To an extent that, in my judgment, has no precedent in American history, the contemporary Democratic party has defined itself as a party of hate. The current frenzy over the self-contradictory and in some instances patently false claims of Richard Clarke has shown the Democrats at their most vituperative.
A case in point is Paul Begala’s hysterical attack on Condoleezza Rice earlier today on CNN’s Crossfire. Begala said:
[Dr. Rice] began this week with an op-ed in “The New York Times” [Ed.–actually, the Washington Post] in which she says among other things that there was no intelligence on a plot to use airplanes.
Now we have a former FBI translator who says that’s false. She also said that the plan for al Qaeda before 9/11 included military attacks. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also under oath said, no, that was false. So she told two lies in 500 words. Can you name me two lies in Dick Clarke’s 50,000 word book? I haven’t found any.
BLACK: Most people — most people in this town, Republican and Democrat alike, believe her and trust her.
BEGALA: No, they don’t. She’s a liar. She lied twice in “The Washington Post” op-ed.
Those are, of course, very strong words–or at least, they used to be, before the Democratic Party went around the bend. Here is what Rice said in her Post article:
Through the spring and summer of 2001, the national security team developed a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda — which was expected to take years. Our 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. It focused on the crucial link between al Qaeda and the Taliban. We would attempt to compel the Taliban to stop giving al Qaeda sanctuary — and if it refused, we would have sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime.
Begala calls Rice a liar because Richard Armitage, in his testimony before the terrorism commission, “under oath said, no, that was false.” Armitage, of course, said no such thing. He never referred to Rice’s op-ed in his testimony, and was never asked whether he agreed with her account or not. Here is what he did say:
POWELL: So we discussed it with all of the experts who were in the previous administration and stayed over. We then brought in our new people. Mr. Armitage came in after 2 months. General Taylor came over after a while. A lot of people came in, and we put together a more comprehensive policy and we reached the conclusion in early September that it might come to that and we have to understand that we might have to go in and take this kind of large-scale military action if that was the only way to eliminate this threat.
ARMITAGE: The record I have of our discussions in the deputies, in the July time frame where we began to discuss actually using military measures if all the rest was not successful, that’s a long way from having a plan, a military plan, but these were things that as the secretaries indicated, we talked about, we debated, and we realized eventually we were going to have to have in our quiver.
Now, how does Armitage’s testimony (or Powell’s) prove that Rice is a liar? She said: “We would attempt to compel the Taliban to stop giving al Qaeda sanctuary — and if it refused, we would have sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime.” Powell said: “we reached the conclusion in early September that it might come to that and we have to understand that we might have to go in and take this kind of large-scale military action if that was the only way to eliminate this threat.” Armitage said: “[W]e began to discuss actually using military measures if all the rest was not successful, that’s a long way from having a plan, a military plan, but these were things that as the secretaries indicated, we talked about, we debated, and we realized eventually we were going to have to have in our quiver.”
Armitage and Powell said, in different words, the same thing as Rice: the Bush administration decided to develop a plan to use military force if al Qaeda could not otherwise be dislodged from Afghanistan. No sane person could conclude that “Armitage under oath said, no, that was false.”
Some will defend Begala on the ground that he is mentally unbalanced, and argue that his type of fanaticism does not typify the Democratic Party. But I cannot agree. Begala seems to me to be typical of the modern Democratic Party–a party that makes Joe McCarthy look calm, reasonable and scrupulous.
UPDATE: Rice’s second lie, as characterized by Begala, was “that there was no intelligence on a plot to use airplanes.” Here is what Rice actually wrote:
Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free U.S.-held terrorists. The FAA even issued a warning to airlines and aviation security personnel that “the potential for a terrorist operation, such as an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States, remains a concern.”
Begala says that, “Now we have a former FBI translator who says that’s false.” Begala is referring to Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds is not new to celebrity; in October 2002, she appeared on 60 Minutes and launched sensational criticisms of the FBI’s translation department. She claimed that her supervisor had told her to translate slowly, if at all, so that the agency’s budget would be increased. She said that many of her co-workers were incompetent, and that one of them had deliberately failed to translate important documents and tried to recruit Edmonds into a terrorist front organization; this same co-worker, according to Edmonds, threatened to kill Edmonds and her family.
Two months ago, Edmonds gave an interview to a fawning Gail Sheehy in which she repeated her allegations against the FBI, and talked about putting her story about the translators’ inefficiency and incompetence into the hands of the terrorism commission. In that interview, she also suggested that when she reported the alleged threat against her and her family to Dale Watson, then the FBI’s executive assistant director, Watson induced Turkey’s intelligence service to interrogate Edmonds’ sister in Istanbul.
The FBI fired Edmonds in 2002, and she sued the agency. Her case is now pending. She told Sheehy that when she was fired, agents told her she would be sent to prison if she hired a lawyer not approved by the agency, and that she is frequently followed by FBI agents.
Begala did not refer, however, to what Edmonds told 60 Minutes or Sheehy. Rather, he relied on an article that appeared in Salon earlier today, in which Sibel Edmonds says:
We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001. There was that much information available. Especially after reading National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [Washington Post Op-Ed on March 22] where she said, we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes. That’s an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it’s a lie…President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that’s accurate. But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand….
Several basic points should be made here. First, Edmonds is far from a reliable witness. There is considerable reason to believe, in fact, that she is a nut, and at a bare minimum, she has an enormous axe to grind. To simply assume on the basis of her statements that Condoleezza Rice is a “liar” is ridiculous.
Second, it seems extremely odd that Edmonds has never made this claim before. She became a celebrity by bashing the FBI on 60 Minutes and elsewhere, and Ed Bradley certainly would have tried to draw out any negative information she could provide about the FBI and the Bush administration. It is very hard to believe that she just forgot to mention that she had seen documents indicating that the Bureau had a warning that airplanes were to be used as weapons by Arab terrorists.
Third, Edmonds went to work for the FBI after September 11. They put her to work translating documents, and as far as the public record shows, that is all she ever did. Documents indicating a plot to use airplanes as weapons would be relevant only if they were translated before September 11; there was, we know, a large backlog of documents, wiretap intercepts and so on that were translated after that time even though they may have been collected prior to the attacks. While it is possible that Edmonds could have seen previously-translated materials, reviewing such materials was not part of her job, and she has given no explanation of how and why she allegedly came across them.
Fourth, it is not even clear to what extent Edmonds contradicts Rice. Rice said that “we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles.” It is not clear whether she meant that “we,” the White House, had received no such intelligence, or that no such report had ever been obtained by anyone in any law enforcement agency.
More fundamentally, the whole point is immaterial. Rice says that while “we” didn’t get a report on using airplanes as missiles, there was concern about possible hijackings, and the FAA issued a warning to the airlines. It is not clear what, in addition, would or could have been done if the tactic of flying planes into buildings had been foreseen. It is worth remembering that in September 2001, airports were just about the only places in the United States that had any security at all. And that security appeared to be effective; the era of airplane hijackings had ended years before, after passenger screening was introduced. The principal terror threat was considered to be truck bombings, as in Beirut, Oklahoma City, and the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. (Indeed, that continues to be true, as there is still no effective defense against such attacks.) Planners could reasonably have thought that air travel was the one area where the threat of terrorism had been effectively addressed.
In short, Begala’s characterization of Rice as a “liar” can only be seen as a manifestation of crazed partisanship, and another sign of the decline of the Democratic Party.