Saturday, March 27, 2004
Angry people often say outrageous things. There’s a lot of that going on in the media lately over Richard Clarke and the Prime Minister Elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The Bush folks are feeling the anger of what they find an act of betrayal, and hitting out with any bit that looks like it will smear Richard Clarke. A 30 year Washington bureaucrat who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents is suddenly being labeled as hatchet man for the Democrats and a liar before Congress. This is ugly, ugly stuff, and advances our efforts to rebuild Iraq and deal with the Al-Qaeda not at all. No one is probably going to benefit from all the hot air floating around. It just seems like a terrible distraction from the real problems we face. The Administration might do better to let a very frustrated man have his say, learn from it, and do more than the photo op stuff about the realities.
There is an important editorial in the New York Times today (3/27/04) which explains to a large extent why the Administration missed the importance of the Al-Qaeda threat and attacked Iraq believing it to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Peter Neumann makes a great deal of sense. If you start from the premise that only nation states are able to sponsor terrorism, you think that groups such as Al-Qaeda must be sponsored by some state, probably Iraq and perhaps the other members of the “Axis of Evil”. You miss entirely the reality that Ben Laden does not need a nation state to sponsor him; that terrorists can be organized in such a way that a nation’s protection, while convenient (the Taliban, the extremists in Pakistan) is just a luxury. The anonymous can move and transfer funds around the world with great speed. A bomb planted in one place can be succeeded by another far away in the space of days or hours by small groups willing to take the risk. This is what makes the wave of attacks more a matter of careful police work than a takeover and occupation of an entire country.
For there will probably be another attack somewhere in this country sooner or later, and unless we give up everything we have stood for and become some sort of dictatorship ourselves, there probably isn’t a really effective way to prevent it. Even if we were to become some sort of benevolent police state that had the power to snoop on everybody and jail whomever without trial or legal counsel forever, we wouldn’t be “safe” from terrorism. If the borders of Iraq are impossible to close completely, think of our own!
Yes, we need to do what we can to protect ourselves including fully funding the efforts that have already been begun. But we should remember this statement by David Kahn, also in an editorial in today’s New York Times :
“Intelligence will always be incomplete; it will often run counter to what people want it to say. Leaders, however, are paid to overcome these obstacles. They can only lead when they deal with reality and then take steps to help us plan for the worst.
It does the effort no good to wage a campaign of smear and character assassination against a man who came across as sincerely frustrated by an administration which refused to see the real danger facing us. Such a campaign advances Bush’s cause as little as it does real efforts against terrorism. And Senator Frist’s effort to “prove” that Clarke is a liar by declassifying testimony of earlier years will probably go nowhere but attempt to make the smear stick in the public mind.
Kathleen Parker on the Zapatero’s election victory in Spain, an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel. It also appeared in my local newspaper:
“One day the Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, among the staunchest U.S. allies in the war on Iraq, was certain of victory. Boom! Seventy two hours later, Aznar’s gone, and the newly elected Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero vows to carry through his promise to withdraw Spanish troopsfrom Iraq. “Any way you cut it — however one explains the electoral shift — that’s effective terrorism”.
“It’s possible that the Spanish vote was a mandate for truth in government. More likely, it was exactly as it will be interpreted by the terrorists — a massive display of appeasement by a people reeling from the sight of human body parts propelled from exploding train cars. They effectively said that Spain would withdraw support from the imperialist United States if terrorists would just leave them in peace”.
This seems to be the Republican view of the election in Spain and Zapatero’s vow to pull their 1300 troops out of Iraq. I wonder how she knows the terrorist interpretation of the Spanish election. Has she spoken with any of them? Even so, Ms. Parker is more restrained than others in the US Congress have been. Isn’t there a possibility that the new Spanish leader, seeing the error of the Iraq diversion, will pull back its troops in order to concentrate its resources on the real threat of terrorist attacks in Europe – the Al-Qaeda that has nothing to do with Iraq and never did?
One more time, are not the Spanish free to choose their leaders as citizens of a democracy, when about 90% of them opposed the Bush Invasion of Iraq? Isn’t this what democracy is all about?
John Freedland in the Guardian with some illuminating comments on this issue:
In electing the socialists, he says, “surely the Spanish did nothing more on Sunday than exercise their democratic right to change governments They elected the Socialist party; to suggest they voted for al-Qaida is a slur not only on the Spanish nation but on the democratic process itself, implying that when terrorists strike political choice must end.”
This is what Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero actually said on March 14 as reported in La Nacion Line :
“Mi prioridad más inmediata es combatir toda forma de terrorismo. Y mi primera iniciativa mañana mismo será buscar la unión de las fuerzas políticas para concentrarnos en su lucha” .
The statement can be translated, “My most immediate priority is to combat terrorism in all its forms. And my first initiative tomorrow even will be to strengthen the union of political forces in order to concentrate on the struggle against it ” (literally, it’s struggle).
Those are hardly the words of a leader giving in to terrorists.
We in the United States are stuck with the consequences of our President’s blunder and must try to right the wrongs we have done in Iraq, but that does not mean that Spain must divert its resources in the same way. In fact, they may be far more useful to us and the world in the combined efforts against terror if they concentrate on the areas they know best, North Africa and their own Basque region.
The European governments who were so against the policy of the Bush Administration in attacking Iraq may well turn out to be the ones who will actually roll up the sleeper cells of terrorists in their midst and keep some sort of peace in Afghanistan leaving us to squander our resources and create more terrorists in Iraq. But more on that issue on another day.