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“Inconvenient Facts, Far Beyond The Pale”: Crazy Nut Donald Trump Thinks George W. Bush Was President On 9/11

Last fall, Donald Trump claimed that, on September 11, 2001, thousands of Muslims cheered the fall of the World Trade Center. This vicious fiction drew the scorn of fact-checkers and social liberals but caused nary a ripple in the Republican field. But, on Saturday night, Trump said something else about 9/11, something so far beyond the pale that conservatives finally rose up in righteous indignation. He claimed that on 9/11 the president of the United States was George W. Bush.

Republicans disagree internally on aspects of Bush’s domestic legacy, but his record on counterterrorism remains a point of unified party doctrine. Bush, they agree, Kept Us Safe. To praise the president who oversaw the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history for preventing domestic terrorism is deeply weird, and the only way this makes any sense is to treat 9/11 as a kind of starting point, for which his predecessor is to blame. (Marco Rubio, rushing to Dubya’s defense at Saturday night’s Republican debate, explained, “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”) Trump not only pointed out that Bush was president on 9/11 and that the attacks that day count toward his final grade, but he also noted that Bush failed to heed intelligence warnings about the pending attack and that his administration lied to the public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Conservatives have always dismissed such notions as far-left conspiracy theorizing, often equating it with the crackpot notion that 9/11 was an inside job. The ensuing freak-out at Trump’s heresy has been comprehensive. “It turns out the front-runner for the GOP nomination is a 9/11 ‘truther’ who believes Bush knew 9/11 was going to happen but did nothing to stop it,” says Marc Thiessen, the columnist and former Bush administration speechwriter. “Moreover, Trump says, Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but lied to the American people to get us into a Middle East war.” Trump is “borrowing language from MoveOn.org and Daily Kos to advance the absurd ‘Bush lied, people died’ Iraq War narrative,” cried National Review’s David French. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol demanded that, even should Trump win the nomination, fellow Republicans refuse to “conscientiously support a man who is willing to say something so irresponsible about something so serious, for the presidency of the United States.”

In fact, Trump has not claimed that Bush had specific knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He said, “George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.” That is correct. Bush was given numerous, detailed warnings that Al Qaeda planned an attack. But the Bush administration had, from the beginning, dismissed fears about terrorism as a Clinton preoccupation. Its neoconservative ideology drove the administration to fixate on state-supported dangers — which is why it turned its attention so quickly to Iraq. The Bush administration ignored pleas by the outgoing Clinton administration to focus on Al Qaeda in 2000, and ignored warnings by the CIA to prepare for an upcoming domestic attack. The Bush administration did not want the 9/11 attacks to occur; it was simply too ideological and incompetent to take responsible steps to prevent them.

It is certainly true that Trump took his attack a step too far when he insisted the Bush administration “knew” there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. All of the evidence suggests that the Bush administration, along with intelligence agencies in other countries, believed Saddam Hussein was concealing prohibited weapons. But the evidence is also very clear that the Bush administration manipulated the evidence it had to bolster its case publicly, like police officers framing a suspect they believed to be guilty.

The cover-up was grotesquely crude. Republicans in Congress insisted that the original commission investigating the issue confine itself to faulty intelligence given to the Bush administration and steer clear of manipulation by the Bush administration itself. The report stated this clearly: “Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.” It was not until a subsequent commission that the administration’s culpability was investigated. And that commission, which became known as the “Phase II” report, found that the Bush administration did indeed mislead the public: “[T]he Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

You might think Republicans would have developed a sophisticated response, but they haven’t. Their defense for the last decade has consisted of claiming the Phase I report, which was forbidden from investigating the Bush administration, actually vindicated Bush, and ignoring the existence of the Phase II report. Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial does it again, calling the claim that Bush lied a “conspiracy theory,” which was refuted by — you guessed it — the Phase I report. (“Their report of more than 600 pages concludes that it was the CIA’s ‘own independent judgments — flawed though they were — that led them to conclude Iraq had active WMD programs.’”)

Republicans have walled inconvenient facts about the Bush administration’s security record out of their minds by associating them with crazed conspiracy theorists. It is epistemic closure at work: Criticism of Bush on 9/11 and Iraq intelligence is dismissed because the only people who say it are sources outside the conservative movement, who by definition cannot be trusted. The possibility that the Republican Party itself would nominate a man who endorses these criticisms is horrifying to them. To lose control of the party in such a fashion would be a fate far worse than losing the presidency.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 16, 2016con

February 17, 2016 Posted by | 9-11, Conservatives, Donald Trump, George W Bush | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Scandal Is In What’s Legal”: Holding Congress Accountable For National Security Agency Excesses

It didn’t generate much attention at the time, but in the closing days of 2012, while most of the political world was focused on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” Congress also had to take the time to reauthorize the government’s warrantless surveillance program. A handful of senators — Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — proposed straightforward amendments to promote NSA disclosure and add layers of accountability, but as Adam Serwer reported at the time, bipartisan majorities rejected each of their ideas.

In effect, every senator was aware of dubious NSA surveillance — some had been briefed on the programs in great detail — but a bipartisan majority was comfortable with an enormous amount of secrecy and minimal oversight. Even the most basic of proposed reforms — having the NSA explain how surveillance works in practice — were seen as overly intrusive. The vast majority of Congress was comfortable with NSA operating under what are effectively secret laws.

With this in mind, Jonathan Bernstein asked a compelling question over the weekend and provided a persuasive answer: “If you don’t like the revelations this week about what the NSA has been up to regarding your phone and Internet data, whom should you blame?”

There is, to be sure, plenty of blame to go around. The NSA has pushed the limits; federal courts approved the surveillance programs; George W. Bush got this ball rolling; President Obama kept this ball rolling; and telecoms have clearly participated in the efforts.

But save plenty of your blame — perhaps most of your blame — for Congress.

Did you notice the word I used in each of the other cases? The key word: law. As far as we know, everything that happened here was fully within the law. So if something was allowed that shouldn’t have been allowed, the problem is, in the first place, the laws. And that means Congress.

It’s worth pausing to note that there is some debate about the legality of the exposed surveillance programs. Based on what we know at this point, most of the legal analyses I’ve seen suggest the NSA’s actions were within the law, though we’re still dealing with an incomplete picture, and there are certainly some legal experts who question whether the NSA crossed legal lines.

But if the preliminary information is accurate, it’s hard to overstate how correct Bernstein is about congressional culpability.

Towards the end of the Bush/Cheney era, there was a two-pronged debate about surveillance. On the one hand, there were questions about warrantless wiretaps and NSA data mining. On the other, there was the issue of the law: the original FISA law approved in 1978 was deemed by the Bush administration to be out of date, so officials chose to circumvent it, on purpose, to meet their perceived counter-terrorism needs.

In time, bipartisan majorities in Congress decided not to hold Bush/Cheney accountable, and ultimately expanded the law to give the executive branch extraordinary and unprecedented surveillance powers.

In theory, Obama could have chosen a different path after taking office in 2009, but the historical pattern is clear: if Congress gives a war-time president vast powers related to national security, that president is going to use those powers. The wiser course of action would be the legislative branch acting to keep those powers in check — limiting how far a White House can go — but our contemporary Congress has chosen to do the opposite.

This is, by the way, a bipartisan phenomenon — lawmakers in both parties gave Bush expansive authority in this area, and lawmakers in both parties agreed to keep these powers in Obama’s hands. What’s more, they not only passed these measures into law, they chose not to do much in the way of oversight as the surveillance programs grew.

OK, but now that the NSA programs are causing national controversies again, perhaps Congress will reconsider these expansive presidential powers? Probably not — on the Sunday shows, we heard from a variety of lawmakers, some of whom expressed concern about the surveillance, but most of whom are prepared to allow the programs continue untouched.

Indeed, for many lawmakers on the right, the intended focus going forward won’t be on scaling back NSA efforts, but rather, will be on targeting the leaks that exposed the NSA efforts.

Conservatives, in particular, seem especially eager to leave these powers in the president’s hands — even though they have nothing but disdain for this particular president. And as Jon Chait explained, support for the NSA programs from the right will matter a great deal: “The Republican response is crucial, because it determines whether the news media treats the story as a ‘scandal’ or as a ‘policy dispute.'”

Michael Kinsley, referencing campaign-finance laws, once argued that in Washington, the scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal. I’ve been thinking a lot about this adage in recent days.

If the reports are accurate and the NSA is acting within the law, but you nevertheless consider the surveillance programs outrageous, there is one remedy: Congress needs to redraw the legal lines. At least for now, the appetite for changes among lawmakers appears limited, which only helps reinforce the thesis about who’s ultimately responsible for this mess.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2013

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“If War Is Hell, What Is Perpetual War?”: The Question That Lindsey Graham Should Be Asked Every Day

I’ve been staring at Sen. Lindsey’s Graham’s comments yesterday from Fox News Sunday, when he criticized the president’s big counter-terrorism speech, and wondering what it would take to satisfy him that it’s time to declare the Global War On Terrorism over?

At a time we need resolved the most, we are sounding retreat. Our enemies are emboldened all over the planet. Al Qaeda in Iraq is coming back with vengeance, in Libya together. Our friends are uncertain. Syria is falling apart. We are talking about helping the rebels but doing nothing about it. Iran is marching toward a nuclear weapon….

At the end of the day, this is the most tone deaf president I’ve ever — could imagine and making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be — attacked literally every day.

So are the only alternatives for the United States a world free of threats or perpetual war? That would seem to be Graham’s essential argument. And what a forfeiture of national sovereignty he calls for, if we are prohibited from adjusting our national security strategy and returning to a normal constitutional regime so long as one “emboldened” enemy or “uncertain” friend might notice!

The habit, carried over from the Cold War, of waging undeclared wars fought under hazy international and domestic auspices is dangerous enough. The idea that anything other than a permanent war footing invites disaster is an extension of the Cold War “Peace Through Strength” doctrine that in fact rules out peace.

If, as Sherman rightly said, “War is hell!”–then what kind of existence do advocates of perpetual war propose for us? It’s a question that Lindsey Graham should be asked to ponder every time he objects to even the smallest steps away from fear and hysteria.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 27, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“History Advises And Democracy Demands”: Why President Obama Is Right To Limit The Authorization Of Military Force Against Terrorists

On CNN’s State of the Union this morning, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, attacked President Obama for calling for the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be rolled back — a topic the Senate Armed Services Committee recently held a related hearing on. According to McCaul, when President Obama “calls for repeal” of this Authorization, he risks taking away America’s “counterterrorism footprint to respond to the future bin Ladens of the world.”

It is not accurate to claim that Obama wants to strip the United States of its power to fight terrorism, or to imply that he wants to repeal the AUMF right away. Here are President Obama’s exact words regarding this authorization of force:

I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

So Obama does want to reshape the AUMF, but his immediate plans do not include repeal. They include recognizing the substantial gains America has made towards crippling al Qaeda and developing a legal framework that makes sense in light of that reality — one that will still enable us to fight terrorists without relying on the very broad powers granted by the AUMF.

There should be little question that the current AUMF is too broad. Enacted by reeling lawmakers in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and signed into law just one week after those attacks, the AUMF gives the president sweeping authority to identify and target terrorist threats with little or any external checks on this authority. In the AUMF’s words, “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

As a constitutional matter, the president’s powers are at their apex when he acts pursuant to an express grant of authority from the Congress. As Justice Robert Jackson famously explained, the validity of a president’s actions made pursuant to congressional authorization are entitled to the “strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.” Accordingly, there are minimal limits on what President Obama — or any future president — may do within the bounds of the AUMF’s text. The president may unilaterally determine that a family in Pakistan once harbored an al Qaeda leader, and then bring America’s military might to bear against this family. Such breathtaking power may have seemed appropriate in September of 2001, when the nation was still in mourning and the scope of the threat facing us was still unclear, but it is not an appropriate power to permanently place in the hands of a single person.

The Obama Administration, for its part, imposed its own limits on when it will invoke this power to kill a suspected terrorist. Among them, “[t]he policy of the United States is not to use lethal force when it is feasible to capture a terrorist suspect,” there must be “[n]ear certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed,” and lethal force will be used “only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons” (although it’s worth noting that the administration has also defined the word “imminent” broadly in the past). But it is not at all clear that the Constitution requires future presidents to abide by these limits, and unlikely that any court would step in to enforce them absent a significant change in federal law. As a practical matter, this administration’s rules probably just function as limits the Obama Administration places on itself so long as it chooses to abide by them.

So, ultimately, the question Congress needs to ask is whether the permanent scope of presidential war-making power should be fixed by the immediate response of a wounded nation struck by an unprecedented attack with no ability to determine right away whether a series of similar attacks would soon follow. Should President Hillary Clinton have this sweeping power? How about President Ted Cruz?

Or, alternatively, should Congress recognize that the world has changed for the better in the last 12 years? Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is far weaker than it was in 2001. American law should recognize this reality.

 

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, May 26, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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