July 24, 2014–On the Left, at the height of the Vietnam war nightmare, some activists used to comfort each other bandying about pithy slogans. One of them went, “What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came?” Offering a hopeful sentiment, that slogan might be worth dusting off today. There’s news to report that, while not any huge development, is an interesting indicator of changing times. The basic thrust is the scaremongers have entered the Deep Muddy.
Consider: Two days ago we passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the 9/11 Commission report. For this occasion prominent members of the old Commission, which disappeared except for its useful “report cards” once the report appeared, showed up at the Bipartisan Policy Center to hand out a 50-page reflection on the decade of the war on terror. Those on the stage included both the chairpersons, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean and former congressmen Lee H. Hamilton.
Also on the stage with them–Director of National Intelligence General James R. Clapper. Extremely interesting! The last time a spy director appeared together with our Commission folks it was CIA’s George Tenet, squirming on the hot seat and trying to explain how the spooks had failed to connect the dots on the terror plot which led to the September 11 attacks. Now Clapper shared the stage with erstwhile adversaries.
Why? Because of the message. Fearful Leader loved what the former investigators had to say. While conceding dramatic changes in the world since 9/11–in particular that the core of Al Qaeda has been “seriously diminished,” the commissioners went on to retail Clapper’s line that the threat is worse than ever. By these lights “Al Qaeda associates” have fanned out across the Middle East, now active in sixteen countries and objectified by Islamist groups in the Yemen and Syria. The 9/11 Gang members repeated what a “senior national security official” had told them: “that the forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade.” The Gang warned against “counterterrorism fatigue,” as well as “a waning sense of urgency.”
Then Fearful Clapper took the stage. The intelligence community, the general boldly asserted, has been victimized by “a perfect storm” over the past year, its efforts hampered by the Snowden affair.
Let’s parse all of this. Counterterrorism fatigue? Al Qaeda has been taken off the board. The Syrian ISIS group, in making a bid for Islamist primacy, is fighting an internal war, not one aimed at the United States. Efforts of the rebels in Yemen are also directed overwhelmingly at the Yemeni government. The global monolithic terrorist conspiracy, if it ever existed (outside the heads of the national security mavens), is over. If the idea is that the world’s citizens should continue to accept the purposeful exercise of coercive force superceding all constitutional rights–and regardless of the actual threat–then the waning urgency of the public is no surprise.
As for the Snowden affair, readers of this space already know what I think. There is a perfect storm about the spies’ excesses because they have crossed the line, not because some of them were revealed by Edward Snowden. The current muddle of Fearful Clapper’s minions in Germany is the obvious example. As I argue in The Family Jewels, the time has come to revamp the oversight of intelligence operations with a real 9/11 Commission.
General Clapper tries to rally the forces of hysteria. Here he seized the occasion of the 9/11 report anniversary to stoke the terrorism threat. I would put odds that the national security official who laid that doomsday rap on the 9/11 Gang was none other than Fearful Leader himself.
And the good news? Despite seizing the limelight from the 9/11 commissioners, convincing them to articulate the spooks’ dire line, and the 9/11 Gang’s predilection for threats–plus the public venue–Clapper’s sally went over like one hand clapping in the forest. Network news virtually ignored the event. Only a few papers noted it. The festivities were absent from both the New York Times and Washington Post, though the latter carried an item on its website. In short, Fearful Leader is having trouble getting a bullhorn for his hysterical pronouncements–and that is good news indeed!