Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Fly Swatter in Chief

I get it now. I have unravelled one of the great, lingering mysteries of our times. A great weight has lifted. The clouds have parted.

Be patient. I promise you it'll be worth it.

I have finally figured out WTF Condi Rice was talkin' about, that fine spring day in 2004, when she finally deigned to testify before the 911 commission.

You will recall that her appearance was no small beer, and came only after months of relentless shaming. You will also recall that famous--no doubt inadvertent--confession regarding the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (more on that in my "911 Bookends" post, if you're so inclined). But there was something else amiss at that day's testimony: apart from her attempts to persuade the commissioners that Bush & friends had done their due diligence pre-911, there was something else that brought strange new wrinkles to my nose and brow.* (from her opening statement; emphasis added):
We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to try and eliminate the al-Qaida network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies.
Flies, you say? Commissioner Lee Hamilton was also curious: what exactly did Bush and Rice do to protect the US from the gathering threat. Hamilton noted, for example:
Your public statements focused largely on China and Russia and missile defence. You did make comments on terrorism, but they were connected _ the link between terrorism and the rogue regimes, like North Korea and Iran and Iraq.

And by our count here, there were some 100 meetings by the national security principals before the first meeting was held on terrorism, September 4th. And General Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that terrorism had been pushed farther to the back burner.
So what did she do exactly? Rice responded with a meandering statement, testifying that Bush really wanted to do something about bin Laden, but his gosh-dern cab'net wasn't giving him any plans. She concluded:
All that I can tell you is that what the president wanted was a plan to eliminate al-Qaida so he could stop swatting at flies.
And so it continued, with the commissioners taking their respective turns with the witness. And then came Commissioner and Fmr. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska):
KERREY: You've used the phrase a number of times, and I'm hoping with my question to disabuse you of using it in the future. You said the president was tired of swatting flies.
Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to Al Qaida prior to 9/11?
RICE: I think what the president was speaking to was...
KERREY: No, no. What fly had he swatted?
RICE: Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on...
KERREY: No, no...
RICE: ... when the CIA would go after Abu Zubaydah...[**]
KERREY: He hadn't swatted...
RICE: ... or go after this guy...
KERREY: Dr. Rice, we didn't...
RICE: That was what was meant.
KERREY: We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?
RICE: We swatted at _ I think he felt that what the agency was doing was going after individual terrorists here and there, and that's what he meant by swatting flies. It was simply a figure of speech.
Fly, flies, swatting...gah! I admit it: I was distracted by the image of Bush being distracted by swarms of flies. My brain's like that, unfortunately.

And then, three years hence, we meet Robert Draper, Bush biographer.

Now, I should hasten to add that I have not read 'Dead Certain.' Like many of you, I have read several excerpts and summaries, since the embargo was lifted on the weekend: how Bush put the shiv in Jerry Bremer's back, or how Bush likes to cry his evil l'il eyes out, just for two examples. Very interesting...very interesting indeed.

But then...then there was this little nugget:
Sitting in an anteroom of the Oval Office, [Bush] eschewed the more formal White House menu for comfort food — a low-fat hotdog and ice cream — and bitingly told an aide who peeked in on the session that his time with Mr. Draper was “worthless anyway.”

But as Mr. Draper described it, and as the transcripts show, Mr. Bush warmed up considerably over the intervening interviews, chewing on an unlit cigar, jubilantly swatting at flies between making solemn points, propping his feet up on a table or stopping him at points to say emphatically, “I want you to get this” or “I want this damn book to be right.”
And then the penny, she dropped. Just like that. Bush has been literally swatting at flies.

Not bin Laden. Not al Zawahiri.

Flies. Like, for 6 1/2 years...and counting.

You see? I promised you that it would all make sense. And, alas, it does.

*I would come to practise this particular wrinkling pattern with much regularity in the intervening years of the Bush dynasty.

**GDK note: you mean one of the guys you tortured half to death?

6 Comments:

Anonymous skdadl said...

But the cigar, Kitty! The cigar!

You mean ... sometimes a cigar is just ... a cigar? ;-)

9/06/2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

So he's the Lord of the Flies...
Perfect.

9/06/2007 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Berlynn said...

...all those poor poor flies...

9/06/2007 10:01 AM  
Anonymous deBeauxOs said...

Ah but ... some of those flies could have been terrists, agents for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction or maggot infestation, as the case may be.

9/06/2007 11:08 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Did someone mention a cigar?

Brilliant post! You just knew something was occupying his mind. Given that he only does one thing at a time, and that not too well, swatting flies sounds about his speed.

9/06/2007 3:54 PM  
Blogger Godammitkitty said...

Thanks, everyone!

Hmmm...cigar...cigar...cigar...

Now why would that arouse your suspicions? ;)

Cheers! GDK

9/06/2007 9:41 PM  

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