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Revisiting History

By Dan Froomkin
1:26 PM ET, 06/ 1/2009

Former Vice President Dick Cheney keeps trying to rewrite history in a way that will reflect kindly on the Bush-Cheney administration's counter-terrorism efforts.

But history struck back as former White House counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke, writing in a Washington Post opinion piece, reminded us of what really happened after Sept. 11.

What motivated Cheney and others to advocate such extraordinarily excessive and counterproductive measures? Clarke writes:

[W]hen Bush's inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock -- a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.

I believe this zeal stemmed in part from concerns about the 2004 presidential election. Many in the White House feared that their inaction prior to the attacks would be publicly detailed before the next vote -- which is why they resisted the 9/11 commission -- and that a second attack would eliminate any chance of a second Bush term. So they decided to leave no doubt that they had done everything imaginable.

And, I would add, unimaginable.

Bush ultimately ducked a bullet when the 9/11 Commission he had opposed came out with a report in July 2004 that didn't excessively blame the administration for what had happened. As I wrote last year, that may have been at least partially thanks to the fact that the commission's executive director was close to Condoleezza Rice and exchanged frequent calls with the White House.

Clarke's piece also reminded me of investigative journalist Murray Waas's compelling and insufficiently appreciated reporting on how the Bush White House manipulated the release of intelligence and took other extreme measures to keep allegations of deception in the campaign for war in Iraq from becoming a major issue in the 2004 election. Karl Rove apparently understood that if American voters found out how Bush had intentionally misled them, the election might be lost.

Meanwhile, Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times on Sunday that Cheney "and his cohort" were once again:

using lies and fear to try to gain political advantage — this time to rewrite history and escape accountability for the failed Bush presidency rather than to drum up a new war. Once again Democrats in Congress were cowed. And once again too much of the so-called liberal news media parroted the right’s scare tactics, putting America’s real security interests at risk by failing to challenge any Washington politician carrying a big stick...

The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there’s another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone’s control well before Americans could throw the bums out.

And the Rev. Jim Wallis writes in Sojourners:

I will leave the judgment of Dick Cheney’s soul to God, who alone is in the position to render that judgment on all of us. But I will say the vision of America that Cheney offers is decidedly evil, and has helped to spread even more evil around the world. Cheney represents the dark side of America, a view of the world dominated by fear and self-righteousness—always a deadly combination. It accepts no real reflection or self-examination; the evil in the world is always external, and the threat ever present. There is only certainty, and never humility. And, when the dark side goes unchecked, what it leads to is a state of permanent warfare, which will only be won by using any means necessary, and where the ends always justify the means. At the end of his breathtaking speech, the former vice president was so full of admiration and praise for those who used “enhanced interrogation” against America’s suspected enemies that you got the impression he would happily preside over those brutal sessions himself.

Wallis, according to the New York Times, is one of the "handful of evangelical pastors" Obama consults "for private prayer sessions on the telephone and for discussions on the role of religion in politics."

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