted by Gregory| 3/26/2004 04:56:00 PM

TNR Floods the Zone

It's the Richard Clarke issue over at TNR.

And, with the exception of a Larry Kaplan piece (subscription required for all articles linked throughout save &C's), it's pretty bad reading for those of us who believe that Richard Clarke has materially changed both the style and substance of his analysis of the Bush Administration's handling of al-Qaeda.

Before we turn to the depressing stuff, however, here are a few key grafs from Kaplan's piece:

"There is, to begin with, the small matter of the Clinton administration's pitiful record on the issue, about which the Clarke book and the hearings have already offered an opportunity for Republicans to remind the public. Dick Cheney, for one, promptly raised the question of what the Clinton team was doing during the "years going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center, in '98 when the embassies were hit in East Africa, in 2000 when the USS Cole was hit." The short answer is nothing. Despite a clear evidence trail leading back to Al Qaeda, the administration failed to respond to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and vetoed proposals to dispatch Special Forces in the hunt for bin Laden. It never responded to the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, despite (or because of) evidence of involvement by Iran, which the Clintonites were then attempting to "engage." The administration's response to the bombing of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998 was to fling a few missiles at a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan on the eve of Clinton's impeachment. The Clinton team even gave state sponsors of terrorism a linguistic cleansing, changing their official title from "rogue state" to "state of concern."

True, the Clinton administration was not imprisoned in the "cold war" mindset in which Clarke accuses the Bush team of being entrapped. Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbot, for instance, located national security challenges "from the floor of the stock exchange in Singapore to the roof of the world over Patagonia where there is a hole in the ozone layer." Terrorism, alas, was not at the top of the list. Indeed, during the Clinton years, there was a visible shift away from the Reagan-era practice of holding states accountable for the deeds of their agents to a policy that viewed terrorists as criminals. "We are not a nation that retaliates just in order to get vengeance," Madeline Albright proclaimed in 1998, "nor do we forget our own legal system while searching for those who harmed us." Her successors may prefer to respond to terror with the long reach of American military power, but Albright mostly deemed it a matter for the "long reach of our nation's law enforcement."

Not surprisingly, this understanding of Clinton-era counterterrorism policy has undergone a profound revision at this week's hearings, with Albright now claiming, "We need to remember that Al Qaeda is not a criminal gang," and her colleagues faulting Bush for having paid insufficient attention to the terror threat. But to imagine charges that Bush has bungled the issue will somehow create the impression that his opponents did, or will do, otherwise is to subordinate fact to wish


Spence Ackerman has two pieces up too.

One takes Colin Powell to task for, per Ackerman, contradictory testimony borne of carrying so much water for the Bushies that he is soaking wet and, the next time he trots over to the Hill, Ackerman avers, he should bring his swimming trunks.

But the more important (and potentially damning, at least for us Administration supporters) Ackerman piece focuses on showcasing how Condi Rice's credibility is in tatters while Richard Clarke's, meanwhile, is pretty impeccable.

It's worth a closer look--because, imho, there are a lot of problems with Ackerman's arguments.

Recall that Richard Clarke explained the reason for the differences as between his book and pre-book descriptions of Bush's policy (particularly per the Fox-leaked background briefing) as stemming from requests from the Bushies to "highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done."

From this, Ackerman's gallops ahead to describe the Clarke testimony thus:

"In one fell swoop, Clarke had turned an attack on his credibility into an attack on the Bush administration's credibility. Then Clarke twisted the knife. In the 2002 backgrounder, he had said that before 9/11, the Bush administration "changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda." Now Clarke explained that in fact, the "change" he was referring to was his victory in inserting the word "elimination" into a draft of the National Security Presidential Directive on terrorism that President Bush signed just before September 11. Why was the semantic shift to "elimination" a victory for Clarke? Because the Bush administration was initially uncomfortable with the harsh language of "elimination" and had sought to keep it out. "I tried to insert the phrase early in the Bush administration in the draft NSPD that our goal should be to 'eliminate' Al Qaeda," he said. "And I was told by various members of the deputies committee that that was overly ambitious and that we should take the word 'eliminate' out and say 'significantly erode.'" Beyond debates over word choice, the substance of the actual policy adopted by Bush in September 2001, Clarke explained yesterday, was "to roll back Al Qaeda over the course of three to five years so that it was just a nub of an organization like Abu Nidal that didn't threaten the United States." That policy was initially worked out by Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group beginning in 1998 and updated after the October 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole--that is, during the Clinton administration." [my emphasis added throughout]

So let me understand.

Ackerman makes a big deal about the deputies committee parsing whether to use the word "elimination" or "significantly erode" in its description of al-Qaeda.

But the real news item here is that the Bush Administration actually adopted some of Clarke's more muscular policy proposals.

Ackerman dances around that by talking about how Clarke had "worked out" the policy in 1998 and that it was "updated" in 2000 "during the Clinton Administration"--but, of course, and most critically, it was never adopted during the Clinton years.

Don't believe me?

Here's Richard Clarke himself (from the background brief):

"QUESTION: Are you saying now that there was not only a plan per se, presented by the transition team, but that it was nothing proactive that they had suggested?

CLARKE: Well, what I'm saying is, there are two things presented. One, what the existing strategy had been. And two, a series of issues--like aiding the Northern Alliance, changing Pakistan policy, changing Uzbek policy--that they had been unable to come to um, any new conclusions, um, from '98 on.

QUESTION: Was all of that from '98 on or was some of it ...

CLARKE: All of those issues were on the table from '98 on.

ANGLE: When in '98 were those presented?

CLARKE: In October of '98.

QUESTION: In response to the Embassy bombing?

CLARKE: Right, which was in September.

QUESTION: Were all of those issues part of alleged plan that was late December and the Clinton team decided not to pursue because it was too close to ...

CLARKE: There was never a plan, Andrea. What there was was these two things: One, a description of the existing strategy, which included a description of the threat. And two, those things which had been looked at over the course of two years, and which were still on the table.

QUESTION: So there was nothing that developed, no documents or no new plan of any sort?

CLARKE: There was no new plan.

QUESTION: No new strategy--I mean, I don't want to get into a semantics ...

CLARKE: Plan, strategy--there was no, nothing new.

QUESTION: 'Til late December, developing ...

CLARKE: What happened at the end of December was that the Clinton administration NSC principals committee met and once again looked at the strategy, and once again looked at the issues that they had brought, decided in the past to add to the strategy. But they did not at that point make any recommendations.

QUESTIONS: Had those issues evolved at all from October of '98 'til December of 2000?

CLARKE: Had they evolved? Um, not appreciably.

ANGLE: What was the problem? Why was it so difficult for the Clinton administration to make decisions on those issues?

CLARKE: Because they were tough issues.

Pretty damning, isn't it?

Guess Clinton was busy, er, with other things.

Ackerman then writes thus:

"This was too much for Thompson. "It suggests to me that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America," he said. To which Clarke delivered his coup de grace, clearly directed as his former bosses in the administration: "I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics." As soon as the words left Clarke's lips, the first three rows of seats in Hart 216 exploded with applause. That's applause the White House has reason to fear: Those three rows were reserved for family members of the September 11 victims. By and large, they said yesterday that they hold Clarke in high esteem. "He kept his integrity. His story didn't change," noted Rosemarie Dillard, who lost her husband on Flight 77. "He's laying the facts on the table," said Mary Fetchet, who lost her son in Tower Two and is now a member of the informal 9/11 Commission watchdog group known as the Family Steering Committee."

Excuse my French, but what "coup de grace"?

As what I wrote above indicates, there is no way that Clarke's testimony can be reconciled with his previous statement in August of 2002.

To dismiss this as merely a "question of politics" is highly disingenous.

This essential weakness in Ackerman's argument is why (quite unfortunately in my view) his piece becomes based on something of a popularity contest.

Ackerman makes big hay that the 9/11 families burst into applause for Richard Clarke.

But we can't confuse sentiment and emotion (the 9/11 families in the audience were grateful for Clarke's apology) with the facts.

And, unfortunately for Spence Ackerman, the facts are contra his argument.

Once Ackerman is done deifying Clarke for his political "jujitsu" skills and popularity with the 9/11 families--he next tries to twist his rhetorical knife into Condi Rice:

"But someone to whom the charge of duplicity might very well stick is Condoleezza Rice. On Monday, The Washington Post published an op-ed from Rice attempting to rebut Clarke's accusations. She wrote first that "No Al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration" by Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group at the end of the Clinton administration--only "several ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been adopted." While "several" of these ideas were subsequently adopted, she explained, "we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to 'eliminate' the Al Qaeda network." That strategy "marshaled all elements of national power to take down the network, not just respond to individual attacks with law enforcement measures. Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets--taking the fight to the enemy where he lived."

"According to information released at the 9/11 Commission hearings, this appears to be a very misleading description of Bush's strategy, known as National Security Presidential Directive-9 (NSPD-9) and completed days before the September 11 attacks."

Why does Ackerman describe Rice's oped as misleading?

Because, per Ackerman, the NSPD-9 plan adopted by the Bush Administration before 9/11 (that the Clinton team, recall, never got around to adopting) is a far cry from Rice's description of a plan that "marshal[ed] all elements of national power," most significantly, "military options to attack Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets--taking the fight to the enemy where he lived."

But, as Ackerman concedes, NSPD-9 is still classified.

We have to rely, therefore, on 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick's description of the document:

"But as I understand it, it had three stages which were to take place over, according to Steve Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, over a period of three years. The first stage was, we would warn the Taliban. The second stage was we would pressure the Taliban. And the third stage was that we would look for ways to oust the Taliban based upon individuals on the ground other than ourselves, at the same time making military contingency plans."

Question for Spence Ackerman.

Given that none of us have read NSPD-9, and so can only rely on synopses like that of Gorelick's, what is fundamentally contradictory as between Rice's statement that the new Bush strategy would "marshall all elements of national power," including military options, and Gorelicks description of NSPD-9 that makes mention of "military contingency plans"?

Indeed, Gorelick's description of the document holding out the prospect of "military contingency plans" comes after discussion of ousting the Taliban, on the ground, by non-U.S. forces.

The inference, therefore, is pretty clear.

The "military contingency plans" might well involve United States forces.


"Rice says NSPD-9 included "ground forces"--by not saying what kind, she implies that she is referring to American ground forces. Gorelick is talking about NSPD-9 using "individuals on the ground other than ourselves," which means, principally, the Northern Alliance. And what Gorelick describes as "military contingency plans" means, basically, that the military would consider future options as they developed--presumably, that's where Pakistan and Uzbekistan would kick in. So, Rice's references to "ground troops" who will "take the fight to the enemy where he lived," if they mean anything at all, really mean using forces other than our own That sounds pretty similar to the 1998 and 2000 plans--sorry, "ideas"--Clarke had developed, which were themselves improvements on Clinton administration policy."

But wait, how does Ackerman know that the "military contingency plans" are where "Pakistan and Uzbekistan would kick in"?

Answer: he doesn't.

And, let me stress again, at least the Bush Administration formally adopted the Clarke plan (or Clark "ideas", ruminations, whatever).

Ackerman's most powerful argument, in terms of Condi Rice's credibility, is this part of Deputy Secretary of State Armitage's testimony under questioning by 9/11 Commissioner Gorelick:

GORELICK: So I would ask you whether it is true, as Dr. Rice said in The Washington Post "Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy, where he lived"? Was that part of the plan as prior to 9/11?

ARMITAGE: No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11.

But let's take a look at the full context:

GORELICK: Now, you all, the deputies committee and ultimately the principals committee, worked for seven-plus months on NSPD-9, as we've been talking about. That's the policy that went to the principals on September 4th of '01.

And as we see it, it had three elements. The first stage was warning the Taliban in no uncertain terms. The second stage was pressuring the Taliban, diplomatic pressure, other pressures on the Taliban. And the third was trying to figure out a way to oust the Taliban, but not with our boots on the ground -- with somebody else's boots on the ground.

And then have some contingency planning, although, as Dick Clarke said, that was part of the usual process, to have contingency plans in the wings. You just said that you might have suggested, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, that the president could have, should have, advocated to Congress and to policymakers putting boots on the ground. I don't see any boots on the ground in NSPD-9.

GORELICK: Is that correct?

ARMITAGE: First, it's not necessarily correct that I would advocate putting boots on the ground.

GORELICK: I didn't mean to put words in your mouth.

ARMITAGE: No, but it's an important point. As far as this citizen is concerned the decision to commit men and women, who are also sons and daughters, to combat is an extraordinarily important one and not to be done to just feel good; to be done to absolutely accomplish a mission.

Now, sometimes I'm accused of being a foot-dragger, not wanting to go along with the force. But I'm sorry, that's my view.

Having said that, the Taliban, for a lot of reasons we were handling them somewhat gently. Some of our citizens were still there. Some of our NGOs were the only thing keeping some segments of the Afghan population alive and feed programs and things of that nature. So you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, generally.

And so the question of the Taliban is a tough one. There was no question about, I think, in anybody's mind about the desirability of putting soldiers on the ground if we could catch or capture or kill bin Laden. But as a discreet element.

GORELICK: I'm talking about an invasion of the sort that we did post-9/11. And there is nothing in the NSPD-9 that came out of September 4th that we could find that had an invasion plan, a military plan. And even that plan of Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley said was contemplated to take three years.


Armitage, albeit as a "discreet element," makes it clear that the Bush Administration would have, as one "contingency", been willing to put U.S. forces on the ground to apprehend UBL.

True, of course, the plan was strengthened massively after the horror of 9/11.

But, at least, the Bush Administration had a plan.

One that, one could credibly argue, marshalled a wide cross-section of U.S. national power.

So, contra Ackerman, I don't think he's caught Condi Rice in a Big Lie.

Indeed, all things considered, I would have to say that Richard Clarke's credibility is at a lower ebb than Condi Rice's--at least where we stand today.


Reader MP writes in: "Once upon a time, they [TNR] had a different take on the subject."

The New Republic, Nov 5, 2001 p14

White House Watch: Backfired. (Richard Clarke demoted, Wayne Downing appointed as anti-terrorist staff) Ryan Lizza.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2001 The New Republic, Inc.

"It's not often that the White House holds a press conference to announce a demotion. But that's what happened on October 9, when Tom Ridge, President Bush's new homeland security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, introduced the administration's newest anti-terrorism staffers. At a sterile ceremony in the fourth- floor briefing room of the Old Executive Office Building, Ridge and Rice announced that Richard Clarke, a pale, gray-haired man sitting on stage in an ill-fitting suit, would be the special assistant to the president for cyberspace security. It's an important job, and insiders say Clarke wanted it. But it's also a step down: For the last three years Clarke has held the more exalted title of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism-- America's terrorism czar. Sitting next to Clarke at the ceremony was the new czar, Wayne A. Downing, a retired four-star general who will report to both Ridge and Rice and hold the rank of deputy national security adviser. The shift from Clarke, the bureaucratic insider, to Downing, the Army general, signals something important: The war on terrorism will no longer be directed by people who specialize in politics; it will be directed by people who specialize in war.

For almost three decades Clarke mastered official Washington. What he didn't master was counterterrorism. His first brush with notoriety came in 1986 when, as one of the State Department's top intelligence officers, he hatched a bizarre scheme to incite a coup against Muammar Qaddafi in retaliation for the Libyan strongman's support of terrorism. Clarke's plan called for American planes to produce a wave of sonic booms over Libyan airspace while empty rafts washed ashore--not to attack, but to create the effect of an attack, which would spur Qaddafi's enemies to move against him. The plan became public, was scrapped, and created a small scandal for the Reagan White House. Then, in 1992, Clarke's State Department career abruptly ended when the inspector general accused him of failing to stop illegal transfers of sensitive U.S. military technology to China. Clarke strongly denied the accusations but fled State and landed at the National Security Council.

Things didn't go much better there. In 1993 he oversaw Somalia policy during the American intervention, the greatest military debacle of the 1990s. Clarke was also in the middle of the botched effort to get Osama bin Laden in 1996, when the Clinton administration rejected--as The Washington Post recently revealed--a Sudanese offer to hand him over. Then, in 1998, he played a key role in the Clinton administration's misguided retaliation for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which targeted bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Clarke reportedly steamrolled intelligence officials who doubted (correctly) the evidence linking the Sudanese factory to either bin Laden or chemical weapons.

Those strikes, we now know, were primarily dictated by political rather than military concerns
. They were coordinated because the United States wanted to prove we could hit two far-flung targets simultaneously (the attacks were dubbed "Operation Infinite Reach") and perhaps even because some U.S. officials believed (erroneously) that the Sudanese had attempted to assassinate Tony Lake. And the search for a proper target in Sudan got further bogged down in an attempt to limit civilian casualties. The White House made a fateful decision to strike at night when no workers would be present. The result, as a little-noticed report by CNN recently explained, was that both attacks were delayed just long enough so that bin Laden left his Afghan camp an hour or two before the missiles landed. An uncharitable assessment might suggest that, for the second time in two years, Clarke was central to a decision that led to bin Laden's escape.

But even as these decisions were backfiring, Clarke was demonstrating his real skill: political survival. He is the longest-serving member of the NSC. Universally described as a master of bureaucracy, he made himself indispensable to the NSC transition teams of both the Clintonites and the Bushies. He thus became the only NSC staffer from the first Bush administration retained by Clinton, and one of the only Clinton staffers kept on by the younger Bush. "Dick Clarke is the ultimate survivor," says Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and counterterrorism official at the State Department. "He is a bureaucrat's bureaucrat. He knows how to write memos, move the paper. The guy's a master."

And it's in political fights that Clarke has had his greatest triumphs. He worked the budget process to increase counterterrorism spending from $5.7 billion in 1995 to $12 billion in 2001. He helped lead a successful administration campaign to oust Boutros Boutros-Ghali as secretary general of the United Nations in 1996. More broadly Clarke tried, at the end of Clinton's term, to formulate a new U.S. terrorist doctrine not dissimilar to the one now articulated by Bush--that the United States would not distinguish between terrorists and the states that harbor them. "We may not just go in and strike against a terrorist facility; we may choose to retaliate against the facilities of the host country, if that host country is a knowing, cooperative sanctuary," he told the Associated Press in 1999. But nobody remembers this because Clarke didn't have the stature to put counterterrorism policy on the front page.

His successor, needless to say, won't have that problem. For William Downing there is nothing metaphorical about the "war" on terrorism. Downing is a highly decorated soldier who graduated from West Point and served several combat tours in Vietnam. He directed special forces in Operation Just Cause, which snatched Manuel Noriega from Panama in 1989. He also led them during the Gulf war. During Somalia, while Clarke coordinated policy from the White House, Downing commanded the elite U.S. troops on the ground. The 18 Americans killed in the October 1993 raid to capture warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed were directed by Downing, whose request to use AC-130 gunships for support was turned down by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell--a debate that could be a harbinger of things to come in the current administration.

Since his retirement in 1996 Downing has been known mostly for his unvarnished views about how to fight terrorism. In a frank report on the Khobar Towers bombing, requested by the Pentagon, he blamed the general in charge of the facility for failing to take proper security measures. The general resigned. In the same report he called terrorism "a form of warfare," and he explicitly rejected the idea of pursuing terrorists as we pursue criminals: "These terrorists are not criminals in the conventional sense. They must be seen as `soldiers.'" Downing noted as far back as 1996 what September 11 has made a cliche: You can't fight terrorism without much better human intelligence. He also sat on the 1999 National Commission on Terrorism, which recommended many of the anti-terrorism measures now being rushed through Congress (see "Sin of Commission," by Franklin Foer, October 8).

With respect to the ongoing debate within the administration about whether to target Iraq after operations end in Afghanistan, there's no question about Downing's views: He literally wrote the battle plan for overthrowing Saddam. Besides Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Richard Perle, a formal Pentagon policy adviser, few in Washington are identified as closely with replacing the current Iraqi regime. For the last few years Downing has advised the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress. His overthrow plan--unveiled to think tank conservatives and members of Congress--called for U.S.-armed and - trained rebels to launch an attack from safe zones within Iraq that are protected by American air power.

Clearly Downing possesses the right qualities for fighting a war on terrorism. The big question will be how well the four-star general maneuvers the internecine politics of the federal bureaucracy. Perhaps he should stop by Clarke's office for some tips


Once someone allegedly scores a good hit or two on evil Georgie (with some help from the press)--their popularity rises, doesn't it?

[my emphasis throughout]

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2004 11:27:00 AM

Bush Humor Watch

This may be the first time I agree with something penned in the Nation (Hat Tip: Josh Marshall).

If, as the old Nietzsche aphorism runs, "a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling," what "feeling" does Bush kill off with these comments?

For one, that near 600 U.S. servicemen and women (and other coalition forces), not to mention the thousands of Iraqis, have been killed because of a war fought on the grounds that Saddam was pursuing a WMD program that put him in violation of Resolution 1441.

So sorry, cracks about no WMD stockpiles having turned up are simply not a laughing matter--even for people, like me, that continue to believe we had a valid and legal casus belli based on what was learned in the Kay Report.

And besides--even in the context of the annual Radio and Correspondents Association dinner--it's just not "Presidential."

Don't you think?

posted by Gregory| 3/26/2004 10:52:00 AM


Media Bias Watch

A couple Clarke-related beauts on tap today the day after his testimony.

First, this New York Times masthead which surely will be considered a classic in the anti-Bush genre.

Richard Clarke, fresh from his testimony, is portrayed as something of an angelic figure:

"Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorism chief in the Bush and Clinton administrations, opened his testimony by apologizing to the families whose loved ones died in the terror attacks. The government, Mr. Clarke said, had failed them, "and I failed you." He added, "We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed." It suddenly seemed that after the billions of words uttered about that terrible day, Mr. Clarke had found the ones that still needed saying....The only problem with his apology was that so few of those failures really seemed to be his."

Don't get me wrong--I think it's commendable for Clarke to have apologized to the 9/11 families.

But it's somewhat sleazy of the NYT to take his apology and then crudely intimate it was Bush and Co. that should have been doing the real apologizing.

Then there's this part of the masthead:

"Mr. Clarke is clearly haunted by the thought that if things had gone differently, the attacks might have been averted. That seems like the longest of long shots. But there are still plenty of questions to be answered about what happened, particularly about the apparent lack of urgency in the Bush administration's antiterrorism efforts before 9/11. The Clinton administration also made mistakes."

You don't say! Clinton committed errors as well? I mean, who would have thunk it?

In fairness to the Times, they make some of same points I made here (that the Bushies were probably too focused on state actors and that the Clinton Administration never got around to having a coherent, effective strategy on al-Qaeda).

But, in essence, they pretty much take Richard Clarke's testimony and turn it into their masthead (what about all the other testimony yesterday guys and gals?).

The bottom line on W. 43rd St. is thus: Clinton took al--Q seriously, Bush didn't.

And, frankly, I just can't take that spin seriously.

My view of much of the Clinton foreign policy during the 90s (the abject failure to intervene in Bosnia for 3 long years during the largest scale slaughters in Europe since the Nazis stalked the continent, the inaction in Rwanda, the bungling of Somalia and Haiti, and, yes, the episodic and disorganized and ultimately, of course, tragically ineffective combatting of al-Qaeda--after all, 9/11 was being planned well before Bush got into office) bring to mind this W. H. Auden poem that Andrew Sullivan had quoted back near 9/11:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Amidst all the interns and IPOs it was difficult to concern oneself about genocides and brewing threats far from the shores of the distracted, buffoonish and solipsistic American polity of the 90s.

Oh, don't miss Dana Milbank in the WaPo either.

He's writing all about a cool as a cucumber star witness Richard Clarke:

"The gallery drew quiet when Lehman questioned Clarke. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he began, and then he said how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman said, suggesting it was a partisan tract.

Clarke was ready for that challenge. "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he said, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke said. "So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one."

When Clarke finished his answer, there was a long pause, and the gallery was silent. Lehman smiled slightly and nodded. He had no further questions

Milbank paints something of a showdown at the OK Corral here.

With Clarke, gun still smoking, silencing his critics with his deadpan answers and cool under fire.

But the stunned silence, if anything, was probably more a result of how breathtaking Clarke's deflection of Lehman's interrogatory was.

Lehman hadn't asked him if he was auditioning for a job with John Kerry, he asked thusly:

"Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush.

That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us.

And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem.

And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book

Clarke answered this question by erecting something of a straw man argument.

Instead of directly addressing the credibility gap as between his previous statements/testimony and the allegations in his book (the thrust of the question)--Clarke instead takes a different tack.

He argues that--as he doesn't aspire to be John Kerry's terrorism tsar or such-- his motives simply can't be impugned.

So he discourses about a class he co-teaches at Harvard with a prof who moonlights for the Kerry campaign. Or he says he had "asked for a Republican ballot" during the 2000 Presidential election.

But who cares really?

The only time he tries to directly address the gaps in his statements between the book and pre-book (call it the B and P.B. eras)--well, per Clarke, all the differences simply result solely from Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

So only Iraq (how convenient, politically and otherwise!) explains the meta-change in tone (even Clarke calls his B tone "strident").

But this too is a deflection.


Because Clarke didn't just change his tone between P.B and B--he changed the substance of his comments too.

If anything, therefore, the "stunned silence" Milbank describes resulted from how adeptly Clarke ignored the real thrust of Commissioner Lehman's query.

Put differently, the silent ohs and ahs were more in the nature, I'd wager, of awe-struck encomiums to Clarke's evasiveness.

Oh, and finally, don't miss what is surely the most nausea inducing sentence of the week penned by (who else?) Maureen Dowd:

"As the White House was sliming Richard Clarke, the 9/11 families were stroking him."

Gross, isn't it?

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who wrote in to tell me Dana Milbank is a man. I actually knew that--but the Dana part always throws me off. Apologies.

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2004 09:47:00 AM

Unsolicited Advice Watch

"Today the sad fact is that Arthur Sulzberger, who was my partner in the great enterprise of revitalizing the Times, and who remains my friend, may no longer be in a strong enough position internally to push all the reforms we felt were essential. Although there are signs that the front-to-back improvements we sought are beginning to move forward in a piecemeal fashion, for the time being Arthur and his top editors seem to be picking their way across a minefield, having seen the destructive power of a change-resistant newsroom. After months of deliberation and many invitations to write about the Times, I have chosen this forum to tell my former colleagues at the paper and its many devoted readers exactly where I think the paper needs to go. My views were shaped by a small group of strategists that Arthur had painstakingly assembled. That little round table is now broken, but there's no reason a new one can't be brought together to advance the goals we set. No one inside the Times can speak right now as candidly as I to the full extent of that strategic vision."

--the, er, indefatigable Howell Raines, writing in the Atlantic (Hat Tip: Howie Kurtz).

Bill Keller must be happy he's holidaying in the Carribbean!

posted by Gregory| 3/25/2004 09:27:00 AM


Live-Blogging Clarke's Testimony

The Clinton Administration, per Clarke, gave terrorism issues an "extraordinarily high" priority. Nothing was given higher billing.

Only some other critical matters, Clark says, were treated at an "equal" level (Clarke mentions the Middle East peace process in this context--another, not so subtly veiled, attack on the Bush Administration).

The Bush Administration, again per Clarke, merely considered terrorism issues "important but not urgent."

Clarke was then asked to speculate, if he had gotten a high-level briefing with the President back in February of 2001 (he didn't), whether he might have been able to materially change our pre 9/11 terrorist threat posture.

Clarke says he would have planned to relay to Bush that the state of al-Qaeda was "strong."

He complained that he had a "strategy ready before [Bush's] inauguration," but that delays prevented it from getting to the President's desk.

The intimations are clear. Bush didn't care. And so thousands may have needlessly died.

I have a question for Richard Clarke.

If the Clinton team handled terrorism as an "extraordinarily high" priority--why the need for a major new strategy when Bush came in?

Why hadn't it already been implemented?

And why was the state of al-Qaeda "strong"?

Just asking.


Richard Ben-Veniste asking Clarke about the differences between Clarke's access to Clinton era NSC advisors as compared to Condi Rice.

Clarke complains that he was told that "..policy development on counter-terrorism would be best done at [the] Deputy National Security" level rather than at the NSC advisor level.

One potential sour grape?

Listen, Clarke is an estimable former civil servant.

But no high-level bureaucrat ever enjoys a de facto demotion like that.

None at all.

We can look at the merits of whether meeting at the Deputies rather that Principals level might have had a material impact on counter-terrorism policy.

But, given some of his pretty inflammatory rhetoric lately, one wonders if this factor might be motivating him at some (even if subconscious) level.


Clarke being asked about the content of his press briefing in August 2002 as compared to the incendiary allegations in his book.

Why the differences?

In '02 briefing, he said, for instance, that Bush administration was "vigorously pursu[ing] the existing [Clinton] policy."

Of course, that's not at all what he says in his book.

Was he lying, he's asked?

No. Clarke says he briefed the press thus back in '02 because he was asked to stress the positive and downplay the negative by the Administration.

And that special assistants to Presidents are often asked to do that type of thing (now that's a fair point!).

Still, Clarke's a damn good spinner, isn't he?


Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler quotes Condi Rice to the effect that the Bush plan went beyond law enforcement type action vis-a-vis al-Qaeda and marshalled all means (including military).

Is this true, she asks Clarke?

No, he responds.


Clarke is suggesting we act on threats before we see them--even it if requires "boldness".

Another supporter of preemption, one might ask?!?

And while critiquing America's lack of robust preemptive style action earlier--Clarke rationalizes it didn't occur because we "couldn't see the threat because it hadn't happened" yet.

So much for all the al-Qaeda attacks of the 90s....


John Lehman:

Lehman sarcastically says he's "green" with envy at how easy the PR job must be going for Clarke's book. He even mentions forthcoming movie rights for the book.

And asks Clarke to apologize to the families for the "tremendous difference" in his disclosures in the book as compared to what he was saying pre-book.

Lehman goes on to say that Clarke has a "real credibility problem."

Wow. The gloves are off.

Clarke responds:

There was a "very" good reason for the differences between his previous testimony to the 9/11 commission and his allegations in the recently published book.

The reason that he is now "strident" in his criticisms is the invasion of Iraq.

Because the President has "greatly undermined" the war on terrorism as a result of going into Iraq.

But Clarke had told 60 Minutes that Bush flat out "ignored terrorism"--not just undermined it because of too much attention to Iraq.

Might he not have mentioned such a shocking dereliction of duty in previous testimony to the Commission, the committee members are basically querying?

Even as someone asked to, er, stress the positive?

Clarke is basically defending the differences in his previous testimony/press statements--as compared to the allegations contained in the book--by saying he had to act like an Adminstration flak.

But if Bush really had dropped the ball so flagrantly, imperiling the ship of state, one has to keep their integrity in mind too--a committee member just suggested to Clarke.

Not a bad point. [emphasis added]



The Sudanese plant was a valid, terror target.

Critics mocking the operation as merely hitting a pharma plant and such are "wrong."


Former Nebraska Senator Kerry: states he has no problems with Clarke's integrity.

And criticizes Fox news for leaking the 'background' press briefing linked above.


Guess how W. 43rd St. leads the story? [ed. note: But that's your lead too? Yes, but I view it as a howler--the Times will headline it (Clinton's handling of terror treated as "extraordinarily high", Bush's merely "important") with quiet approval.

Richard Ben Veniste:

No "substantive differences" between what Clark said in previous testimony and his published work.

Guess it depends on what the meaning of is is. I'm getting Clinton flashbacks.


Kean is wrapping it up and thanking Clarke for his testimony.

Note: Live-blogging, I've just discovered, is pretty exhausting.

And I've got a friend in from New York who wonders why we haven't had dinner yet.

So analysis to follow later.

posted by Gregory| 3/24/2004 06:59:00 PM

Let's Fall in Love Again?

It's not just the Israelis and Palestinians that need a roadmap.

posted by Gregory| 3/24/2004 12:55:00 AM


Clarke Watch

"Richard Clarke, the country’s first counter-terrorism czar, told me in an interview at his home in Arlington, Virginia, that he wasn’t particularly surprised that the Bush Administration’s efforts to find bin Laden had been stymied by political problems. He had seen such efforts fail before. Clarke, who retired from public service in February and is now a private consultant on security matters, has served every President since Ronald Reagan. He has won a reputation as a tireless advocate for action against Al Qaeda. Clarke emphasized that the C.I.A. director, George Tenet, President Bush, and, before him, President Clinton were all deeply committed to stopping bin Laden; nonetheless, Clarke said, their best efforts had been doomed by bureaucratic clashes, caution, and incessant problems with Pakistan."

--Richard Clarke, per the August 4th 2003 issue of the New Yorker.

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

--Richard Clarke, on 60 Minutes, March 21, 2004.

Hmm. What's changed I wonder? (Hat Tip: Reader DA)

Two caveats.

The first passage, that reader DA pointed out to me, is not a quote but rather a journalistic account of an interview of Clarke (Jane Mayer is an experienced journalist, however, and I doubt she would have gotten such an important part of her interview with Clarke wrong).

Second, anyone who describes Clinton's efforts to stop UBL as "deeply committed," well, I guess that casts some doubt on their similar judgement of Bush's performance too.

And yes, I mean that despite this part of the article:

"...C.I.A. officials went to the White House and said they had “specific, predictive, actionable” intelligence that bin Laden would soon be attending a particular meeting, in a particular place. “It was a rare occurrence,” Clarke said. Clinton authorized a lethal attack. The target date, however—August 20, 1998—nearly coincided with Clinton’s deposition about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clarke said that he and other top national-security officials at the White House went to see Clinton to warn him that he would likely be accused of “wagging the dog” in order to distract the public from his political embarrassment. Clinton was enraged. “Don’t you fucking tell me about my political problems, or my personal problems,” Clinton said, according to Clarke. “You tell me about national security. Is it the right thing to do?” Clarke thought it was. “Then fucking do it,” Clinton told him."

They did "it" all right.

They hit a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, that is.

But, much more important than these tired stories, with regard to the current controversies swirling about Washington, note the below.

And as you read the passages I quote, note the issue described as having "reached a head" relates to the use of Predator weapons, which had provided a breakthrough, of sorts, by allowing the U.S. government to observe terrorist training camps at close hand (even the specific movements of a tall individual thought to perhaps be UBL).

These Predators, reportedly due to the fervent (and admirable) efforts of Clarke, had been rapidly rejiggered so that they could be armed--way ahead of schedule.

Now they could not only serve as a means to observe UBL's movements but also to perhaps kill him too.

The key parts:

"On September 4, 2001, all sides agree, the issue reached a head, at a meeting of the Principal’s Committee of Bush’s national-security advisers, a Cabinet-level group that includes the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the director of the C.I.A., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Attorney General, and the national-security adviser. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also attended that day. As Clarke, who was there, recalled, “Tenet said he opposed using the armed Predator, because it wasn’t the C.I.A.’s job to fly airplanes that shot missiles. The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.”

“There was a discussion,” the senior intelligence official confirmed. “The C.I.A. said, ‘Who’s got more experience flying aircraft that shoot missiles?’ But the Air Force liked planes with pilots.”

A week later, in the worst terrorist attacks in history, which were carried out at bin Laden’s direction, nearly three thousand Americans were killed.

Question for readers.

What seems to have caused this lack of a "can-do" attitude re: going after al-Qaeda?

George Bush's myopic obsession with Iraq?

Paul Wolfowitz's?

Or instead, per Clarke's retelling in the New Yorker interview, issues like the controversy between the Air Force and Langley as to who would actually operate the Predator?

I don't say that to place blame with George Tenet or the Air Force Chiefs.

And I'm certainly not saying this was the only issue.

But the policy debate Clarke relayed to the New Yorker interviewer, I'd wager, accurately evokes the kind of issues that were being batted around in policy pow-wows about how to combat al-Qaeda.

Put another way, a wild-eyed Paul Wolfowitz wasn't describing UBL as a peace-loving flower child that merited zero attention--with Saddam the end all and be all of his analysis of the strategic threats facing the U.S. in 2001.

Hindsight, as is so often said, is 20-20.

It's easy to beat up on policymakers about how 9/11 could have been prevented (nor would killing UBL on September 4th, 2001, even if it had been achievable, likely have meant 19 hijackers wouldn't have slammed planes into the WTC, Pentagon and Pennsylvania countryside a week later).

But I trust most Administration critics, when they are alone and taking a real, honest look at themselves in the mirror, would admit that we were all tragically caught off guard on 9/11.

From George Bush, George Tenet and Paul Wolfowitz; to Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and Al Gore; to a Cantor Fitz trader, a FDNY firefighter, or an illegal Honduran busboy working in Windows on the World.

Given this reality, it's hugely unfortunate that one of the biggest tragedies in American history is metamorphosizing into a political foodfight.

Why not call an end to all the partisan rancor and conclude, roughly, thus:

The Clinton Administration's approach to al-Qaeda was too timid, too legalistic, too episodic.

The Bush Administration's (pre-9/11) approach to al-Qaeda was likely overly influenced by traditional realist security hawks (with a dollop of neo-con thinking thrown in) overly emphasizing state actors as compared to stateless transnational terror groups.

Put differently, there's enough blame to go around.

But don't be surprised if we get attacked again, especially post-Madrid precedent, whilst we engage in all this cheap, partisan sniping.

Who will we blame then?

posted by Gregory| 3/23/2004 10:11:00 PM

That's Not The Real Story

Steve Weisman writing in the NYT:

"In a startling sequence of events unusual even for the ups and downs of Middle East policy, the administration began the day by avoiding direct criticism of Israel after the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.

Instead, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said in a morning television interview that Hamas was a terrorist organization, that Sheik Yassin had been involved in terrorist actions and that it was "very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region."

Only later in the afternoon did the administration shift tone and criticize Israel's action as harmful to the cause of bringing peace to the region.

"We're deeply troubled by this morning's events in Gaza," said Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, adding that all sides, including Israel, should now "exercise maximum restraint" and "do everything possible to avoid any further actions that would make more difficult the restoration of calm."

An administration official acknowledged that a change of tone was chosen only after a torrent of criticism erupted throughout the Arab world, and was then joined by condemnations from the European Union and Britain, Washington's closest ally in the Iraq war
." [emphasis added]

Oh Steve, one is wearily tempted to say, there was nothing "startling" or "unusual" about this story.

The real story is that this Administration has been riven by internecine warfare from Day 1 re: the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

No coherent policy has emerged partly because of this virtually incessant bureaucratic battling.

And because, more specifically, we don't have a NSC advisor who is capable of exerting enough pressure to proactively broker disputes (like, say, a Brent Scrowcroft did) as among Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and, er, a more powerful than is typical Veep.

In fairness to Condoleeza Rice (who, incidentally, has been meeting a lot of Israelis recently), the battling between State and Defense has been particularly vicious. And not just on the Arab-Israeli issue (see also NoKo, Iran).

But this White House--so often hyper-disciplined and "on message"--drifts about without direction on the Middle East peace process.

When a Secretary of Defense, with impunity, can refer to the "so-called" Occupied Territories--one is forgiven if confusion about U.S. policy in the region results.

Such statements, after all, call into question the fundamental "land for peace" framework that has underpinned our diplomacy in the region for decades.

This is where a Brent Scrowcroft would have picked up the phone and told the Secretary of Defense to get back on the plantation.

But, alas, Condi doesn't really have the muscle to make such calls.

The latest result of all this pitiable policy drift?

Sheikh Yassin's assassination wasn't condemned by the United States.

It was only condemned by the State Department.

The White House (wink wink) doesn't really find the killing "deeply troubling." (Would they Arafat's assassination, one wonders?)

That's no way to run a disciplined, serious foreign policy on an issue of critical import to the United States.

Put another way, at least settle on one policy for the entire Administration and go with it in organized fashion.

The policy drift hasn't worked. It has failed. Miserably.

Isn't this clear to all?

Note: I'll have more on all this, including a discussion as to why I don't find the Arafat as UBL (Yassin as UBL is a different matter) analogies persuasive, late evening London time).

posted by Gregory| 3/23/2004 09:50:00 AM


Sheikh Yassin Assassination

Ultimately, my views on the IDF's operation haven't changed much from when I wrote this back in January.

Ze'ev Schiff has cogent analysis on the operation:

"The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is that, when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was prompted by the group's terrorist operations and that if these attacks continue, they will lead to a complete Israeli withdrawal.

The killing of Yassin is part of the Israeli offensive ahead of the disengagement. The danger is that the Gaza Strip will be consumed by anarchy, and that Hamas will take control of the street, preventing the more pragmatic Palestinian Authority forces from imposing law and order
." [emphasis added]

With Yassin "martyred" by the IDF--look for Hamas to gain increased support through Gaza and, likely, the West Bank as well. This worrisome trend will intensify in the coming months.

The merits of this operation are difficult to gauge. On the one hand, it is reprehensible for a man of religion to lend moral authority and blessing to the scourge of suicide bombing.

One can certainly understand how a typical Israeli views Yassin as "their" UBL given the innocent blood spilled in pizzerias, discos and buses for so many years now.

On the other hand, I don't believe Yassin exerted any operational control on Hamas suicide bombers. In addition, and unlike al-Qaeda, Hamas has a political wing that provides much needed social services to Palestinians living in truly abysmal conditions in places like Gaza. Put differently, the group doesn't only enjoy support from theocratic fanatics.

Most important, really, is to ask whether his "spiritual" presence really contributed to increasing the potential pool of suicide bombers? I doubt it finally--though am open to contrary arguments.

And so I think this operation, all told, was a mistake, especially if the goal was to hurt Hamas (if Sharon's strategy is simply to forment near anarchic conditions in the Territories this is another question).

Such graphic reports will, of course, reverberate in the coming days and weeks:

"Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopters fired three missiles at Yassin just outside the mosque, killing the partially blind and paralyzed Hamas leader, along with seven other people, including three bodyguards. At least 15 other people were wounded, including two of his sons, according to hospital officials.

"His body is in pieces," hospital director Ibrahim Habbash said, describing Yassin's wounds. "His head can't be seen because the rocket was shot at him directly

Or as the Polish Foreign Minister put it succinctly:

"I understand that Israel defends its own country. However the picture of a wheelchair-bound person who was killed with a rocket is probably not the best way of promoting Israeli security," Cimoszewicz said."

Britain and France also condemned the attack.

Germany, as is its custom given its special historical burden born of the Holocaust, issued a neutral comment calling for restraint on both sides--as did the State Department (I'm sure Foggy Bottom's call for "restraint" will be closely heeded in Gaza in the coming days).

Given Sheikh Yassin's importance as the leader of Hamas--the shock waves stemming from this attack will also likely lead to the following:

1) Hamas will look to begin attacking Jewish targets outside of the region and look to intensify contacts with global terror groups like al-Qaeda, as market sentiment seems to be picking up on;

2) As the U.S. isn't enforcing "red lines" on Sharon's behavior, Hamas' analysis will go, they will more loudly urge attacks (and perhaps attempt an attack themselves) on American targets worldwide (though their capacity to actually launch such an attack is likely quite limited and they will, of course, continue to overwhelmingly focus on Israeli targets);

"The group vowed that Islamic groups around the world will join together to retaliate for the assassination and implied that the United States could be a target.

"The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. "All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime," the statement said

and, finally;

3) regional dynamics will nose-dive further:

"Mubarak termed the killing "regrettable and cowardly" when he spoke to reporters after meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns. Asked about the killing's likely impact on the peace process, Mubarak replied: "What peace process?"

All in all, not a good day for anyone in my view--Israelis, Palestinians, or interested third parties.

UPDATE: The head of Shin Bet was against the operation as well.

From the Haaretz ticker:

20:00 "Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter opposed killing Yassin, argued in gov`t meeting that it would cause more harm than good"

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2004 09:43:00 AM

Who Won the Elections?

"The Madrid bombings, which killed 202 people and wounded 1,700, suggested that terrorists linked to Al Qaeda could not only modify their tactics, but also adopt a mind-set different from the one investigators thought they knew.

Suicide bombers were replaced by triggering devices engineered with cheap cellphones. While disciples of Osama bin Laden are known for favoring symbolism in their targets, these plotters seemed more political. The Madrid attackers struck just three days before the Spanish elections, which dislodged a government that supported the American-led invasion of Iraq. When Mr. Zougam arrived in court after five days incommunicado, he reportedly asked the clerks, "Who won the elections
?" [emphasis added]

Jamal Zougam, one of the principal 11-M suspects, as quoted in a must-read NYT article.

posted by Gregory| 3/22/2004 09:29:00 AM


Kerry Watch

"Can it really be said that we are building a new world order when it is almost exclusively the United States who will be fighting in the desert, not alone but almost, displaying pride and impatience and implementing what essentially amounts to a pax Americana?" he asked. "Is that a new world order?" [emphasis added]

John Kerry, January 11th 1991, speaking just five days before the beginning of Desert Storm hostilities.

Of course, we weren't fighting almost "alone." Some 34 nations had joined the war effort by then.

The non-U.S. component of coalition forces put in 160,000 men, roughly 25% of the total.

Hardly de minimis stuff, huh?

And the arrogant American hegemon had even managed to secure Syrian, Egyptian and, er, French support to boot!

More swashbuckling Bush unilateralism, only this time it was Bush pere!

A couple more gems from the WaPo's Kerry story:

"In 1995, Kerry was one of 29 senators who voted against lifting an arms embargo on Bosnia. He argued the congressional action was unacceptably unilateral and had not been coordinated with European allies."

Again, we would be wielding a too "arrogant club" pace Kerry.

Remember, this is post--Srebrenica massacre, where some 8,000 human beings were slaughtered.

No matter. Vote to keep the Bosniaks virtually defenseless because of the arms embargo that the bipartisan Dole-Lieberman bill sought to lift.

Recall that U.S. policy had been hugely limp-wristed through the '90s before Richard Holbrooke's involvement at Dayton.

Warren Christopher had tried to persuade the Europeans to pursue the "lift and strike" option (lift the arms embargo and use NATO to attack Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing "safe" areas like Sarajevo) in a trip to European capitals in 1993.

But Paris and London (because of a good dollop of residual world-war era Serbophilia) and Germany (looking to flex their new post-unification muscle by supporting the Croats) weren't interested in empowering Muslim Europeans who were being slaughtered in appalling number.

Christopher returned home empty-handed saying an "exchange" of views had occurred.

One had, as people quipped in Washington. He went to Europe with an American view and came back with an European one.

And, given how short attention spans were in the Clinton Administration, the policy goal of lifting the arms embargo was, just like that, ingloriously dropped.

Kerry, doutbless, would have been proud of this lack of arrogance and display of American humilty.

You know, I also believe American power must be pursued with greater humility on the world stage. Given our hyperpuissance status--communicating our message in non-arrogant manner will become increasingly critical.

But not at the expense of sacrificing the efficacy and purposefulness of our foreign policy. Which is what I'm worried a Kerry Presidency (even with Richard Holbrooke at Foggy Bottom--unless he gets to run the NSC too!) might well result in.

Another worrying example of Kerry's "humility" from the WaPo piece.

Here's Kerry on NoKo:

"He declared that North Korea "took some remarkable steps, heretofore unimaginable steps" under a 1994 agreement with Clinton, and that the United States should not be "sending them a message that may, in fact, make it months later and far more difficult before we can do so." [emphasis added]

"Unimaginable steps"? Way to signal to Pyongyang that they've conceded too much already (of course, Kim Jong was merrily violating the Clinton "agreement" all along--when not, that is, dishing up "unimaginable" concessions).

Oh, and might one file this one under the 'he doth protest too much' category?

"Kerry added that he is incensed at a Bush campaign ad saying he seeks U.N. approval to defend the United States. "Never. Never have. Never ever, ever in my life in the United States Senate have I ever ceded our authority to the U.N. or have I recommended it," he said. "Never. Not once in one vote; not in one speech. Never. That is a lie."

Nothing like faux haute-Brahmin indignation to greet you on a Sunday morning, huh?

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2004 10:58:00 AM

Wanted: Alive or Dead?

Milt Bearden on why it might be better to capture UBL alive.

Either dead or alive, best to get the job done pre-October.

If not, the Madeline Albrights of the world will cry "surprise"!

Moronic street sentiment appears geared up for such allegations too.

"Bush! Bin-Laden! They been plottin'!"

posted by Gregory| 3/21/2004 09:37:00 AM


Picture Time

I don't normally do this, but I thought this was a pretty cool pic.

The mountains in the background, beyond the river Arax, are in Iran (I was recently visiting the southeastern tip of Armenia which borders Iran).

Here's another shot of me in Armenia--a country of rugged beauty and amazing churches.

Happy weekend to all.

UPDATE: Some readers were curious about the churches I described above. Here's one (pic taken by crack photographer Steph P).

posted by Gregory| 3/19/2004 05:30:00 PM

The Current Economist Cover

Depressing, isn't it?

Still, don't count out any of the three remaining Aces just yet.

And read the Economist's comment:

"Would new governments, led by John Kerry, Mark Latham (in Australia) and Michael Howard (in Britain), do better? It is premature, in all three countries, to judge. No doubt, all would find the reality of government tougher than the theory of opposition. What is clear, though, is that the challenge is the same whether these countries elect new leaders or stick with the old ones: it is to combine the immediate task of detecting and punishing terrorism with the broader, longer-term tasks of blocking weapons proliferation and persuading the Muslim world to modernise. That will require a greater effort to capture al-Qaeda's fugitive leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, involving even more pressure on Pakistan's government to catch those terrorists and at the same time to prevent its own nuclear secrets from being sold to them or to other countries. It will require some new version of the tentative “Greater Middle East Initiative” for democratic reform just floated and then withdrawn by the Bush administration. And it will require a big new push on Israel and Palestine.

It is fashionable to argue that all this will require greater co-operation, on a multilateral basis, than the Bush administration has managed to achieve during the past three years, and more emphasis on the “soft” power of persuasion and influence. That is true, but it will also require military toughness, redoubled intelligence efforts and intensified security. This is no time for weakness or appeasement. That is the ultimate lesson from Madrid
." [Emphasis added]

Soundbite: Don't go wobbly.

NB: The King of Hearts still looks to be on board.

posted by Gregory| 3/19/2004 03:32:00 PM


Marshall on Marshall

"Classic. The facts don't mesh with our theory, so let's get new facts."

-- Josh Marshall, in another Richard Perle hit piece, inadvertently describing his own fact-avoidance tactics rather than those of the so nefarious neo-con Capo.

Marshall writes:

"Last night Richard Perle was on Chris Matthews Hardball show and Matthews pressed him on the results of the new Pew poll which appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States."

But wait, that's not what the Pew Research Center Poll says:

"In the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, anger toward the United States remains pervasive, although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up."

Note, per my link immediately above, as compared to May '03, the March '04 polling data (ie, post-Iraq war) actually has a higher favorable rating for the U.S. in Pakistan, Jordan, and Turkey (in Morocco the favorability ranking remained the same in '04 as it was in '03).

Even Susan Sachs reluctantly concedes this in the NYT:

"In some predominantly Muslim countries, where negative attitudes toward American policy have prevailed for years, disapproval of the United States persisted over the past year, although at a less intense level that Mr. Kohut described as anger rather than hatred.

Still, the survey found, people in Jordan, Pakistan and Morocco tended to view other outsiders with almost the same degree of ill will and distrust as they did the United States. Opinions about the European Union and the United Nations were generally unfavorable or ambivalent at best, a sharp contrast to opinion in Europe and Russia where attitudes toward those institutions were positive

If Susan Sachs can read the Pew Center poll accurately, why can't Josh?

Maybe because, quoting Josh's intemperate smear of Perle (and assorted unnamed "folks"): "it's the essence of how these folks think, how they deceive themselves when they're not busy deceiving others."

O.K. sure, but let's agree that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

So we're not done just yet.

Let's take a look at the Hardball transcript for Matthews' interview with Perle:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I'm back with Richard Perle.

According to a new Pew Research poll, 70 percent of Jordanians and 66 percent of Moroccans think suicide bombings against American and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable.

Does that surprise you? These are the moderate states of the Arab world.

PERLE: The governments are moderate. I don't know that the sentiments of the public--and, obviously, if those figures are right, the sentiments of the public are anything but moderate.


MATTHEWS: But that means the people in the cafes are sitting there picking up their newspapers and going, hey, look at this. They blew up a bunch of Americans. This is good stuff. Check this out. Is that the Middle East you know?

PERLE: It is appalling and it is very dangerous. It shows you what happens when you allow suicide bombing to go largely unresponded to for as long as we did.

We had a decade in which we were attacked again and again and we didn?t respond. And, eventually, these thing become entrenched and even fashionable.

MATTHEWS: But you said last year, in 2001, right after 9/11, that if we go in, the idea that it is going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense. You think that our going into Iraq has not stimulated a higher level of hostility to us that would support this kind of horrible attitude toward our deaths?

PERLE: Because the Arab world was on Saddam's side? What is the logic of that? That they object to the fact that we've liberated 25 million Iraqis?

MATTHEWS: No. They've objected perhaps to the fact that we've invaded their part of the world and that we?re starting to dictate what they should do over there. That's another interpretation.


PERLE: We're not dictating to anyone. There's a great deal that is believed in the Arab world that is obviously wrong, the idea, for example, that we went into Iraq for oil, the idea that we're there with imperial ambitions. And that will become very clear when we leave.

MATTHEWS: But David Ignatius, who has just come back from "The Washington Post,2 is going to be on the show tonight, has talked in his column about the fact that it was a mistake to believe that simply because people didn't like their tyrant dictator, in this case, Saddam Hussein, that they would welcome outsiders to come in and start calling the shots.

PERLE: But there are polls in Iraq, among Iraqis, not among Moroccans or Jordanians, Iraqis in Iraq, and the overwhelming majority are grateful that they have been liberated and they look forward to a much better future than they had any reason to anticipate under Saddam

The bolded exchange is what had Josh writing about Perle:

"In other words, the facts don't make sense to me so they're not facts."

But that's not at all a fair or accurate representation of the Perle interview.

Matthews had asked Perle whether, in his view, he thought the U.S. invasion of Iraq had caused a higher level of anti-American hostility in the Muslim world.

Perle simply answered by challenging Matthews to the effect that he thought the war hadn't led to greater Muslim ill-feeling against the U.S.

And, of course, as I blogged above, the polling data bears Perle out, contra Marshall.

Moreover, note too that Arab/Muslim sentiment (the countries polled included a non-Arab nation, Pakistan, though Marshall simply describes them as "Arab" states), per the Pew poll, was also strongly unfavorable towards the U.N. and EU.

Said entities, er, not closely associated with the Iraq war effort--particularly per the worldview of your typical TPM reader railing at Bush's "unilateralism".

Listen, I'm not a water carrier for the neo-cons. I believe that they too often downplay the importance of maintaining our "honest broker" role in the Arab-Israeli dispute. And some of the neo-cons, via Scoop Jackson via Woodrow Wilson, get a bit too exuberant about democracy exportation exercises.

In addition, anti-Americanism in the Arab world has indeed reached shocking levels. But not, in my view, because of Iraq per se.

Rather, many observers believe, because of our perceived bias on the Arab-Israeli issue.

And a prevalent longstanding view that we have pursued somewhat of a "democracy exception" (Richard Haass' phrase) in the region by too often staunchly supporting autocrats (not to mention other, non-Iraq related, factors besides).

But finally and most importantly, what Marshall misses is that Arabs and Muslims, while often deeply humiliated, resentful and suspicious with respect to U.S. policy and motives in the region--are also fascinated, curious and eager to see how Bush's huge Iraq gamble develops in the coming months.

Put differently, they are intrigued to see if a democratic, unitary Iraqi state can rise from the ashes of Saddam's Iraq. The democracy exception policy, at least with regard to Iraq, just took a body blow.

And many Arabs/Muslims are busily digesting this complex reality--and waiting to see how the Iraq project proceeds--without yet having formed a definitive view.

This, at least partially, explains why American favorability rankings in the Muslim world have actually improved since the Iraq invasion per the Pew poll.

But when "the facts don't mesh with our theory...let's get new facts," right Josh?

As I said, goose/gander.

posted by Gregory| 3/18/2004 11:14:00 PM
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