An important article…. An important article in the Sunday New York Times presents a long, detailed and I would say generally mixed picture of the Bush administration's handling of mounting threats of a major terrorist attack during the spring and summer of 2001.
The article makes clear that the quickening pace of threat warnings was far greater and more ominous than we've been led to believe.
“The warnings during the summer,” says the article, “were more dire and more specific than generally recognized.” And it provides numerous — often chilling — examples to demonstrate that fact.
The White House was tracking the warnings and took some steps to prepare for or possibly head off an attack. But the effort was scattered and uncoordinated and seemed to diminish in urgency and attention after a White House meeting in early July.
The plans for a renewed push against al Qaida — which the administration has repeatedly called attention to — were there. But there was apparently little sense of urgency behind them, especially when judged against the escalating threat level. And they were not as robust or militarily-focused as administration officials have led us to believe.
There's a lot in this article to digest. I'd say it provides a decent amount of ammunition for both sides of the debate, though the general picture is one of a White House giving only episodic attention to the escalating threats while focusing on other administration concerns like missile defense. Critics of the White House will point to the more intense focus given to the terrorist warnings around the turn of the millenium — which Clarke himself has repeatedly noted.
I suspect the follow-on to this article will focus on who the prime movers were in taking the actions that were taken. Was it Clarke and folks like him trying, only half-successfully, to get terrorism on to the front burner? Or were Rice, Hadley and others themselves the ones pushing for the attention the threats did receive? The article seems particularly unclear on these points.
One point to keep in mind, though: the article's heavy reliance on unnamed administration officials in reconstructing the story of what happened in those crucial months. It will be interesting to see how the picture they paint holds up in the questioning of Condi Rice and the articles and further analyses that are certain to follow.
Keep in mind too that Rice's job as National Security Advisor is to coordinate the various national security related departments and agencies to deal with immediate and long-term threats. And on that count, if only in an organizational sense, the article paints a poor picture of the job she did. [Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall]