In his first prime-time press conference since before the invasion of Iraq, President Bush vowed Tuesday night not to waver in Iraq and to provide the military with whatever it needed to fight the growing Iraqi resistance. The press conference came midway through a month that has seen the US face a widespread Sunni-Shiite uprising in Iraq and reports that the Bush administration failed to seriously address the issue of terrorism before Sept. 11. When asked by reporters if he had made any errors related to Iraq or the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said he might of but that he couldn’t think of any them.
Bush rejected comparisons between Iraq and the Vietnam War. He said “I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy … sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy.” While Bush called for the country to stay the course in Iraq, he offered no plan to improve the situation leaving some conservative backers to criticize Bush’s performance.
Conservative strategist and the publisher of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol told the Los Angeles Times said “I was depressed. I am obviously a supporter of the war, so I don’t need to be convinced. But among people who were doubtful or worried, I don’t think he made arguments that would convince them.” Kristol went on to say “He didn’t explain how we are going to win there.”
In news from Iraq, the Los Angeles Times reports the US has stepped up house-by-house raids looking for members of the Iraqi resistance. Fighting continued even though a ceasefire was technically in place.
The FBI is now helping to investigate the whereabouts of 40 foreigners from 12 different countries who have been taken hostage in Iraq. To protect their citizens from more hostage taking, Russia announced Tuesday that it would airlift out more than 800 of its nationals and citizens of ex-Soviet states.
And up to 3,000 US troops remain on the outskirts of Najaf preparing for a confrontation with Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who said yesterday that he was prepared to die fighting the U.S. Agence France Press is reporting the United States has made a formal request to Iran to help ease mounting violence in Iraq.
At the 9/11 commission’s hearings Tuesday, former acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard accused Attorney General John Ashcroft of dismissing terrorist threat warnings in the months before Sept. 11 and for rejecting appeals for more counterterrorism funds.
Pickard also said neither Bush nor Ashcroft made an attempt to meet with him between August 6, 2001 and Sept. 11 to discuss terrorism even though Bush was warned on Aug. 6 that Bin Laden was determined to strike inside the U.S.
The 9/11 commission also revealed Tuesday that President Bush and Vice President Cheney had seen a stream of alarming reports on Al Qaeda in the months before the now famous August. 6 memo. According to the Washington Post, in April and May 2001, the intelligence community issued reports with headlines such as “Bin Laden planning multiple operations,” “Bin Laden network’s plans advancing” and “Bin Laden threats are real.” The commission reported the CIA “consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil.”
Ashcroft attempted to put the blame largely on the Clinton administration saying “for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies.”
9/11 commission chair Thomas Kean hinted that his commission may recommend the formation of a new domestic spy service. He told reporters “We can’t continue in this country with an intelligence agency with the record the FBI has. You have a record of an agency that’s failed, and it’s failed again and again and again.” Kean estimated two-thirds of the bureau’s analysts weren’t qualified for their jobs and said his committee’s staff report is a “indictment of the FBI for over a long period of time.” But former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former attorney general Janet Reno both argued against the creation of a new domestic spy service. Freeh said it would be a “huge mistake for the country.” He went on to say “I don’t think in the United States we will tolerate very well what in effect is a state secret police.” Today, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA Director George J. Tenet are set to testify before the panel.
Defense officials revealed yesterday that five months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, some Pentagon officials proposed a high-level training exercise scenario where a hijacked foreign commercial airliner flew into the Pentagon. The exercise was rejected because the scenario was deemed too unrealistic.