Thursday, August 20, 2009

Of Course They Did

I'm no doubt outraged, but not at all surprised that Tom Ridge has confirmed that the Bush Administration politicized national security so as to gain electoral victories. i don't know of any credible person who was paying attention for the last 8 years who could have claimed that not to be the case. But it is always a punch to the gut to see it acknowledged by one of the players involved.

"The darkest possibilities of the politics of terrorism became obvious in the summer and fall of 2002 as the midterm elections approached," Mr. Ridge writes. "Members of my own party carried out a campaign of shameless character assassination."

He describes how GOP operatives painted then-Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a triple amputee from wounds he suffered in Vietnam, as being soft on terrorism because, over personnel issues, he had voted against the creation of the department Mr. Ridge would lead. The assault included a campaign commercial twinning Mr. Cleland's face with that of Osama bin Laden.

"It was an early and brutal example of playing the patriotism card and set a new standard for low," Mr. Ridge said. "But the tactic worked and the GOP picked up a Senate seat. But in the end it was very much a pyrrhic victory. The accusation that we were playing politics was something we dealt with often, and the Georgia campaign gave those accusations a basis in fact."

Mr. Ridge is adamant in rejecting the contentions of Bush administration critics that the often-derided color-coded warning system he helped devise was manipulated for political ends. He depicts an atmosphere, however, in which the motives of some senior officials and Cabinet colleagues sometimes left lingering questions on that score.

The most dramatic example -- and one that Mr. Ridge said would help him confirm his previous plans to leave his post -- came on the eve of the 2004 election between Mr. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

Osama bin Laden had released a videotape with one more ominous sounding but unspecific threat against the United States. Neither Mr. Ridge nor any of the department's security experts thought the message warranted any change in the nation's alert status.

" . . . at this point there was nothing to indicate a specific threat and no reason to cause undue public alarm," he writes.

But that view met resistance in a tense conference call with members of the intelligence community and several other Cabinet officers including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensured. Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Rumsfeld."

Noting the correlation found between increases in the threat level and the president's approval rating, Mr. Ridge writes, "I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' "

Keep in mind that this is from a book that Ridge wrote freely, imagine how many more details would come out if he was ever deposed. It is evident at this point that we will never really know just how slimy the Bush Administration was, but from all we already know I can't think of anybody who was any worse.

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