The center cannot hold

Not good days for the Bushies, as the house of cards they’ve built for themselves begins to collapse eight months too soon. Iraq appears to be morphing into an unholy combination of Vietnam, Beiruit, and the West Bank…while on the home front, some, if not all, of the 9/11 commissioners are clearly fed up with the stonewalling and bullshit — hence the deliberate revelation during public testimony of the title of the infamous August 6 PDB, as well as the leaked description of its more damning contents in major papers this morning. (The latter attributed to “several people who have seen the memo” — gosh, who might that be?)

From the Times:

WASHINGTON, April 9 — President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday.

The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr. Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 6, 2001. A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a “closely held intelligence report” that month about the threat of an attack by Al Qaeda, and the official confirmed an account by The Associated Press on Friday saying that the report was in fact part of the president’s briefing in Crawford.

The disclosure appears to contradict the White House’s repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was “historical” in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders.

And from the Post::

Bush had specifically asked for an intelligence analysis of possible al Qaeda attacks within the United States, because most of the information presented to him over the summer about al Qaeda focused on threats against U.S. targets overseas, sources said. But one source said the White House was disappointed because the analysis lacked focus and did not present fresh intelligence.

New accounts yesterday of the controversial Aug. 6 memo provided a shift in portrayals of the document, which has set off a political firestorm because it suggested that bin Laden’s followers might be planning to hijack U.S. airliners.

In earlier comments this week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials stressed that intelligence officials were focused primarily on threats to U.S. interests overseas. But sources made clear yesterday that the briefing presented to Bush focused on attacks within the United States, indicating that he and his aides were concerned about the risks.

No wonder even some Republicans are beginning to second-guess Karl Rove on the wisdom of holding the convention in NYC:

But then came Richard A. Clarke, the 9/11 commission and a rising insurgency in Iraq. Now, as the administration faces increasing scrutiny of its handling of pre-9/11 terror threats and the wisdom of extending the war on terrorism into Iraq, the question has emerged whether New York is the best place for the Republicans to be gathering this summer.

“I would assume that it has turned from a win-win to a maybe not,” said a Republican political strategist who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

And next week, Ashcroft appears before the 9/11 commission, and it’s likely to be contentious, given his initially lackadaisical attitude toward the terror threat:

On September 10 (2001), the last day of what is now seen as a bygone age of innocence, Mr Ashcroft sent a request for budget increases to the White House. It covered 68 programmes, none of them related to counter-terrorism.

He also sent a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities. Counter-terrorism was not on the list. He turned down an FBI request for hundreds more agents to be assigned to tracking terrorist threats.

I doubt if any of the commissioners will go this far, but what I’d really like to see someone ask is why he himself stopped flying commercial jets the summer before 9/11:

Nevertheless, he began using a chartered private jet to travel around the country, rather than take commercial airliners as Ms Reno had done. A justice department spokesman said this was done as a result of an FBI “threat assessment” on Mr Ashcroft, but insisted that the assessment was not specifically linked to al-Qaida.

One more question: where the hell is John Kerry right now? You know, tall fellow, somewhat cadaverous looking, running for President? Shoulder surgery or no, isn’t it time for him to be getting back into the spotlight, taking a stance on Iraq and the 9/11 revelations, generally showing some backbone, some leadership? I’ve told this story before, but after this cartoon ran, after Wellstone died, someone from Kerry’s office emailed and requested a signed copy. I thought about that for awhile, and finally decided to inscribe it, “Senator Kerry — please prove me wrong.”

Well, the jury’s still out.

…I missed this. “Arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy” — that’s more like it.