A Request … I’m working on a couple different non-TPM projects at the moment. So I want to enlist your assistance.
Administration appointees and spokespeople are hitting the airwaves today like a motley medieval army — little clear organization or discipline, just everyone running on to the field at once and hacking away as best they can.
(Along the lines of little discipline, note the contradictory nature of the attacks. In some, we did everything Clarke wanted; in others, he was out of the loop. Hard to figure both are true. It’s scattershot because they’re desparate and don’t have the facts on their side.)
Many of these folks are saying things that are either demonstrably false or highly debatable. We noted one example in the former category from Vice President Cheney’s appearance earlier today on Rush Limbaugh. (You can measure the Veep’s confidence in his ability to face any amount of serious questioning by the fact that he decided to go on air with Limbaugh on this.)
In the latter category is this response of Paul Wolfowitz to Clarke’s charges. The clip is from Newsweek …
In the meeting, says Clarke, Wolfowitz cited the writings of Laurie Mylroie, a controversial academic who had written a book advancing an elaborate conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Clarke says he tried to refute Wolfowitz. “We’ve investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that,” Clarke recalls saying. “It was Al Qaeda. It wasn’t Saddam.” A spokesman for Wolfowitz describes Clarke’s account as a “fabrication.” Wolfowitz always regarded Al Qaeda as “a major threat,” says this official.
So Wolfowitz says this account is a ‘fabrication’. <$Ad$>I wonder what part. There’s no way from the outside to know whether this particular exchange took place. But it’s no secret that Wolfowitz was a major booster of Mylroie’s work. I believe he even blurbed one of her books. So it’s certainly not implausible that such an interchange could have occurred.
Then the spokesperson says Wolfowitz always regarded al Qaida as a “major threat.” Is that true? He certainly didn’t have that reputation. He was seen as an Iraq hawk and advocate of various other generally hawkish positions. But not someone heavily invested in the al Qaida issue. Indeed, Clarke’s description of his relative lack of interest in al Qaida seems very plausible.
To test my hypothesis I went to the Nexis database and tried this search: “wolfowitz w/100 bin laden”. That is, all instances where Wolfowitz’s name comes up within one hundred words of ‘bin laden’. I set the date range between January 1st, 1980 and September 10th, 2001.
I got 14 hits. By way of contrast, when I plugged in Richard Clarke’s name I got 48, with Sandy Berger, 502.
Of those fourteen, five were actually misdated articles from after 9/11. Others were just cases where his name came up in proximity to bin Laden’s but in which there was no connection.
There seemed to be only two instances where his name actually came up in relation to bin Laden’s. One was an article in which Richard Holbrooke was questioning the Bush administration’s and Wolfowitz’s zeal for national missile defense.
Holbrooke questioned that threat to Washington, charging that the plan is ”almost a religious matter” for the Bush administration.
”We have to ask ourselves, in what way are we really threatened?” he said. ”It’s people like (Saudi militant) Osama bin Laden who are dangerous, and they have no long-range missiles.”
The other is a case in which Wolfowitz was being interviewed about missile defense …
JACO: Dr. Wolfowitz, who is missile defense aimed to protect against? Is it the Chinese? Is it the so-called rogue states like Iraq, Iran, North Korea? Is it a freelance terrorist like Osama bin Laden who might have an ICBM? Who is this particularly a defense against?
WOLFOWITZ: Well, we’re talking about defenses against missiles of a variety of ranges and I’ll give you a real example that’s out of history, in fact I think you were in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm yourself and you saw what even those limited Iraqi Scud missiles were able to do. They almost succeeded in dragging Israel into the war actively, which would have changed the whole character of the war. The single worst hit we took during the war was when a single Scud missile hit a barracks in Dhahran.
That’s a real-world threat from 10 years ago that today is much worse in the Korean Peninsula than anything we encountered in the Gulf. Hopefully we have Saddam Hussein lower down now, but it’s a threat we could face in the future in the Gulf either from Iraq or Iran.
Then there’s a, sort of, intermediate-range threat which begins to target the capitals of our key allies and some of our bases in places like Japan or Turkey or Europe.
Finally, there’s the longer-range threat which could attack the United States.
And hostile countries like North Korea are working at all ranges. The North Koreans have already deployed a lot of missiles of the short-range, Scud type, and a pretty large number we think of the intermediate range. And we think they’re working, and within five to 10 years will have a capability to target the United States.
We’re trying to get our ability to defend against those threats out in front of the threats, and we aren’t yet there. We’re still just a year away from deploying an answer to that Scud missile that we dealt with 10 years ago.
But with this acceleration of the program that President Bush has directed, I think we can catch up.
Nothin’ about OBL from Wolfowitz.
These are the only two cases where Wolfowitz’s name comes up in relation to bin Laden. And I think it’s fair to say that both show a lack of interest in this threat rather than the presence of it.
In other words, my quick-and-dirty search didn’t generate one case where Wolfowitz discussed bin Laden as a threat at all — though I’m sure he must have mentioned him at some point.
You might say that the comparisons with Clarke and Berger are unfair since they were in government and Wolfowitz wasn’t. But when I swapped bin Laden’s name for ‘Saddam’ in my search, I got 546 hits, and well over 400 of them were from after he left government in 1993.
Now, I grant that this is a pretty crude way to measure how Wolfowitz judged the al Qaida threat prior to 9/11. But I think it’s pretty suggestive too. And it does match up with what I think can only be called the consensus opinion about what Wolfowitz focused on.
Now, back to my request.
Since Nexis searching is a crude measure, I’d like to know if any readers can point me to pre-9/11, published references to Wolfowitz stating his belief that al Qaida was a “major threat.” Doesn’t have to be that phrase of course. Just any reference that would back up the present claim.
More generally, and this is the real request, there are a lot of White House appointees and surrogates hitting the airwaves bashing Clarke, many of which are making willfully deceptive claims or simply lying.
Sixty or seventy thousand people come to this site every week day. That should be more than enough eyes to monitor all the relevant chat shows. If you find instances where you think someone is pulling a Cheney and especially if you can point me to a transcript or an online replay, I’d be greatly obliged if you can send it my way.