Along the Tracks

Thursday, September 18, 2003


Blogger was annoyingly unreceptive to my posts yesterday, denying me access because of some garbledy-gook, as discovered by some “Apache” program. I have no idea what it all means (it’s computer language about a hundred lines long), but if you’re reading this, I finally got through. The below posts were made at different times, even if they are showing up here all at once.


Election workers represented by Teamsters?!?

This may not be such a good idea.

The war Albright fought, and the one she should have

This morning, I listened to Juan Williams’ NPR interview with Madeleine Albright, secretary of state during the second half of the Clinton administration. It was, frankly, sickening. Not that Juan did a bad job - he’s a good journalist, and challenged Albright on several fronts. But when someone is more committed to spin than truth, it’s awfully hard to get straight answers.

In the interview, Albright made a statement - meant to emphasize her resolve in the Kosovo War - stunningly disconnected with reality:

“You cannot stand by for a long time watching terrible things happen.”

Oh really? I don’t mean to minimize the horrors of the Serbs in Kosovo, but their “ethnic cleansing” policy at that time involved primarily uprooting people and chasing the refugees out of the country - terrible, and the U.S. did indeed have a duty to do what it could to stop it. I was on the “McCain train” back then, calling for ground troops to get the Serbs out of Kosovo. Clinton (advised by Wesley Clark) chose high-altitude bombing instead, protecting our troops but causing a large amount of “collateral damage” in Serbia - there were probably as many civilians killed by American bombs in the Kosovo Air War as died in our recent war with Iraq. Even so, while I may have had qualms about the tactics, I supported and continue to support that operation as morally justified.

Meanwhile, over in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people were dying - at least half a million during the Clinton years. They were being slaughtered directly, buried in mass graves. Yet not only did Albright feel no need to stop the horrors while serving as secretary of state, she was against the Bush administration’s effort to end Saddam’s murders.

She told Juan Williams she agreed with the “why” of the war, just not the “why now.” Considering the fact Saddam was killing more people each month throughout the ‘90s than the Serbs had in six months of their Kosovo campaign, you might have thought she would have felt a sense of urgency.

She’s proud that the Kosovo War was known as “Albright’s War,” and that’s fine I guess. But the war she chose as “hers” was not the most crucial one to fight then, and her continued refusal to endorse war in Iraq four years later makes a mockery of her claim to being the queen of humanitarian intervention.

Hitting camels in the butt

The one softball I felt Juan pitched her was the question about the “Wag the Dog” accusations after the cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan, which followed the African embassy bombings. Albright said that, in the summer of ‘98, the Clinton administration used its intelligence information to the fullest in shooting those missiles - they did all they could, in other words. She defended the limited response from both directions: First, she pointed out that two years and 10,000 troops have not yet captured Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Second, she said the “Wag the Dog”-ers were crying foul over the limited response as it was, so something bigger would have been even more cynically received. Let’s parse this a bit.

Start with the strike against the pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. CIA intelligence indicated two things at the time: The plant was partly financed by al Qaeda, and a soil sample detected a VX nerve agent precursor. That was good enough for a pre-emptive strike, in Albright’s book. Both pieces of intelligence soon came into question, and now the consensus is that this really was just a pharmaceutical production facility, and any al Qaeda connections had more to do with Saudi royal family duplicity than with direct Osama bin Laden investments. Funny how I’ve never heard a lot of “Clinton lied!” concerning this bombing. Yet the intelligence here was far more dubious and limited than what we knew about Iraq. Even so, I don’t doubt Clinton (or Albright’s) intentions when that strike was made. They couldn’t let al Qaeda get ahold of VX.

The 75 cruise missiles sent into Afghanistan were “close” to getting Osama, according to Albright. She apparently thought this was some geostrategic game of horseshoes. Missiles ... BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! ... oh, we missed - but we were close! Round over.

Except Osama was still on the loose, still had his Afghanistan sanctuary and training camps - minus a few tents and camels. Two years later, al Qaeda nearly sunk a U.S. warship, the Cole, and killed 17 American sailors. That didn’t even warrant a missile up a camel’s ass.

Sure, it’s frustrating that we have no final disposition on Osama bin Laden after two years of Afghanistan combat. I still say that’s because he’s dead - and that recent tape of him traipsing around the mountains but not saying a word (which might indicate when the tape was made) is the strongest proof yet of his demise. Nevertheless, even if he is still drawing air, he’s also swinging at air, because his operation has been decapitated. Is al Qaeda still dangerous? Yes; particularly in places they can blend in, like the Middle East and Southeast Asia. However, that organization no longer has the finances and direction to perform a truly catastrophic attack against the U.S. like the 9/11 strikes.

That’s the key here, and why I will always lay a portion of the blame for 9/11 at the doorstep of Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and (former Secretary of Defense) William Cohen. If they had taken the African embassy bombings seriously in the summer of 1998, or even the Cole bombing in the fall of 2000, and decided to remove Osama’s base of operations, 9/11/01 probably would have been just another quiet early fall day.

Would there have been “Wag the Dog” accusations? Yes, absolutely. But to let political phobias interfere so decisively in a matter of national security is a betrayal of the office. If Albright honestly thinks the August ‘98 “camel strike” was the best America could do, it’s an even greater demonstration of her lack of vision. She was, and is, ill suited to make policy decisions for the United States.

UPDATE: Lileks has it exactly right:

“If Clinton had risen to the occasion, wiped out al-Qaeda, sent Marines to kick down the statues and put bullets in those filthy sons’ brainpans, this would be the most noble effort of our time. We would hear clear echoes of JFK’s call to bear any burden. FDR, Truman, Marshall Plan, forbearance, patience - the editorial pages of the land would absolutely brim with encouragement and optimism every damn day, because the good fight was being waged, and the right people were waging it.

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