"Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn't do any good if you lose." -- Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff, 1976.
DETROIT -- The Bush-Cheney crowd embraces the principle of no principle as they abandon claims of executive privilege in a flash when new polls show most Americans believe George W. Bush is hiding what he knew before Sept. 11.
Karl Rove, the president's political brain, decided that a "certain point" had been reached and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 Commission in an attempt to use political theater to help revive Bush's sagging credibility on the very issue that was supposed to sweep him to easy re-election.
All that rhetoric we've heard from the Bushites about separation of powers, the important constitutional principle at stake, and the need for the president to keep the advice of his senior staff always confidential -- forget about it! We have an election to win.
That Cheney-in-a-nutshell quote comes from John Dean, the man who blew the lid off Richard Nixon's crimes and is the author of a new book, "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush."
As Nixon's White House counsel, Dean was a partner in the Watergate cover-up, and knew the intimacies of a secrecy-obsessed, retribution-ready administration that would do just about anything to survive, and the nation and principle be damned.
Dean sees Bush and Cheney as greater threats to the country than the Nixon crowd, and remember, those political thugs, including Dean, went to prison. Dean sees Cheney as a Rasputin, always behind the scenes, having great visions, whispering into ears and controlling events with his unprincipled manipulation and ability to easily distort the truth to serve his own agenda.
Dean sees Cheney as a de facto "co-president" who skillfully handles the less-experienced and pitifully incurious George W. In an interview in "Salon" online magazine, Dean describes how it works. "Cheney is quietly guiding this administration. Cheney knows how to play Bush so that Cheney is absolutely no threat to him, makes him feel he is president, but Bush can't function without a script, or without Cheney," John Dean says. "Bush is head of state; Cheney is head of government."
The decision for Cheney and Bush to appear together before the 9/11 Commission underscores that truth. Imagine, the President of the United States needs a minder to hold his hand while he testifies about what he knew and did about the terrorist attacks -- the event, he says, that defines his presidency.
Certainly, they want to try to keep their conflicting stories straight, but we should all shudder at the thought that the president's handlers can't trust him, even in private, to speak for himself and say what he knows without sitting on the vice president's lap. It's a chilling reminder of what little confidence there is in his solo performances and that, the last time Bush was left alone, he choked on a pretzel.
Cheney has achieved what he wanted with the 9/11 Commission -- creating the perception that it's just a contrived political forum in an election year, another partisan Washington tussle with little substance. The corporate media, led by the cable news networks, is dutifully following that line.
The record of Bush-Cheney in getting to the truth of their handling of the terrorist threat must be viewed in a broader context. Here's the simple 9/11 Commission primer. Bush and Cheney opposed it from the git-go, arguing that there was no need for an independent investigation into the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
Cheney threatened that those in Congress who would dare "press the issue" would be accused of interfering with the war on terrorism. Smears that Cheney himself would he happy to hurl.
The administration wanted an inquiry by Congress, where people like Tom DeLay would be happy to keep the lid on anything embarrassing. That worked for a while, but then, yielding to great pressure from the families of the Sept. 11 victims, the Bushites did a flip-flop, agreeing with great reluctance to create the commission.
Now the trick was to control the panel. First, they appointed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to chair the commission. When you want the truth buried, Kissinger's your man. That lasted for about a week, until Kissinger withdrew after he was told he'd have to reveal the names of all the foreign governments his consulting firm represents. Despots in China and Saudi Arabia breathed sighs of relief.
The former Republican governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean then got the job. He's a decent, honorable man, but, by his own admission, unfamiliar with the Byzantine ways of Washington. He actually believed, for a while, that the administration sincerely wanted to cooperate with the commission.
The Bushites had already installed Philip Zelikow as executive director of the commission, assuring nothing the panel did would cross the White House. Incredibly, Zelikow was Condoleezza Rice's former deputy and he served on the Bush transition team when, as Richard Clarke has testified, vital information about the imminent threat of an al-Qaeda attack was relayed to Rice and her staff and they did little with it.
Zelikow's appointment affirmed once again a principle Bush-Cheney always cling to: There is no such thing as a conflict of interest. The commission's work went on, with the administration stonewalling nearly every attempt the panel made to get information and testimony.
Federal agencies stalled whenever they could, and the commission had to issue subpoenas to force the release of information. Those delaying tactics put the commission way behind schedule and it had to struggle to get just a little more time to try to do a thorough job.
Bush initially said he would give just one hour of his precious time to the commission to answer questions about how he handled intelligence pre-Sept. 11 and how he responded to the attacks.
On any given day, George W. spends several hours playing video games, watching ESPN and exercising -- but he could only spare one hour for the commission. The administration now says it might be a little more flexible on the time issue and, since Cheney will be doing all the talking, what the hell.
The commission requested national security documents from the Clinton administration, and the former president said, sure. But first, as the law requires, the White House had to review the information.
Last week, commission members learned from a Clinton aide, not the Bush administration, that three-quarters of the 11,000 pages of material Clinton provided had been withheld. A White House spokesman insisted the documents were duplicative and not relevant to the commission's work. The commission members obviously could not be trusted to make that judgment themselves.
Those naive souls who believe Bush has cooperated with the commission and wants the American people to "know the truth" about the terrorist attacks still must buy his line that he's restoring "honor and dignity" to the White House.
While Bush fights to make the case that he did react vigorously to warnings about the threat of al-Qaeda terrorists attacks, his accounts of what happened on Sept. 11 are filled with gaps and inconsistencies.
Revelations about these details, while less serious than the policy flaws and failure to respond to intelligence warnings, show how intent the Bush crowed is on creating myth.
The Wall Street Journal debunked a whole series of yarns the White House created and propagated about what the president did that terrible day. The president never, as he claimed, saw the first plane actually hitting the World Trade Center on TV while he was sitting with children in a Florida classroom. Never happened. That film was never broadcast until later.
Bush's timelines are also way off the mark and the 9/11 Commission is learning the truth. After the attacks, Bush said, "One of my first acts was to put our military on alert." Not so, reports the Journal. A Pentagon general had already done that.
Recall the story that Bush did not return to Washington right away because there was a threat that the terrorists were targeting Air Force One itself. Another flattering myth, and one of many other distorted episodes, as the Journal reports, suggesting that, "despite intense attention paid to Sept. 11, public understanding of that day -- how government officials responded, what went smoothly and what didn't -- remains shrouded in confusion and misunderstanding." And that's just the way Cheney and Bush want it.
This week the political stage will belong to Condoleezza Rice as she brings her favorite prop, a Gatling gun of confusion and obfuscation, before the 9/11 Commission. Her stage performance will be thoroughly choreographed and rehearsed, and she's not likely to say anything new or beyond what she's said on the talk show circuit.
What we already know about her tells us plenty. She tried to sell another contribution to Sept. 11 mythology, claiming that no one "could have predicted that they would use a hijacked airplane as a missile."
When she appeared privately before the commission, Rice quickly backpedaled from that wild untruth. Why did she say it in the first place?
A former translator for the FBI, Sibel Edmunds, tells the British Independent newspaper she provided information for the 9/11 Commission showing that senior Bush administration officials "knew of al-Qaeda's plans to attack the U.S. with aircraft months before the strikes happened."
A Turkish-American who speaks several Middle Eastern languages, Edmunds says she told the commission about specific information circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 pointing to an attack just months away with the terrorists already in place. She says Condoleezza Rice's claim that there was no such information is "an outrageous lie."
Rice will try to focus on discrediting Richard Clarke and downplaying the warnings and advice he provided her and will attempt to explain why she and her colleagues failed to act on his plans to attack al-Qaeda until nine months after they received his recommendations.
But Rice got another serious warning that should have gotten her attention and action, but didn't. Former senator Gary Hart, a Democrat from Colorado, says he told Rice clearly: The terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming.
Hart was co-chair of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security that completed its work on Jan. 31, 2001, just after Bush's inauguration.
Hart and other commission members briefed Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice on the urgent need to protect the nation from a devastating terrorist attack, which the panel concluded was imminent.
Four months later, in a news conference, President Bush said he wanted all the commission's national security recommendations put on hold and that he was turning all matters relating to a terrorist threat over to Dick Cheney.
Hart tells "Salon" magazine, "The president did nothing!" Later Hart made another impassioned plea to Condi Rice to "get going on homeland security." She promised Hart she would "talk to the vice president about it." That was on Sept. 6, 2001.
Bush, Cheney and Rice each could say: We should have listened. We could have done more.
But that would require accountability, a principle Dick Cheney cautions us "doesn't do any good if you lose."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||April 6 2004|