TCS Daily

Trying Clinton's Legacy

By Nick Schulz - January 4, 2002 12:00 AM

Worse Than Asleep at the Wheel -- The Washington Post's Matthew Brzeznski has a must-read piece about a foiled terrorist plot in the Philippines. Some of those questioned after the failed plot admitted that among future terror plans were efforts to go to flight school, get some planes, drive 'em into the Capitol, Pentagon, skyscrapers, and in general kill thousands of innocent Americans with winged fuel bombs.

The plot was foiled six years ago. In other words, the Clinton administration and the U.S. intelligence community knew in the mid-1990s of credible plans for 9/11-style attacks where kamikaze aircraft would be used to kill Americans. Knowing as we do now what our government and intelligence communities knew and when they knew it is maddening.

The Legacy Grows and Grows -- Briefs are due this week in a barely publicized case with potentially huge implications for the "Clinton legacy."

The owner of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant that was bombed by the Clinton administration in the wake of al Qaeda terrorist attacks in Africa in 1998 is suing the U.S. government for $50 million. The owner claims that the bombing constituted an un-Constitutional taking and that he's entitled to compensation from American taxpayers.

In the aftermath of the bombing, it has become apparent that the plant might not have been a chemical weapons production facility as the Clinton administration first believed. Instead, it might have been nothing more than, well, a pharmaceutical plant.

The most recent hearing in this case occurred in a federal courthouse in Washington late last year where the plaintiff -- represented by a massively impressive attorney from the prestigious Jones Day law firm - put forth a mature and compelling case. The government defense attorney was simply overmatched. This case is intriguing insofar as it holds the possibility that Clinton and his national security brain at the time, Sandy Berger, might have to explain exactly why they decided to hit this particular target - at a time when the president was engulfed in a sex scandal with a White House intern.

Clinton has an ace in the hole in this one, though. The judge presiding over the case is a Clinton appointee who managed to make it clear in the hearing last year that he has no love for some of the actions taken by the current administration in its prosecution of the war on terror. He is an extraordinarily bright guy, but hardly above partisan politics as he used to work for Sen. Bill Bradley as a Capitol Hill legislative director. One source tells the Fodder that the judge's wife, who is a big-time Washington divorce lawyer, is a personal friend of Sen. Hillary Clinton. In other words, if the former president was hoping for a sympathetic hearing to avoid the embarrassment of this case going to trial, he struck gold with this judge.

Fodder is not sure of the ultimate merits of the case. But it's arguably in the interest of the American people that this case at least be allowed to go forward and that this judge not dismiss the case before it gets to trial. Let's hope that this case gets more attention. It certainly deserves it.

Bill Keller's Logic Defense Shield - The New York Times' Bill Keller had a weird piece on the Timesopinion page recently about what he dubbed "Missile Defense: The Untold Story." He says that we supporters of missile defense aren't revealing what we're up to in pressing for missile defense. As it turns out, what we're doing, according to Keller, isn't about defense at all.

Missile defense supporters want missile defense, Keller says, in order to "assure we can take the battle to the nuclear-armed bad guys" such as China. The scenario he sites? Taiwan makes a formal break with mainland China and prompts a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. would be reluctant to square off with nuclear-equipped China over Taiwan, Keller says. So we advocates of missile defense really want missile defense to neutralize China's nuclear capabilities so we can defend Taiwan. See? See? We missile defense proponents are really pushing a nefarious plot to antagonize China, but we're not letting on to our plans! And since the general public is too stupid to understand all this, we're instead justifying missile defenses by saying they will protect U.S. soil from missile attack. Hah. Fools. You are all so naïve!

In framing the missile defense debate this way, Keller is attempting a not-so-clever shift in the missile defense debate to terms he thinks are more favorable to his side. But it won't work. First of all, the conventional argument in favor of missile defense - that it is a defense against missiles - is still a pretty powerful one. And it can't be blithely dismissed as he would like.

Second, and more importantly, missile defense advocates have always been above board about what missile defense provides the United States, and that is a greater set of strategic options. These include greater force projection capabilities if necessary.

But this, Keller frets, might prompt China to enter an arms race to match the United States. "If it is true that China cares enough about Taiwan to threaten nuclear war - that is, if China`s ability to deter us with nuclear weapons really matters to Chinese leaders - then it stands to reason they will work hard to protect their deterrent... they [could] do that by manufacturing more missiles or putting multiple warheads on each launcher or by a shift in strategy..."

But his logic doesn't follow. After all, U.S. military bases in the Pacific surely prompt the Chinese to build a bigger navy and air force (if not nuclear missiles) to keep pace with the U.S. presence. So if we retreated from the Pacific entirely, it might help diffuse tensions in Asia. You can see where this logic takes us.

Or, if his logic does follow, then Bill Keller should write a piece titled "Bill Keller: The Untold Story" and explain that really what he wants is for a unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from anywhere in the world where our presence might prompt an adversary to boost its military strength.

Which gets us back to the central point about missile defense - a point which, with enough repetition, might one day get through Bill Keller's logic defense system. It is in both the U.S. strategic interest and a reflection of our values to pursue any and all legitimate and appropriate means of defense and force projection. Missile defenses designed to protect the U.S. from attack -- or to protect U.S. allies such as Taiwan from a rapidly arming China with regional hegemonic aspirations -- are in our interest and reflect our values.

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