The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Speaking of alternative realities, my weekly fix of Frank Rich got off to a chuckle with his mention of "the new right-wing noise machine" (and "crackpot hit squad") Keep America Safe, "invented by Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz and the inevitable William Kristol." If Kristol were on The Simpsons he'd be Troy McClure, the man you may remember from such brands as Ahmed Chalabi and Sarah Palin. (Ironically, you may not remember Troy McClure, since he was retired in 1998 after the death of the actor who provided his voice, Phil Hartman. If only Billy Kristol had retired as graciously when his last useful idea—you tell me—gave up the ghost.)

"This McCarthyism has not advanced nearly so far as the original brand. Among those who have called out Keep America Safe for its indecent impugning of honorable Americans' patriotism are Kenneth Starr, Lindsey Graham and former Bush administration lawyers in the conservative Federalist Society. When even the relentless pursuer of Monicagate is moved to call a right-wing jihad 'out of bounds,' as Starr did in this case, that's a fairly good indicator that it's way off in crazyland."

Rich points out that the program extends beyond rewriting history for fun and profit, it's also about legacy. Given the disasters we're likely to be digging out of for some time, this is preemptive plausible deniability: "If any of these national security theaters goes south, those in the Rove-Cheney cohort will claim vindication in their campaign to pin their own failings on their successors." They'll no doubt claim credit for having laid the groundwork for any future success as well.

Rich provided the link to Jon Stewart's interview with the oleaginous Marc Thiessen from last Tuesday; we'd watched the edited broadcast version, with Thiessen's closing complaint about not getting a chance to speak his piece... during the interview and airtime to flog his book. What, he was expecting softball comedy? In the 10+ minutes that aired, he spoke for about 4½ minutes, including 10% of his time to whine about not being able to make his points.

As promised, Stewart has the full interview online, in three parts, more than half an hour, an extremely generous piece of publicity for a guy whose views he disagrees with (and for the good reasons Stewart expressed over the course of the 50-50 interview).

Thiessen talked about "millions of people held in the United States as enemy combatants in a time of war," and I'm trying to think when it was in history that we had war prisoners on that scale (let alone had them on home soil). The Revolutionary War? 1812? Eliminating the native populations from the "New World"? The Civil War? WWI? II? Never mind that it was the Bush administration legal team that came up with the "enemy combatant" category, to mean unlawful enemy combatants, primarily, and along with the idea of having an official U.S. prison that wasn't really in the U.S. because it was in Cuba, so the Constitution wouldn't apply. The Supreme Court rejected that argument.

Discussing "the habeus campaign" (otherwise known as the legal challenge against the Bush administration's attempt to do away with a principle of justice that has been established for seven hundred years, ending with the administration losing the Hamdan case before the Supreme Court, too), Thiessen is happy to presume detainees are guilty for not just past acts, but also for what they're going to do in the future: "even though we know that they may go out and..." We know that they may? And then a moment later, he changed it to "are," as in "even though we know they are going to go out and commit further terrorist acts."

It's a slippery slope, and we've slid a long way down it when a speechwriter presumes to read minds and adjudicate future guilt. The thesis that we've "stopped terrorism" is not only bizarre and factually wrong, it's dangerous. It's dangerous to have people like Karl Rove and Liz Cheney and Marc Thiessen sucking up airtime and spouting nonsense to a credulous public, arguing that we can secretly pick and choose which laws to obey and make ourselves safer in the process.

"It's demonstrably true that these techniques led to intelligence that stopped terrorist attacks that we would have probably... that we would very likely have been hit..." Thiessen said.

It all depends on the meaning of "it." Back to Frank Rich:

"The most devastating terrorist attack on American soil did happen during Bush’s term, after the White House repeatedly ignored what the former C.I.A. director, George Tenet, called the 'blinking red' alarms before 9/11. It was the Bush defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who lost bin Laden in Tora Bora, not the Obama Justice Department appointees vilified by Keep America Safe. It was Bush and Cheney, with the aid of Rove's propaganda campaign, who promoted sketchy and often suspect intelligence about Saddam's imminent 'mushroom clouds.' The ensuing Iraq war allowed those who did attack us on 9/11 to regroup in Afghanistan and beyond—and emboldened Iran, an adversary with an actual nuclear program."

The capper is that Ahmed Chalabi (who "receives not a single mention in Rove's memoir," conveniently) is still out there connecting dots, holding meetings in Iran and pulling strings to disqualify candidates for Iraq's recent elections.

Tom von Alten

I first put this piece up in my blog on March 14, 2010.