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Benghazi Fallout Recalls 9/11 Resignations

December 20, 2012

As President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised in September, the State Department Accountability Review Board on Wednesday delivered its report on the Benghazi consulate assault which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The findings are sharply critical of the State Department, calling security at the Libyan outpost "grossly inadequate," a situation made worse by a culture of "husbanding resources."
In response, Secretary Clinton accepted all 29 of the Board's recommendations, a point echoed by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns in his Thursday testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Within hours, four high-level State Department officials were removed from their posts, including those responsible for diplomatic and embassy security.
But for Republicans in Congress and their water carriers in the right-wing blogosphere, that shake-up of what they deemed "Obama's Benghazi fall guys" is only the beginning. While Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said the State Department "failed to connect the dots," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) blasted "the massive failure of the State Department at all levels, including senior leadership, to take action to protect our government employees abroad," and lamented that no one was being held accountable. While Allen West and Fox News respectively accused the recovering Clinton of suffering from the "Benghazi flu" or a "Benghazi allergy, the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin asked::

While mid-level civil servants were forced to walk the plank, individual responsibility has yet to be assigned to Clinton, her direct reports or, of course, anyone at the White House. Why should they escape the ignominy of being identified and forced out?

She has a point. After all, everyone remembers the wave of resignations that swept the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 attacks killed 3,000 Americans on its watch.
Consider, for example, the fate of President Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice. At a transition briefing in the White House situation room during the first week of January 2001, Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger warned his successor, "I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." And on January 25, 2001, counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke (who helped lead the 1996 effort to protect the Atlanta Olympics from, among other things, threats from hijacked aircraft) handed the Bush national security team the Delenda plan for attacking Al Qaeda.
Nevertheless, On March 22, 2004, Rice took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to argue, "No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration." And in an argument she would later make repeatedly, Rice first introduced the now ubiquitous "nobody could have predicted" defense on May 16, 2002:

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile. All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking."

During her April 2004 testimony before the 9/11 Commission (testimony she initially refused to provide in public), Rice was confronted by 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben Veniste about the August 6, 2001 PDB (Presidential Daily Brief) which warned of "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." Her response?

"I believe the title was 'Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.'"

Of course, Rice wasn't fired, but promoted. Despite the 9/11 carnage which occurred on her watch and her 2002 claim that she didn't want "the smoking gun" of Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction " to be a mushroom cloud," National Security Adviser Rice became Secretary of State Rice in the second Bush administration.
CIA Director George Tenet wasn't sacked, either. Along with Iraq bunglers Paul Bremer and Tommy Franks, the Clinton-era holdover in December 2004 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As the Washington Post reported:

In the East Room of the White House, Bush said he had chosen the trio because they "played pivotal roles in great events" and made efforts that "made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty."

As the record shows, not so much. Tenet didn't merely preside over the CIA during the cataclysm of 9/11, but later claimed finding WMD in Iraq would a "slam dunk." (As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad, Bremer's disbanding of the Iraqi army and ill-advised policy of de-Baathification helped fuel the insurgency which later killed thousands of U.S. soldiers. And as we now know, General Franks refused to give the green light to send American forces to Tora Bora in December 2001, missing the opportunity to destroy Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership once and for all.) And during that critical month of August 2001, Tenet acknowledged "I was not in briefings at this time." President Bush, as he told Commissioner Tim Roemer, "was on vacation."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld didn't like to take vacations. And he preferred to work standing up, a fact which provided the rationale for his support of "stress positions" for the interrogation of terror detainees. Rumsfeld didn't merely want to do the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions on the cheap, but blasted Army General Eric Shinseki for his prediction that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundreds of thousands" of U.S. troops. It turned out to be Rumsfeld, who later declared "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time," who was "wildly off the mark."
Nevertheless, President Bush refused Secretary Rumsfeld's offers to resign after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal. As it turned out, Bush forced Rummie out only after the GOP's 2006 midterm "thumping." Still, Rumsfeld got a hero's send-off:

In an elaborate ceremony carried live on all the cable news networks, President Bush and Vice President Cheney feted the disgraced Defense Secretary with glowing words, military pomp and even a 19 gun salute. "This man knows how to lead and he did," Bush declared, "and the country is better off for it."

Then, of course, there's President Bush himself. In April 2004, a year after his invasion of Iraq and two and a half years after the loss of 3,000 people in Manhattan and at the Pentagon, the self-proclaimed "War President" announced that he couldn't think of a single mistake he had made.
That shouldn't have been surprising. After all, alerted on August 6, 2001 by a CIA briefer that Bin Laden was determined to strike in U.S., the President of the United States responded:

"All right. You've covered your ass, now."

As Americans later learned, that August 6 PDB wasn't the only warning Bush received about the likelihood of Al Qaeda attacks against the American homeland. In June 2012, the National Security Archive published a trove of 120 previously secret documents about the Al Qaeda threat in 2001. As NSA's Barbara Elias-Sanborn concluded, "I don't think the Bush administration would want to see these released." Salon's Jordan Michael Smith explained why:

Many of the documents publicize for the first time what was first made clear in the 9/11 Commission: The White House received a truly remarkable amount of warnings that al-Qaida was trying to attack the United States. From June to September 2001, a full seven CIA Senior Intelligence Briefs detailed that attacks were imminent, an incredible amount of information from one intelligence agency. One from June called "Bin-Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats" writes that "[redacted] expects Usama Bin Laden to launch multiple attacks over the coming days."

That may be one reason why the Bush administration and its GOP allies in Congress opposed the formation of the 9/11 Commission. As Trent Lott, the top Republican in the Senate put it:

"I really think there's nothing more despicable ... for someone to insinuate that the president of the United States knew there was an attack on our country that was imminent and didn't do anything about it. For us to be talking like our enemy, George W. Bush instead of Osama bin Laden, that's not right."

Despite the national security calamity that was September 11, 2001, George W. Bush was reelected. And despite the thousands of American lives extinguished in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on his watch, President Bush, Republicans tell us, "kept us safe."
Which brings us back to this week's Benghazi report and hearings. "The emerging Benghazi scandal," the conservative Powerline blog fumed Thursday, is "failing to bring to bring justice to terrorists." Of course, President Bush didn't just fail to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice; he opposed the very kind of unilateral raids against Bin Laden and high-value targets in Pakistan candidate Barack Obama promised. As Bush put it in 2002 after being pressed about his failure to take out the Al Qaeda chieftain:

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you...I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Judging by all the resignations they demanded in the wake of the September 11 disaster, he and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill weren't very concerned about accountability in his national security team, either.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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