Dereliction of Truth?


While perusing Daily Kos last night, and some of the other leftibloggers regarding “The Path to 9/11”, I found one guy who quoted Dean Barnett, blogging for Hugh Hewitt. One of the main controversies appears to be this:

THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT “The Path to 9/11” centers on one scene where CIA operatives and Northern Alliance irregulars under the leadership of the awe-inspiring Ahmed Shah Massoud have the opportunity to kill bin Laden. They phone NSA chief Sandy Berger for authorization to make the hit. Berger refuses to make the decision and in the scene actually hangs up on the operatives.

I’ve done a lot of reading and research regarding 9/11, and I have to admit that this story is new to me. The closest parallel I can think of is Tenet’s, Berger’s and Clinton’s irresolute follow-through on the Predator program which had the very real likelihood of knocking off bin Laden assuming the administration was willing to risk the death of innocents.

I thought I had heard this story before, and was right: Dusting off my copy of Buzz Patterson‘s “Dereliction of Duty“, the former military aide to former President Bill Clinton writes at the beginning of chapter seven,

The White House Situation Room was buzzing. It was fall 1998 and the National Security Council (NSC) and the “intelligence community” were tracking the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the shadowy mastermind of terrorist attacks on American targets overseas. “They’ve successfully triangulated his location,” yelled a “sit Room” watch stander. We’ve got him.”

Beneath the West Wing of the White House, behind a vaulted steel door, the Sit Room staff sprang into action. The watch officer notified National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, “Sir, we’ve located bin Laden. We have a two-hour window to strike.”

Characteristic of the Clinton Administration, the weapons of choice would be Tomahawk missiles. No penetrating bombers or high-speed fighter aircraft flown by our Air Force and Navy forces. No risk of losing American lives.

Berger ambled down the stairwell and entered the Sit Room. He picked up the phone at one of the busy controller consoles and called the President. Amazingly, President Clinton was not available. Berger tried again and again. Bin Laden was within striking distance. The window of opportunity was closing fast. The plan of attack was set and the Tomahawk crews were ready. For about an hour Berger couldn’t get the commander-in-chief on the line. Though the President was always accompanied by military aides and the Secret Service, he was shomehow unavailable. Berger stalked the Sit Room, anxious and impatient.

Finally, the President accepted Berger’s call. There was discussion, there were pauses- and no decision. The President wanted to talk with his secretaries of defense and state. He wanted to study the issue further. Berger was forced to wait. The clock was ticking. The president evenutally called back. He was still indecisive. He wanted more discussion. Berger alternated between phone calls and watching the clock.

The NSC watch officer was convinced we had the right target. The intelligence sources were conclusive. The President, however, wanted a guaranteed hit or nothing at all.

This time, it was nothing at all. We didn’t pull the trigger. We “studied” the issue until it was too late- the window of opportunity closed. Al-Qaeda’s spiritual andorganizational leader slipped through the noose.

This lost bin Laden hit typified the Clinton Administration’s ambivalent, indecisive way of dealing with terrorism. Ideologically, the Clinton Administration was committed to the idea that most terrorists were misunderstood, had legitimate grievances, and could be appeased, which is why such military action as the Administration authorized was so halfhearted, and ineffective, and designed more for “show” than for honestly eliminating a threat.

Well, Buzz Patterson’s version of the event is more damning of Bill Clinton than of Sandy Berger.

Debating interpretation of facts is not a problem with me; but determining what the actual facts are, is deeply frustrating. I admit I am an unapologetic partisan, but I don’t want to win arguments based upon untruths. So what is the truth of what happened, and how it really took place? Do we believe retired Lt. Col Robert “Buzz” Patterson, because he is a former military aide to Bill Clinton who is a harsh critic of “Slick Willie”? How do we know he is “telling it like it happened”? How is it that Richard Clarke’s credibility is questioned by us, while “Buzz” Patterson’s is not? Should the Clintonistas dismiss anything he has to say, because if it’s negative about “their guy”, they don’t want to hear it? Can you tell my head is spinning, and I’m disgruntled at how hard it is to know what’s real and what’s not, sometimes?

Why do we have several versions of “the truth” and “the bare facts”? And how the devil is Sandy Burglar basically able to get away with stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives with not much more than what amounts to be a slap on the wrist?

If you think that version of the “missed opportunity” was bad, just read Chapter One. As a military aide in charge of carrying “the nuclear football”, Patterson was right by Clinton’s side to see firsthand just how “serious” the former President of the United States was on issues of National Security.

As a footnote to my post, here is more from Dean Barnett’s piece:

Given the fact that Clinton was willing to take such a risk when the Lewinsky scandal reached its most fevered pitch, the fact that he wasn’t as bold without the looming specter of political calamity is damning. What’s more, the Clinton administration’s lethargic and chronically dilatory efforts to deal with bin Laden are an irrefutable part of the historical record.

The preceding leaves us with two possible explanations regarding the controversial scene. One is that the filmmakers have unearthed a previously unknown jewel that they can fully document; that Berger really did slam down the phone on a field agent looking for guidance. If that’s the case, then this entire conversation is irrelevant and you should cease reading this essay.

The other explanation is that, being a docudrama, the filmmakers included a fabricated scene (which was a composite of many real factors) to dramatize the ineptitude and fecklessness that so characterized the Clinton administration. One can (if one so chooses) give the filmmakers artistic license to do such a thing. But if that is what they have done, conservative analysts who back this movie as a historical document will mortgage their credibility doing so.

This leftiblogger considers the 2nd explanation as the accurate one, as apparently Thomas Kean, who is an executive producer and consultant of “The Path to 9/11” as well as the chair of the 9/11 Commission, said the scene was “reasonably accurate“. And the lefties consider that a moral equivalence of admitting “fake but accurate” and a concession of rightwing bias.

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Curt, I haven’t read Patterson’s book, so from what I gather his source is himself, what he saw and heard, is that correct?

It certainly sounds plausable from everything else I’ve read. Dick Morris says that whenever he tried to talk about terrorism with Clinton “his eyes would glaze over”. It just wasn’t a subject that interested him, domestic policy wonk that he was. And given that he filled his cabinet with people like Janet Reno, who wanted to deal with terrorism with a law-enforcement model, it’s easy to see why they never got bin Laden