Neoconservative policy document sets course for GOP foreign policy under second Bush administration
- July 7: A paper titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" is published by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, a pro-Likud think tank staffed by hardline, hawkish conservatives. The authors of the paper are Richard Perle, who will become the chairman of the Defense Policy Board under George W. Bush, and others who will become senior administration officials under Bush, including Douglas Feith and Charles Fairbanks. The paper, written at the behest of right-wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin (Binyamin) Netanyahu, advises him to make a complete break with the past by adopting a strategy "based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism...." The paper asserts that "Jerusalem belongs to Israel; the West Bank belongs to Israel; the Temple Mount belongs to Israel; the US Embassy should be in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv; Yasir Arafat is a terrorist with whom one cannot negotiate; and unconditional [American] support for Israel is the only foreign policy option." The first step in "rebuilding Zionism" would be the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. A war with Iraq would destabilize the entire Middle East, allowing governments in Syria, Iran, Lebanon and other countries to be replaced. Syria is to be "remade," which will encourage Lebanese Shi'ites to break with Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, and align themselves more closely with their Iraqi Shi'a brethren. "Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them," the paper concludes. Perle will be instrumental is moving Bush's US policy towards war with Iraq.
- The paper asserts that "removing Saddam Hussein from power" should be "an important Israeli strategic objective," and overthrowing Hussein would be "a means of foiling Syria's regional ambition." It advocates the restoration of a Hashemite kingdom in Baghdad to box in the Syrian regime of Hafez Assad. The paper will later lead to a conspiracy theory, that has some merit, asserting that eliminating Hussein is part of a neoconservative/Likud plot to benefit Israel. The paper actually goes well beyond anything Likud, the right-wing Israeli political party, ever advocated. By this point, Israeli strategists are far more concerned with Iran than with Syria, and are hardly concerned with Hussein and Iraq. While the paper is not evidence that the neocons' fixation on Iraq has been coordinated in Israel, it does show that Perle and his fellows view Hussein as, in the words of reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn, "a chessboard piece that should be removed to further a larger strategic game plan." Perle and his fellow neocons believe that toppling inconvenient regimes such as Hussein's can be done with relative impunity and at small cost. It will be relatively easy and cheap to reshape the map of the Middle East.
- Many of the same neoconservatives who write this paper also publish another paper, "Toward a New Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," a document which will become the founding text of the neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC). This paper, penned by William Kristol and Robert Kagan with input from some of the authors of the Netanyahu memo, is termed by General Wesley Clark "neoconservatism's maximalist adventurism." The paper advocates a huge increase in US military spending, and the lavish, unrestricted use of US forces around the globe, unfettered by treaties, UN restraints, or the concerns of other countries. (Ironically, given the "Neo-Reaganite" title, many PNAC members, including Kristol and Kagan, bitterly opposed Reagan's signature foreign policy achievement, his joining with the USSR's Mikhail Gorbachev to bring the Cold War to a close. Reagan's deputy secretary of defense Paul Nitze recalls that during the early days of the START talks, "Pentagon civilian officials -- particularly Richard Perle and Caspar Weinberger -- were deliberately excluded from the discussion. Otherwise the howls and leaks from Weinberger and Perle and their supporters would have made the project impossible.") Perle, along with Kristol, Kagan, and others, will form the core of PNAC. (CCR, Washington Monthly, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- July 15: Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, convicted of two Whitewater-related charges of fraud, attempts to renege on his resignation from office. He has learned that one of the jurors who voted to convict him of the charges is married to a man whose sentence for cocaine trafficking he had twice refused to commute. Even more questionable, the husband is the nephew of local activist Robert "say" McIntosh, who is responsible for flinging wild charges against Clinton (most memorably that Clinton fathered a child on a black prostitute) and who, during the Tucker trial, spents his days in and near the courthouse passing out lurid flyers accusing Tucker of lurid and sensational crimes and immoral acts. McIntosh publicly bragged that he "had one on the jury." The day Tucker was convicted, McIntosh punched out a CNN producer who had attempted to prevent McIntosh from disrupting a live shot from the courthouse steps; he will be convicted of assault. The juror, Renee Johnson Hayes, did not speak up when she was asked during the selection process if any of Tucker's actions as governor had affected her. Tucker filed an appeal of his conviction on July 12, and on July 15, informs Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee, his Republican successor, that he intends to keep his office. Huckabee strikes back. Democratic legislators inform Tucker, on Huckabee's behalf, that he risks impeachment if he retains his office, while Huckabee accuses Tucker of violating the state constitution. It takes a lawsuit filed by Democratic attorney general Winston Bryant to force Tucker to resign.
- Judge George Howard rejects Kenneth Starr's recommendation for ten years in prison for Tucker -- a stunning sentence for the two charges -- and, instead, sentences Tucker, partly in consideration of his serious health problems, to probation and home detention. In 1997, Tucker will successfully receive a liver transplant, continue to fight for a reversal of his conviction, and insist that he has no wrongdoing on the parts of either Bill or Hillary Clinton. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- July 15: An article by author James Stewart, titled "Letter from Little Rock," is published in the New Yorker. It is evident that Stewart's article is a reflection of Kenneth Starr's thinking, and attempts to once again tie the Tucker/McDougal trial back to the Clintons. Stewart ignores the closing arguments of the prosecution in the case, which directly admit Clinton committed no crimes in relation to Whitewater, as well as the Clintons' own lengthy testimony as part of 1995's Pillsbury Report, as well as evidence submitted during the trial, to imply that the Clintons were indeed criminally complicit in David Hale's own financial crimes. But the article is not merely another in the volley of OIC-leaked innuendos against the Clintons; it includes material left out of Stewart's recent book on the Whitewater case, Blood Sport, admitting that by relying on the patently unreliable Jim McDougal, much of the conclusions in his book were slanted and misleading.
(Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- July 17: Two small-time bankers from rural Arkansas, Herbie Branscum and Robert Hill, begin their trial, facing 11 felony counts brought against them by the office of Kenneth Starr for illegally funnelling campaign funds into the 1990 and 1992 Clinton political campaigns. Branscum is the former head of the state Democratic Party and a longtime Clinton ally; Hill was appointed to the state bank board by Clinton in 1991. The charges stem from the Perry County Bank's failure to report cash withdrawals by Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial campaign to the IRS. No one disputes that the withdrawals were legitimate, nor that the money was obtained legally. Instead, the OIC has used an obscure Treasury Department regulation designed to help stop drug money from being laundered to bring Branscum and Hill into the courtroom. The defendants' lawyers are unable to find a single instance of this regulation being used to prosecute anyone who isn't involved in "dirty" money laundering. Both are also charged with illegally using bank funds to reimburse themselves and family members for contributions made to the Clinton campaign, an odd set of charges considering that Branscum and Hill own the bank and could have given themselves bank funds perfectly legally -- in essence, the charges state that the two have stolen money from themselves.
- Again, the trial is not merely to convict two Arkansas bankers on highly abstruse, legally shaky charges, but to give the media the opportunity to besmirch Bill Clinton. The New York Times's William Safire, who celebrated the Tucker and McDougal convictions as the first volley in the attack that will bring down the presidency, twists the charges to fabricate an accusation that the Clintons "were accomplices in stealing $50,000 from the poor." (Not only are Safire's charges baseless, he is confusing David Hale's lending firm with an antipoverty agency.) He uses leaks from the OIC to predict that former governor Jim Guy Tucker will "flip" and provide damning evidence against the Clintons. He predicts that the trial will prove that Clinton "had accepted $7000 in perhaps-stolen cash...from bankers who wound up with a political plum" and predicts an election-year impeachment.
- Even more fascinating for the media is the inclusion of Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey as an "unindicted co-conspirator." Safire slanders Lindsey as a "notorious consigliere." In reality, Lindsey, one of Clinton's oldest and closest friends and associates, is known for his integrity and his loyalty to the Clinton family. Reporters find Lindsey suspect because he routinely refuses to discuss anything with the media. Lindsey's involvement is due to his withdrawal of $32,000 from Clinton campaign funds from the bank in the last days of the 1990 campaign.
- As is the rule with the OIC, the prosecutors have, in the words of Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, "vivisected" the defendants and witnesses. They have used their usual breathtakingly broad subpoenas to obtain every financial and tax document Branscum and Hill have ever generated; every family, friend, and business associate of the two have been interviewed, including forcing Branscum's ailing 76-year old mother to come in for questioning. FBI agents even try to bully their way into Perryville High School to subpoena Hill's teenage son (the principal sends them packing). Branscum later estimates that his defense cost him $500,000; more broadly, the Perryville residents greatly resent the OIC and FBI investigator's rude and high-handed conduct.
- Even more than the Tucker/McDougal case, the Branscum/Hill case rests on the testimony of a single witness convicted of financial crimes of his own. Neal Ainley is the former president of the Perry County Bank, fired and subsequently indicted on five felony charges; his charges were reduced to two misdemeanors in return for his testimony against Branscum and Hill, and indirectly, against Lindsey. The defense presents a powerful case. Not only were the cash withdrawals well and legally documented, but Clinton, in another videotaped deposition, proves that neither Branscum's nor Hill's appointments were anything except the naming of highly qualified individuals to posts that suited their talents; in fact, he had passed over people who had contributed far more to his campaigns to appoint these two.
- The prosecution collapses when three witnesses for the defense prove that Ainley was browbeaten by OIC prosecutors into turning state's evidence. Carpenter Gary Butler tells the jury of a conversation he had with Ainley at a baseball game, where Ainley told him, "'Butler, when the big boys get a hold of you you'll tell them anything they want to hear.' ...He said he was going to cooperate one hundred percent, and if Herbie and Rob wouldn't, they were going to make it hard on their butts. ...He said he was a little fish and they were after the big fish." Store owner Bobby Hammonds testifies that Ainley bears a heavy grudge against Branscum, and says that Ainley had made comments about lying to the FBI or to Clinton adversary Sheffield Nelson to bring down Branscum and perhaps others.
- Within two weeks, Branscum and Hill are found innocent, though the jury deadlocks on the single charge of stealing money from their own bank. "This was a strictly political prosecution from the start," says Hill. Defense lawyer Dan Guthrie adds, "This is a $30 million prosecution machine that has been stopped dead in its tracks in Little Rock, Arkansas, by a jury that exercised good common sense." Though the OIC promises a new trial on the deadlocked charge, on September 14, after the media coverage has quieted down, Starr's committee announces that it will not pursue further charges against the two. The Washington Post, among others, printed editorials and news articles predicting that the case would lead the OIC directly into the Oval Office; it refuses to cover the dismissal of further prosecution whatsoever. The talk of election-year impeachment fades from the headlines. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- July 21: Phoenix talk show host John Dayl says of the people who died in the McVeigh bombing, "These people who work in those buildings are not innocent victims. If they work in the federal building, they're the very people that are typing the letters, that are making the phone calls, that are getting your land taken away from you, that are calling you up on Internal Revenue Service, that want to confiscate all of your guns. These are the same people who womp up charges against you. These are the very same people that are all involved, every one of them. I don't care whether they are any more than a clerk or the high muckety-muck, or the guy out there who's got BATF painted on this back, and he's the one who's knocking your door down. These people are not innocent victims. These are people that operate and move the system against you and I. These are people that have sold out to the system. These are the people that are against you and I." (Bruce Miller/Buzzflash)
- July 26: A pipe bomb explodes in Centennial Park in Atlanta during the Olympic games, killing 1 and injuring 111. Anti-abortion advocate Eric Rudolph is later accused of the bombing; he will remain a fugitive until the summer of 2003. (Crime Library, H.R. Clinton)
Republicans, with the aid of the mainstream media, block Clinton's attempts to fight terrorism
- July 30: Republican senator Orrin Hatch labels a study of explosives in regard to combating terrorism a "phony issue." Hatch is consistently in the forefront of the GOP attempts to smear Clinton as a President who is using the "non-issue" of terrorism to hide his own misdeeds; Hatch later accuses Clinton of using the entire issue of terrorism to "wag the dog," or to focus the country's attention away from Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky. Clinton tells the press, "We need to keep this country together right now. We need to focus on this terrorism issue." But Republican leaders, who met for an hour with White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta in response to Clinton's call for "the very best ideas" for fighting terrorism, are uncooperative. Hatch, after leaving the meeting, says, "These are very controversial provisions that the White House wants. Some they're not going to get." Hatch calls Clinton's proposed study of taggants -- chemical markers in explosives that could help track terrorists -- "a phony issue," snapping, "If they want to, they can study the thing" already. Hatch also says he has problems with some of Clinton's proposals to expand wiretapping. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hatch will be one of the loudest proponents of Bush's illegal wiretapping activities. Another GOP senator, Trent Lott, says that the issue is not worth fast-tracking through the Senate before its scheduled recess three weeks from now. Clinton says getting the anti-terrorism legislation passed before the recess is extremely important, especially after the Olympic bombing and the crash of TWA Flight 800. "The most important thing right now is that they get the best, strongest bill they can out -- that they give us as much help as they can," he says. The Republicans successfully block the Clinton proposals, leaving the Clinton administration without the tools it has requested from Congress to pursue Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Interestingly, in light of their obstruction of Clinton's anti-terrorism efforts, these same Republicans will fix the blame for the US's failure to stop the 9/11 attacks directly on Clinton, ignoring their own obstructionism over the issue five years before.
- The Republican-generated tale that Clinton did not actively pursue terrorists during his eight years is completely false. Although there are measures that Clinton did not pursue, and actions that he did not take, some of which arguably should have been done, in general he and his administration take terrorism very seriously and take far more measures to combat terrorism than the Bush administration did before 9/11. Liberal columnist William Rivers Pitt sources Sidney Blumenthal's memoirs of his years in the Clinton White House, The Clinton Wars, as proof of this assertion. Pitt's words are worth quoting extensively.
- "The two great myths that have settled across the nation, beyond the Hussein-9/11 connection, are that Clinton did not do enough during his tenure to stop the spread of radical terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, and that the attacks themselves could not have been anticipated or stopped. Blumenthal's insider perspective on these matters bursts the myths entirely, and reveals a level of complicity regarding the attacks within the journalistic realm and the conservative political ranks that is infuriating and disturbing.
- "starting in 1995, Clinton took actions against terrorism that were unprecedented in American history. He poured billions and billions of dollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the intelligence community. He poured billions more into the protection of critical infrastructure. He ordered massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines to prepare for a possible bioterror attack. He order a reorganization of the intelligence community itself, ramming through reforms and new procedures to address the demonstrable threat. Within the National Security Council, 'threat meetings' were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton raised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the last three years of his tenure. In 1996, Clinton delivered a major address to the United Nations on the matter of international terrorism, calling it 'The enemy of our generation.'
- "Behind the scenes, he leaned vigorously on the leaders of nations within the terrorist sphere. In particular, he pushed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to assist him in dealing with the threat from neighboring Afghanistan and its favorite guest, Osama bin Laden. Before Sharif could be compelled to act, he was thrown out of office by his own army. His replacement, Pervez Musharraf, pointedly refused to do anything to assist Clinton in dealing with these threats. Despite these and other diplomatic setbacks, terrorist cell after terrorist cell were destroyed across the world, and bomb plots against American embassies were thwarted. Because of security concerns, these victories were never revealed to the American people until very recently.
- "In America, few people heard anything about this. Clinton's dire public warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the massive non-secret actions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was far more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When the administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist network, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress as scandalous 'wag the dog' tactics. The TV networks actually broadcast clips of the movie Wag The Dog to accentuate the idea that everything the administration was doing was contrived fakery. "
- Most notable is the August 20, 1998 bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan. The plant was bombed after US intelligence learned that, among other things, VX nerve agent precursor was in the ground outside the factory, the factory was owned by Osama bin Laden's Military Industrial Corporation, and the manager of the factory lived in bin Laden's villa in Khartoum. In their book Age of Sacred Terror, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write, "The dismissal of the al-Shifa attack as a scandalous blunder had serious consequences, including the failure of the public to comprehend the nature of the al-Qaeda threat."
- Republicans will water down the 1996 omnibus anti-terrorism bill proposed by Clinton to the point of worthlessness, with Senators Hatch and Jesse Helms openly contemptuous of the bill's contents and, with other congressional Republicans, avowing that the need to discover the "entire truth" about Whitewater and Lewinsky is far more important than battling terrorism. After 9/11, almost all of these same Republicans will call for the same provisions that are in the Clinton bill to be passed into law -- and criticize Democrats for not passing them sooner. Clinton's attempt to attack the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with foreign banks and financial institutions that al-Qaeda was using for its money-laundering operations were also blocked by Senate Republicans, with Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, personally killing the bill, calling it "totalitarian." In fact, Gramm kills the bill because, as Pitt writes, "his most devoted patrons, the Enron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same terrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the Enron stockholders." In 2000, Clinton succeeds in drafting an agreement with twenty other nations, through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to shut down tax havens used by al-Qaeda across the globe. Clinton's term ends before the deal can be signed into law; one of the first moves by the incoming George W. Bush is to void the deal and leave the tax havens open, under pressure from right-wingers at the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Time will observe in October 2001, "Without the world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world's financial system of dirty money was short-circuited."
- Pitt writes, "This laundry list of partisan catastrophes goes on and on. Far from being inept on the matter of terrorism, Clinton was profoundly activist in his attempts to address terrorism. Much of his work was foiled by right-wing Congressional conservatives who, simply, refused to accept the fact that he was President. These men, paid to work for the public trust, spent eight years working diligently to paralyze any and all Clinton policies, including anti-terror initiatives that, if enacted, would have gone a long way towards thwarting the September 11 attacks. Beyond them lay the worthless television media, which ignored and spun the terrorist issue as it pursued salacious leaks from Ken Starr's office, leaving the American people drowning in a swamp of ignorance on a matter of deadly global importance."
- Pitt concludes angrily, "Had Clinton been heeded, the measures he espoused would have been put in place, and a number of powerful bulwarks would have been thrown into the paths of those commercial airplanes [referring to the 9/11 attacks]. Had the news media been something other than a purveyor of masturbation fantasies from the far-right, the American people would have know the threats we faced, and would have compelled their Congressmen to act. Had Congress itself been something other than an institution ruled by narrow men whose only desire was to break a sitting President by any means necessary, we would very probably still have a New York skyline dominated by two soaring towers. Had the Bush administration not continued this pattern of gross partisan ineptitude and heeded the blitz of domestic and international warnings, instead of trooping off to Texas for a month-long vacation, had Bush's National Security Advisor done one hour's worth of her homework, we probably would not be in the grotesque global mess that currently envelops us. Never forget that many of the activists who pushed throughout the 1990s for the annihilation of all things Clinton are now foursquare in charge of the country today." (CNN, Truthout, Wikipedia)
- July 31: Clinton signs into law a welfare-reform package, intentionally crafted to win Republican support, that drastically cuts back welfare benefits and makes it much more difficult for welfare recipients to continue with the program for extended periods. The bill requires most recipients of welfare to get off the rolls within two years, caps subsidies after five years, and denies mothers additional benefits if they have children while already receiving federal assistance. Democrats and liberals are furious at the bill, with the New York Times's characterization of the new bill as "not reform, but punishment" indicative of the feelings stirred by the bill on the left. However, conservatives, though privately appreciative of the "progress" made with the reform package, refuse to give Clinton credit, accusing him of merely playing partisan politics (the Washington Times calls his reform proposals "utterly shameless" and inaccurately gives credit for the reform package to the Republican congress). Many observers note this as an example of the Clinton administration's inability (or refusal) to understand the nature of the Republican opposition; while Clinton and many of his advisers continue to believe that conservative lawmakers can be approached and worked with in some bipartisan manner, most conservatives have by now adopted a "scorched-earth" policy regarding Clinton and anything he does, no matter how appealing to conservatives a particular policy may be. Clinton's welfare reform package does succeed in increasing employment among low-income mothers from 44% to 59%. (Michael Tomasky, Eric Alterman and Mark Green)