I have quickly read through many posts above, and clearly I am entering this debate at a late hour. So here I will try to avoid repeating too many of the arguments that were raised above and instead concentrate on two issues which I think deserve separate consideration but that you appear to want to lump together. These are: Who is to blame for 9/11? Is the Bush Doctrine a better policy for fighting terrorism than the Clinton Doctrine (for want of a better term).
Yes, that’s definitely the $64,000 question. Let’s assume for the moment that Gore would have done the same thing as Bush in Afghanistan (under the doctrine); the issue then becomes Iraq.
Despite my reply, I am not saying Bush is entirely to blame for 9/11. I was trying to be provocative and I am glad it achieved that purpose. What I am challenging, and what I do not think you can prove, is the charge imbedded in your argument that places the majority of the blame on 9/11 on Clinton.
You’re off here; If I meant to blame Clinton, I would have blamed Clinton. In the 10 years before 2001, we had three presidents, Bush, Clinton, Bush (hold the jokes, please). I’ll say that all three share blame.
Even though later you state that you think the proportion may be equal, based on many of your other comments I’m not sure you really believe this. And the reason why I am accusing you of this is because I will argue that the belief that Clinton was primarily responsible for 9/11 is a critical tenet of the Bush Doctrine, and without using this argument evidence supporting the utility or purpose of the Bush Doctrine is sorely lacking.
Why not accept that I mean what I say, rather than presume? I do think that pre-9/11 policies – which are typically, and probably unfairly, called ‘Clinton policies’ are the problem; and that GW Bush’s policies do represent a break with that tradition – which I’ll argue is a good thing, given the effect of the policies.
My belief that the majority of the blame for 9/11 falls on Bush is based on the testimony of Richard Clarke under oath, George Bush (interview with Bob Woodward for his book), and Condi Rice (many TV interviews). It is based on the growing realization that Bush downgraded terrorism as a priority after he took office. It is based on the fact that it happened on Bush’s watch. And his failure to admit responsibility for the act but instead blaming it on Clinton is part of my concern (as you put it, a “Buck Stops Here” point), because it calls into serious question Mr. Bush’s ability to look at the situation more objectively and critically evaluate what might have gone wrong. An important component of fighting the GWOT is to figure out what happened; Bush has put up roadblocks at every turn. To suggest this is a “distraction” is equivalent to saying that our leaders do not have to explain their actions to the public.
Can you point me to cites that support this broad conclusion? (Both that antiterrorism was Clinton’s highest priority and that Bush objectively downgraded it?) All I have are budget numbers that suggest that Bush was spending a lot more money on it.
This evidence is convincing to me and suggests that rather than simply carrying Clinton’s policy forward, as you argue, Bush actually relaxed the policy because perhaps it wasn’t “grand” enough (“weather” vs. “climate”, as you put it). To follow this forward, then, it can be argued that his failure to support the Clinton Doctrine could have led to what is now regarded by some as its biggest failure—9/11.
OK, your suggestion is that 9/11 was a failure of execution; mine is that it was a doctrinal failure. My evidence is relatively simple; in the face of a fairly well-executed set of responses – under the old ‘Clinton’ doctrine – terrorist attacks against US interests continued and in fact escalated from 1980 onward.
I therefore do not accept 9/11 as de facto evidence against Clinton’s approach, and I think it is nearly impossible to prove otherwise given the many uncertainties surrounding the planning and execution of the attack (e.g., how can we be sure it wasn’t scheduled to occur during Clinton’s administration?).
Well, given that 9/11 is the culmination of a ling string of attacks escalating in intensity, sophistication, and damage, I think I do have a kind of a case. I’m open, as always, to counters.
You seem to think you have a better grasp of the workings of our intelligence/law enforcement bureaucracy than I do, which is very likely true, but never-the-less it remains a distinct possibility that, yes, perhaps 9/11 could have been prevented by Bush if he brought the full resources of government to bear on the threats he was being made aware of in his briefings.
In retrospect, history is always pretty obvious. The problem, of course, is that we have to live it in prospect. If we took all the threats on the ‘threat board’ in the Summer of 2001, and devoted the full attention and resources of the government to each of them…we’d have run out of attention and resources when we got to #2.
And aside from 9/11 (and if blame is 50:50 as you argue, we should remove it from consideration for the sake of argument), what is your evidence that the Clinton Doctrine was an “obvious” failure?
Because a theory based on one data point is not a theory but a case study, and clearly basing policy—let alone a “doctrine”— on such flimsy evidence is highly dubious, to say the least.
WTC I, WTC II, USS Cole, Khobar Towers, U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam…I count 6 data points, and could probably find more if I looked.
If it is that worldwide terrorism has been escalating without repercussion during the “10-years” prior to 9/11, how do you know it wouldn’t have been worse without his policies? This is not evidence, it is conjecture. And how would you judge the recent escalation in worldwide terrorism in this regard, as a failure of the “Bush Doctrine”?
A damn intelligent question. I’ll suggest that you look at this very good paper on “wicked problems” in national security. My old professor, Horst Rittel, who came up with the notion, had these characteristics for wicked (as opposed to ‘tame’) problems:
Some specific aspects of problem wickedness include:
1. You don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of “The Problem.” The problem is ill-structured, an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.
2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. Since there is no definitive “The Problem”, there is also no definitive “The Solution.” The problem solving process ends when you run out of resources.
3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong, simply “better,” “worse,” “good enough,” or “not good enough.”
4. Every wicked problem is essentially unique and novel. There are so many factors and conditions, all embedded in a dynamic social context, that no two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted.
5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation,” every attempt has consequences. As Rittel says, “One cannot build a freeway to see how it works.” This is the “Catch 22″ about wicked problems: you can’t learn about the problem without trying solutions, but every solution you try is expensive and has lasting unintended consequences which are likely to spawn new wicked problems.
6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions. There may be no solutions, or there may be a host of potential solutions that are devised, and another host that are never even thought of.
I think this pretty well defines the place we’re in in solving these problems, and so I’ll have to kinda push back on your suggestion that we can somehow model ‘what-ifs’ in this case.
Finally, I am honestly baffled by repeated assertions that a major problem with Clinton’s approach was that it treated terrorism as a crime, rather than an act of war. Everyone felt this way prior to 9/11, this is, was, and should be a legitimate concern of our leaders.
Yes, as I’ve noted before, pretty much everyone prior to 9/11 felt this way; Bush is making a claim that he felt differently (hence his desire for a different strategy, and possibly, Clarke’s removal), but that’s unproven as well. What is proven is that he acted differently after 9/11.
Making the leap to a policy of pre-emption as Bush did so rapidly and without careful thought on the implementation or repercussions is in some way worse than not doing anything, IMO. As I said before, the idea of pre-emption puts us on extremely shaky moral ground, since it places an unrealistic and unachievable burden on the prosecutors (the US government). This therefore leads to an indefensible assertion of moral superiority on the part of the prosecutors, since it is essentially a policy substantiated by faith, not proof. And I would argue that Bush’s failure to recognize this flaw in policy has in fact dealt it perhaps a fatal blow, since the failure to find WMDs in Iraq does not inspire faith in US intelligence or Bush’s sincerity.
Well, if you have problems making a moral distinction between us and the Islamist terrorists, or Saddam, this is gonna be a short discussion. I have no problems making that judgment, and think the evidence for it is obvious enough that it doesn’t merit much discussion.
As for the general idea behind the Bush Doctrine, I think there is an exceptionally strong argument to be made against the idea that the “war on terra” should be focused primarily on state-sponsored groups. In glancing through the posts above I noticed that Fareed Zakaria’s name popped up, so I presume Zakaria’s recent argument (which I have read and agree with) against this view has been presented. I know that a lot of “evidence” has been cited that could be interpreted as support for the idea that this policy has made some changes in the way some states operate WRT terrorism. But whether this has any significant impact on the GWOT is, IMO, highly unlikely. It’s still “whack a mole”, but the moles are states, not individuals or small groups. Only time will tell if this has a more global effect, but claims that it will are just fortune telling. However, it strikes me and many other observers that the long term prognosis is much worse, not better, and that the global climate for generating terrorists is as good or better than it has ever been, thanks to Bush.
I’m glad you at least acknowledge that there may be evidence that it’s working; I’ll take that as an opening. I’ll get to the ‘observer effect’ in a later post.
The big gaping hole in the Bush Doctrine, as I’ve said here before, is the seeming indifference to domestic security. Contrary to Dan’s prior comments, there is a lot that can be done to better defend ourselves against terrorism at home, to better prepare to deal with the outcome of attacks so that there severity is minimized, and we are not doing anywhere near enough in this regard.
I actually completely agree with you. Sadly, I think the Democratic notions of how to better implement domestic security are equally stupid; I owe Bruce Schnier a review of his excellent (if too-casually written) book on the subject.
So in sum I completely reject as unverifiable the idea that Clintons’ policies were a failure, and that Bush’s policies are the necessary alternative. Perhaps you, and most Americans, want a simply articulated “Doctrine” that can be summed up in one or two sentences. I am comfortable with a more comprehensive approach that fully takes into account the complexities and magnitude of the terrorist threat and is not based on faith, predictions or some biased or outdated view of world events. And I want my leaders to acknowledge these uncertainties and complexities; if they don’t, they are not fighting terrorism, they are running a political campaign.
Sadly, the Clinton approach is equally subject to ‘faith’ and lack of verifiability. I’m kind of amused that you’d suggest otherwise; no foreign policy – or in fact no policy at a scale larger than neighborhood planning – is ‘objectively verifiable’. It’s all contingent, it’s all based on faith and the best data and judgment we can gather.
I’ve criticized Bush in the past for not doing enough to build that faith, and I’ll continue to do so. But your lack of faith isn’t completely his fault.