Did George W. Bush Play A Role in 9/11
Debate Rounds (3)
Few outside the intelligence community recognize the enormity of those decisions. But Bush"s proclamation just after the terrorist attack that any country harboring a terrorist will be considered a terrorist country alone meant that Arab countries began cooperating in the war on terror, turning over thousands of terrorists and leads.
Two days after the attack, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Attorney General John Ashcroft began to brief Bush.
"They talked about how the terrorists got plane tickets, got on planes, moved from one airport to another, and then attacked our citizens," Andy Card, Bush"s chief of staff, told me for my book "The Secrets of the FBI." "And the president, while he was very interested in that report, said, "Mr. Director, that"s building a case for prosecution. I want to know what you have to say about the terrorist threats that haven"t materialized yet and how we can prevent them.""
Mueller took the message back to headquarters: Instead of simply responding to an attack, interdict them. Of course, the FBI had always sought to prevent terrorist attacks before they occurred. But under former FBI Director Louis Freeh"s leadership, the FBI tended to treat each incident as a separate case instead of recognizing the larger threat and mounting an effort against the entire al-Qaida organization, as the bureau had done with the Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia.
On top of that, before 9/11, because of relentless media criticism and a lack of clear authority under Justice Department guidelines, the FBI had become so gun shy and politically correct that even though terrorists were known to hatch their plots in mosques, the FBI was averse to following suspects there.
Under the guidelines in place before 9/11, FBI agents could not even look at online chat rooms to develop leads on people who might be recruiting terrorists or distributing information on making explosives. The FBI had to first determine that there was a sound investigative basis before it could sign on to chat rooms any 12-year-old could enter.
"We were told before 9/11 that we were not allowed to conduct investigative activity on the internet, even though it"s public," Arthur M. "Art" Cummings II, who headed counterterrorism investigations, says. "Same thing with a mosque. It"s a gathering open to the public, but we were absolutely precluded from going into a mosque as an FBI agent. And precluded from having a source in a mosque report on anything in the mosque, or look at anything in the mosque, unless we had a specific target within the mosque."
In 2005, Bush established the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., where 200 analysts from the CIA and FBI sit side by side analyzing threats 24 hours a day. A secure video conference takes place three times a day with all members of the intelligence community and the White House to analyze threats and parcel out leads.
This is why he didnt have a role in 9/11
It's true that there was data available on the terrorists, at various levels in the FBI and CIA. And if anyone in those two organizations had gotten together and compared notes, 9/11 might have been prevented.
Unfortunately, in those days the only place where those two bureaucracies intersected was at the top -- in the National Security Council. And because the information each organization had didn't amount to much by itself, neither dataset was deemed important enough to send up to the decision makers who might have put two and two together.
A tragic error. But it is astonishing that the Left is actually using this to show that Bush did something wrong.
Let's suppose that, on his first day in office, George W. Bush had foreseen all the potential problems and had ordered information-sharing at very low levels between the FBI and CIA.
Do you know how hard it is to get entrenched bureaucracies to change the way they do business? Anyone who knows about the screaming and hair-pulling that went on right after World War II, when Truman moved to combine the War Department and Navy Department into the Department of Defense will realize that even in that celebrated case, the interservice rivalry continued. The FBI and CIA did not invent noncooperation.
Even to get their computers to be able to read each other's files would have been a nightmare. Which of them would have to give up all their old equipment and change to new software? Who would fund that massive change?
But all of this is moot. Because the moment President Bush breathed a word about intending to get the FBI and CIA to share information, prior to 9/11, he would have been crucified in the press.
Why? Because there is a strict legal separation between the two services. To keep the CIA from spying on American civilians, it is limited to gathering data abroad. The FBI had a monopoly on domestic counter-intelligence.
When either service had information they thought the other might need, they passed it along, of course -- they were and are loyal Americans.
The trouble is, the FBI was never in a position to know what information the CIA might actually need, and vice-versa. The best they could do was guess.
If President Bush had attempted to change this situation, the civil libertarian lobby would have had his head on a plate. It was only after 9/11 proved how devastating the consequences of separation could be that it became possible to break a few chinks in that thick wall between the bureaucracies.
In other words, it was always desirable to have information sharing, in order to do a good job; but it was also desirable never to have information sharing, in order to protect the civil liberties of citizens.
Without a direct and obvious threat to American security -- a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 -- Americans cared a lot more about the latter than the former problem.
Airline Info Gathering
And the situation hasn't changed. There was enough data available, prior to 9/11, to intercept all of the terrorists -- if the government were allowed to use the same information about Americans that corporations are using to track us all the time.
I have seen a completely convincing demonstration, from a corporate security firm that uses fuzzy data searches to find significant intersections between people using credit cards and driver's licenses to move through America, which revealed the following:
If the CIA had plugged the names of the couple of terrorists known to them into that software, all the other terrorists would have been identified before 9/11. And when they all purchased airplane tickets for flights on the same day, even the dumbest guy in government -- heck, even an "anti-war" college professor! -- would have known to detain them and keep them from boarding their planes.
But if that had happened, guess what? Even if the government announced, "Major Terrorist Threat Blocked by Quick Action," we would have dozed through the news reports, wouldn't we?
And the civil libertarians would have kept the courts tied up for years, because of course the government had no right to spy on the airline ticketing system and so they "shouldn't" have found any information about ticket purchases by anyone.
The World Trade Center would still be standing, but the Bush administration would quite possibly have fallen -- as a result of having succeeded in preventing that national disaster.
Personally, I couldn't care less if the government knows when I'm flying. Delta already knows, and I don't get to elect anybody who's working there. If by letting the government know who is buying every ticket on every plane, I could have a better chance of getting home alive, I'd let them have that information in a heartbeat.
It's not a secret. Everybody sees each other on that plane. Does anybody seriously have an expectation of "privacy"?
But even after 9/11, it was impossible to get civil libertarians to allow the government even to study the feasability of such a data-tracking system. If you doubt me, ask Admiral Poindexter, who was shredded in the media for trying.
When George W. Bush and his national security team took office, they immediately began to make preparations to eliminate the threat of terrorism, instead of just slapping bandaids on the wounds.
They recognized that Saddam posed a continual threat, to his neighbors and to his own people. Something would have to be done about Iraq -- they were firing on or targeting our planes several times a week, and thanks to greedy "allies" like France and Germany and "friends" like Russia, the so-called sanctions were giving Saddam plenty of money to keep his hideous regime alive.
Likewise, they knew that the Taliban in Afghanistan was harboring Al Qaeda; that Pakistan was also helping the Al-Qaeda cause; that Iran and Syria were actively funding and training anti-Western and anti-Israeli terrorists and sheltering them from international police efforts; and that other nations like Sudan, Libya, and Yemen were playing footsie with the terrorists and getting away with everything they thought they could.
The trouble was, war is not just a military action, it's a political one as well. There was no way, prior to 9/11, that the Bush administration could have got Congressional support for a preemptive attack on Afghanistan.
And Iraq always required exactly the solution that we have been imposing for the past year. This is why President Bush's father did not take out Saddam when he had the chance back in 1991: without Saddam's repressive regime, every would-be dictator in Iraq would have made his play for the top spot then, just as they're doing now.
So we couldn't get rid of Saddam until we had the national will to stick with the job until a strong government with popular support could fill the power vacuum.
It is not a "failure" of our policy that Iraq is suffering from attempted rebellions -- the best hope for Iraq's future is for these warlords to make their play while our troops are still there to slap them down and clean them out.
Likewise, it's not a "failure" of our policy that now, absent the Taliban, opium production in Afghanistan is twenty times higher than it was under the Taliban. That sort of thing always happens in times of uncertainty and transition.
The question is never between a choice that is all good and a choice that is all bad. Every good choice has bad consequences, too, and every bad choice was made because it seemed to offer benefits.
Even though the Bush administration understood that the only way to eliminate terrorism was to transform the governments that sponsored it, they could not take action until they could marshal the political will.
In other words, the only way of preventing something like 9/11 was not possible, politically, until after something like 9/11 had galvanized the public into supporting drastic action.
The "Might Have Been" Problem
Successful disaster prevention always looks unnecessary, because after all, nothing bad happened.
Failure to prevent a disaster always looks inexcusable, because we forget that the will to take drastic action was not present until afterward.
The political leaders of the Left are now criticizing the Bush administration for not doing the very things for which, if they had done them, they would have been savagely attacked by the very same people.
Franklin Roosevelt saw in the 1930s that war with Germany was necessary and ultimately unavoidable. He also knew that if Britain and Russia fell to Hitler, America's eventual war would be infinitely harder to win.
So even though the American people had no will to go to war before Pearl Harbor, FDR persuaded, cajoled, and arm-twisted Congress into providing enough military aid to Britain and Russia that they did not fall; and when we did enter the war, we were far closer to being ready than we had been back in 1917.
Yet after Pearl Harbor, there was no shortage of critics eager to charge Roosevelt with not having done enough -- ignoring the fact that he had done all that he could.
George W. Bush did all that he could to prepare to rid the world of Islamic terrorism prior to 9/11; and because of 9/11, he finally got the political support to make it possible to begin the real job.
Right now, though, the Left is doing everything it can to blame him for everything he did and everything he didn't do. He's being blamed for not taking preemptive action in Afghanistan, and for taking preemptive action in Iraq.
In other words, Bush's critics are simply taking hold of every tool they can find to try to block his reelection.
It's the lowest form of politics, to throw rocks at the guy who's leading us with amazing success in a war that was forced upon us by our enemies.
These are a few of my arguements but I have plenty more
Meanwhile, the essays and occasional pieces were collected in such volumes as Holocaust Scholars Write to the Vatican , and The Holocaust and the Christian World , and The Vatican and the Holocaust , and Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust , and Christian Responses to the Holocaust "and on, and on, until we seemed to be facing what the exasperated reviewer John Pawlikowski called "a virtual book-of-the-month club on institutional Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust."
The champions of Pius had their share of book-length innings as well"although, one might note, never from the same level of popular publisher as the attackers managed to find. In 1999 Pierre Blet produced Pius XII and the Second World War According to the Archives of the Vatican and got Paulist Press, a respectable but small Catholic house, to publish it in America. Ronald Rychlak finished his first-rate Hitler, the War, and the Pope , and the hardback was brought out by a press in Columbia, Missouri, known mostly for printing romance novels. For the paperback edition, Rychlak"s work was picked up by the book-publishing arm of the Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor .
Those are both fine presses in their way, and Rychlak has done well for them. But one can reasonably point out that Our Sunday Visitor is not quite at the level of distribution, advertising, and influence enjoyed by Doubleday, Houghton Mifflin, Knopf, and Viking"the large houses that issued the books against Pius. The commentator Philip Jenkins recently suggested that this disparity in publishers sends a message that the mainstream view is the guilt of Pius XII, while praise for the Pope belongs only to the cranks, nuts, and sectarians.
Jenkins" suggestion is worth considering. Still, no one can say Pius" supporters were squashed or censored. In just six years, Margherita Marchione managed five books in praise of the Pope. The Thomistic philosopher and novelist Ralph McInerny, aggravated by the deluge of attacks, issued a splenetic volume called The Defamation of Pope Pius XII , while Justus George Lawler (a writer best known in Catholic circles for his liberalism) penned a witty evisceration of Pius" critics called Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment, and the Holocaust . Jos" S"nchez added Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust , and a slew of German and Italian books might be mentioned as well, prompted, for the most part, by the popular visibility of the English-language criticisms even in Europe.
But it was primarily in book reviews and responses that the defenders of Pius XII fought out the war"which is something of a problem. Every pope precipitates biographies, hagiographies, and maledictions, like the dropping of the rain; it is part of the job to be much written about, and the works on Eugenio Pacelli that began to appear when he became pope in 1939 seem innumerable. But no supporter has yet produced a book-length biography in the wake of the recent years of extended blame. Even Rychlak"s Hitler, the War, and the Pope was essentially reactive, devoting a thirty-page epilogue to a catalogue of the errors in Cornwell"s book.
We have seen this pattern before. Rolf Hochhuth"s play The Deputy premiered in Berlin in 1963, and its picture of a greedy pope, concerned only about Vatican finances and silent about the Holocaust, immediately caused a firestorm of comment from the intellectual world. Everyone who was anyone felt compelled to weigh in.
Hochhuth himself faded away when he tried to extend his censure to Winston Churchill, penning a play in 1967 that claimed Churchill had ordered the murder of the Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski and, later, the murder of the pilot who had crashed Sikorski"s plane. Unbeknownst to Hochhuth, the pilot was, in fact, still alive, and he won a libel judgment that badly damaged the London theater which had staged the play. Thereafter, Hochhuth found it harder to get a hearing"although, interestingly, the current notoriety of Pius XII seems to have resurrected the playwright to some degree, and in 2002 the Greek filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gravas released a movie version of The Deputy with the English title Amen (or Eyewitness , in other copies).
Even without Hochhuth, the wide discussion about Pius XII he initiated in 1963 went on for several years. It produced some overheated journalistic attempts to cash in on the public interest, such as Robert Katz" Black Sabbath and Death in Rome (the latter being the target of a successful libel suit, this time brought by Pius XII"s niece, Countess Elena Pacelli Rossignani). But the era brought forth as well three more serious and scholarly"indeed, by today"s standards, quite moderate and thoughtful"attacks: Guenter Lewy"s The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (1964), Carlo Falconi"s The Silence of Pius XII (1965), and Saul Friedlander"s Pius XII and the Third Reich: A Documentation (1966).
The brouhaha also prompted the Vatican to begin releasing material from Pius" pontificate, which appeared from 1965 to 1981 as the eleven-volume series Actes et Documents . In part by relying on these new documents, but even more by simply gathering their forces and investigating each of the incidents taken as the core of the indictment, the defenders gradually tamped down The Deputy "s claims about Pius XII and the Holocaust. Pope John Paul II was a consistent advocate for his predecessor, and even once-popular notions about Pius"that he was, for instance, the great reactionary opponent against whom Vatican II turned"gradually seemed to lose steam by the late 1970s and early "80s. It took more than a decade, but the reactive reviewers appeared to carry the day, and the popular magazine press and major book publishers lost interest.
A few commentators noted that the whole thing hadn"t entirely died. The historian Michael Tagliacozzo said he kept an open file labeled "Calumnies Against Pius XII." But most were unprepared when the criticism began again in the late 1990s. To journalists and cultural commentators, Hitler"s Pope seemed almost to come out of nowhere in 1999, and it received almost entirely ecstatic reviews when it first appeared. A few skeptical journalists who remembered the Hochhuth battles" Newsweek "s Kenneth Woodward and the New York Times " Peter Steinfels, notably"doubted Cornwell"s conclusions, but it had been years since they had investigated the topic, and they were unprepared to provide details about the book"s errors.
Time was needed for scholars to gin up the machine again, double-check the claims in Hitler"s Pope , and publish the reviews. Some of the results proved deeply embarrassing for Cornwell, particularly the falsity of his boast that he had spent "months on end" in the archives, when he visited the Vatican for only three weeks and didn"t go to the archives every day of that. The Italian letter from Pacelli that Cornwell placed at the center of his book as evidence of deep anti-Semitism had been, he claimed, waiting secretly "like a time bomb" until he did his research. In fact, it had been published in 1992 in a book by Emma Fattorini, who"an actual Italian, not working on a partisan translation"thought it meant very little. By the time all this came out, however, Hitler"s Pope had ridden out its time on the best-seller list.
Pius" supporters were better prepared for Susan Zuccotti, and still better prepared for Garry Wills, and David Kertzer, and James Carroll, and, particularly, Daniel Goldhagen, who was especially harried in late 2002. By then, the whole thing had turned into a giant game of "Whack the Mole," with dozens of reviewers ready to smash their mallets down on the next author to stick up his head. Poor Peter Godman, for instance, has recently written Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives that Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church ; before the book was even out of galleys, the scholars had ready a list of Godman"s factual errors, missed documents, and wrongheaded translations.
As it happens, Godman appears not to have done a terrible job with Hitler and the Vatican . Despite its tendentious opening"how could the Vatican "not raise its voice against the cruelties of racism, the brutality of totalitarianism [and] the repression of liberties in the Third Reich?" Godman asks, although his own book goes on to prove the Vatican to some degree did exactly that" Hitler and the Vatican seems, on the whole, slightly more a defense than an assault, blaming mostly the Austrian bishop Alois Hudal for what other authors have charged against Eugenio Pacelli while he was nuncio in Germany and secretary of state in Rome. Just as The Deputy moved the archivists in Rome to release Actes et Documents over the next sixteen years, so the current Pius War has prompted an accelerated"by glacial Vatican norms"opening of a few new archives from the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939), whom Pacelli served as the Vatican"s secretary of state. Along with an Italian Jesuit named Giovanni Sale (who has been writing a torrent of articles for the Roman Jesuit journal La Civilt Cattolica ), Godman is among the first scholars to have used the new documents.
NOT ENOUGH S
Some conspiracy theorists maintain that Just before 9/11 an "extraordinary" amount of put options were placed on United Airlines and American Airlines stocks and speculate that insiders may have known in advance of the coming events of 9/11 and placed their bets accordingly. An analysis into the possibility of insider trading on 9/11 concludes that:
A measure of abnormal long put volume was also examined and seen to be at abnormally high levels in the days leading up to the attacks. Consequently, the paper concludes that there is evidence of unusual option market activity in the days leading up to September 11 that is consistent with investors trading on advance knowledge of the attacks. "Allen M. Poteshman, The Journal of Business
On the days leading up to 9/11, two airlines saw a rise in their put to call ratio. These two airlines were United Airlines and American Airlines, the two airlines whose planes were hijacked on 9/11. Between September 6 and 7, the Chicago Board Options Exchange saw purchases of 4,744 "put" option contracts in UAL versus 396 call options. On September 10, more trading in Chicago saw the purchase of 4,516 put options in American Airlines, the other airline involved in the hijackings. This compares with a mere 748 call options in American purchased that day. No other airline companies saw anomalies in their put to call ratio in the days leading up to the attacks. American Airlines however, had just released a major warning about possible losses.
Insurance companies saw anomalous trading activities as well. Citigroup Inc., which has estimated that its Travelers Insurance unit may pay $500 million in claims from the World Trade Center attack, had about 45 times the normal volume during three trading days before the attack for options that profit if the stock falls below $40. Citigroup shares fell $1.25 in late trading to $38.09. Morgan Stanley, which occupied 22 floors at the World Trade Center, experienced bigger-than-normal pre-attack trading of options that profit when stock prices fall. Other companies that were directly affected by the tragedy had similar jumps.
Raytheon, a defense contractor, had an anomalously high number of call options trading on September 10. A Raytheon option that makes money if shares are more than $25 each had 232 options contracts traded on the day before the attacks, almost six times the total number of trades that had occurred before that day.
The initial options were bought through at least two brokerage firms, including NFS, a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments, and TD Waterhouse. It was estimated that the trader or traders would have realized a five million dollar profit. The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an insider trading investigation in which Osama bin Laden was a suspect after receiving information from at least one Wall Street Firm.
The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that "Exhaustive investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, FBI, and other agencies have uncovered no evidence that anyone with advance knowledge of the attacks profited through securities transactions." The report further stated:
Highly publicized allegations of insider trading in advance of 9/11 generally rest on reports of unusual pre-9/11 trading activity in companies whose stock plummeted after the attacks. Some unusual trading did in fact occur, but each such trade proved to have an innocuous explanation. For example, the volume of put options " investments that pay off only when a stock drops in price " surged in the parent companies of United Airlines on September 6 and American Airlines on September 10 " highly suspicious trading on its face. Yet, further investigation has revealed that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95 percent of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S.-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades. These examples typify the evidence examined by the investigation. The SEC and the FBI, aided by other agencies and the securities industry, devoted enormous resources to investigating this issue, including securing the cooperation of many foreign governments. These investigators have found that the apparently suspicious consistently proved innocuous.
Air defense stand down theory
A common claim among conspiracy theorists is that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) issued a stand down order or deliberately scrambled fighters late to allow the hijacked airplanes to reach their targets without interference. According to this theory, NORAD had the capability of locating and intercepting planes on 9/11, and its failure to do so indicates a government conspiracy to allow the attacks to occur. Conspiracy theorist Mark R. Elsis says: "There is only one explanation for this ... Our Air Force was ordered to Stand Down on 9/11."
One of the first actions taken by the hijackers on 9/11 was to turn off or disable each of the four aircraft's on board transponders. Without these transponder signals to identify the airplane's tail number, altitude, and speed, the hijacked airplanes would have been only blips among 4,500 other blips on NORAD"s radar screens, making them very difficult to track.
On 9/11, only 14 fighter jets were on alert in the contiguous 48 states. There was no automated method for the civilian air traffic controllers to alert NORAD. A passenger airline had not been hijacked in the U.S. since 1979. "They had to pick up the phone and literally dial us," says Maj. Douglas Martin, public affairs officer for NORAD. Only one civilian plane"a chartered Learjet 35 with golfer Payne Stewart and five others on board"was intercepted by NORAD over North America in the decade prior to 9/11, which took one hour and 19 minutes.
Rules in effect at that time, and on 9/11, barred supersonic flight on intercepts. Before 9/11, all other NORAD interceptions were limited to offshore Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ). "Until 9/11 there was no domestic ADIZ," says FAA spokesman Bill Schumann. After 9/11, the FAA and NORAD increased cooperation. They set up hotlines between command centers while NORAD increased its fighter coverage and installed radar to watch airspace over the continent.
The longest warning NORAD received of the hijackings was some eight minutes for American Airlines Flight 11, the first flight hijacked. The FAA alerted NORAD to the hijacked Flight 175 at just about the same time it was crashing into the World Trade Center's South Tower. The FAA notified NORAD of the missing " not hijacked " Flight 77 three minutes before it struck the Pentagon. NORAD received no warning of the hijack of United Flight 93 until three minutes after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.
See also: September 11 attacks advance-knowledge conspiracy theories: Israel
It has been claimed that Israeli agents may have had foreknowledge of the attacks. Four hours after the attack, the FBI arrested five Israelis who had been filming the smoking skyline from the roof of a white van in the parking lot of an apartment building, for "puzzling behavior". The Israelis were videotaping the events, and one bystander said they acted in a suspicious manner: "They were like happy, you know ... They didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange." While The Forward, a New York Jewish news magazine, reported that the FBI concluded that two of the men were Israeli intelligence operatives, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in the United States said that they had not been involved in any intelligence operation in the United States. The FBI eventually concluded that the five Israelis had no foreknowledge of the attacks.
With apologies for the missing accents here and in the French bits of the long posting which follows " the dedication to "Le Pouvoir dans la Peau" (Power in the skin) reads "A Alastair Campbell, mon spin doctor prefere" (three missing accents in one word " mes excuses sinceres).
So what did I do for this honour, you are asking? Well, perhaps the fact that he asked me to read his book, and write a "postface" assessment both of his writing and of the issues he covers, and the fact that I said yes, has something to do with it. He says some blushmakingly kind things in his "preface to the postface", which I will have to leave to French readers of the whole thing (published by Plon). But for the largely Anglophone visitors of this blog, I thought some of you might like to read the said "postface" in English (apart from the bits where I quote direct from his book). I hope all those students who write asking for help with dissertations will find something quotable in it.
Meanwhile I am off to Norway for a conference and a meeting with the Norwegian Labour Party. I"m looking forward to being in the country with the highest "human development index" in the world, and which showed such a mature response to the recent massacre of Oslo and Utoya.
Here is the postface to Le Pouvoir dans la Peau
Jacques Seguela writes about political campaigns and communications not merely as an expert analyst, but as an experienced practitioner. Hence his latest book contains both insights worth heeding, but also enlivening tales of his own experience. He is observer and participant; outsider looking in, and insider looking out. There is much to look at, not least in France with a Presidential election looming, and the outcome far from easy to predict.
We live in a world defined by the pace of change, and whilst the velocity of that change has not always impacted upon our political institutions, many of which would remain recognisable to figures of history, it most certainly has impacted upon political communications. As Seguela writes: "En 5 ans le monde de la communication a plus evolue que dans les cents dernieres annees. " Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook have quickly entered our language and changed the way we communicate, live our private lives, do business, do politics. People do not believe politicians as much as they once did. Nor do they believe the media. So who do we believe? We believe each other. The power and the political potential of social networks flows from that reality. Though fiercely modern in their application, social networks in some ways take us back to the politics of the village square. They are an electronic word of mouth on a sometimes global scale. This has changed the way people interact with each other and with their politicians.
My first campaign as spokesman and strategist for Tony Blair was in 1997, three years in the planning after he had become leader of the Opposition Labour Party. Some of the principles of strategy we applied back then would certainly apply to a modern day election. But their tactical execution almost certainly would not. Politicians and their strategists have to adapt to change as well as lead it. Seguela gives some interesting insights into those who have adapted well, and those who have done less well. He clearly adores former President Lula of Brazil and you can feel his yearning for a French leader who can somehow combine hard-headed strategy with human empathy in the same way as a man who left office with satisfaction ratings of 87percent. Seguela probably remains best known in political circles for his role advising Francois Mitterrand. Yet wheras I am "tribal Labour", and could not imagine supporting a Conservative Party candidate in the UK, Seguela came out as a major supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy. I wonder if one of the reasons was not a frustration that large parts of the left in France remain eternally suspicious of modern communications techniques and styles which, frankly, no modern leader in a modern democracy can ignore. How he or she adapts to, or uses, them is up to them. But you cannot stand aside and imagine the world has not changed.
If Lula is a star of this book, so too is Barack Obama. American elections are of enormous interest to all political campaign junkies, a category in which both Seguela and I would almost certainly qualify. Much is made of Obama"s use of the internet, a relatively new phenomenon in historical terms and one the young Senator used brilliantly in his quest to become President. Yet though it was an accurate expression of his modernity, underpinning its use were some very old-fashioned campaign principles. He used it to turn supporters into activists who both gave funds and also took his campaign materials and ideas and ran their own campaigns for him. Somehow he managed to make one of the most professional, most disciplined and best funded campaigns in history look like an enormous act of democratic participation.
It was less command and control " the model we certainly adopted in 1997 and 2001, Labour"s two landslide victories, easing off a little for our third win in 2005 " than "inspire and empower." "Yes we can" not "yes I can". His supporters were more than supporters. They were an active part of the campaign, and of the message. The key to this was something that had nothing to do with politicians and everything to do with science, technology and the internet. Ask me who has had the most influence on campaigns in recent times and I might be tempted to reply Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with gifting the web to the world. Its implications have been far reaching in virtually all aspects of our lives, politics and political campaigns foremost. The new household brand names of the cyber era have not replaced good policy work, messaging and organisation. But they have become essential components of the execution of them in the campaign. Mainstream conventional media remains important and influential, not least because, bizarrely, in most democracies the broadcasters continue to let the press set their agenda for them. But a candidate who tries to stand against the tide of new media will be making a big mistake, and missing big opportunities. If it has changed so much in the last five years, how much more will it change in the next five years?
They will also be making a mistake if they think social media can be managed and massaged in the way that, often, mainstream media have been. The key " on this I agree totally with Seguela " is authenticity. And that should be good news for authentic political leaders and an authenticity hungry public alike.
The public tend to get to the point of an election. Seguela has an interesting account of the last UK election and in particular the first ever televised Leaders" Debates. Though I had worked on three campaigns for Tony Blair, I am sufficiently tribally Labour to have answered a call from his successor, Gordon Brown, to go back to help him for his first election campaign as leader in 2011. One of the roles I ended up playing was that of David Cameron in Brown"s preparatory sessions for the TV debates. These debates mattered, that much was sure. Election planning for Blair, I had always been doubtful about the benefit of such debates in a Parliamentary democracy where our leaders meet each other week in week out in the crucible of the House of Commons. I was worried the media would make them all about themselves, and that the policy issues would be drowned out. So it proved. Yet in a way the public did get to the point they wanted to. They did not particularly want Labour back after 13 years in power. They did not particularly yearn for David Cameron and a Conservative Party unsure about its direction. So the third party leader emerged through the middle. Nick Clegg was judged the clear winner by the instant reactions of public and media alike. For a few days he seemed impregnable. Yet come the vote, he did not make a huge breakthrough. It was only because neither Labour nor the Tories could get over the line that Clegg ended up as deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government. The country had not been able to make its mind up, delivered a muddled result and asked the leaders to sort it out. The leader who came first and the leader who came third did a deal to do so.
I think Seguela is too kind to Cameron. Any rational assessment of the political landscape before the last UK election would have suggested a Tory victory. Labour in power a long time; the economic crash; a Parliament dominated by a scandal involving MPs" expenses; Iraq back in the news because of the official Inquiry; Afghanistan not going well; the press even more strongly in favour of a Tory win than they had been for a Labour win in 1997, and vicious about Brown. Also the Tories had big money to spend on the campaign and Labour did not. Yet Cameron could not secure a majority. Why not? There is no simple answer. The wonder of democracy lies in millions of people having their own experiences, impressions and judgements before deciding how to cast their vote. But the strategist in me says the simple answer is that Cameron lacked real strategic clarity. I think Sequela would agree that for all the changes that technological and mediatic change has forced upon political campaigns, strategy remains the key. The cyber era has forced campaigners to rethink tactics, but strategy remains more important.
He and I are clearly in agreement that John McCain"s appointment of Sarah Palin as running mate, for example, was a tactical masterstroke, but a strategic catastrophe. Tactically, he excited hi
Former athlete and sportscaster David Icke has proposed that a race of reptilian, shape-shifting extraterrestrials is bent on world domination and subjugating the human race to slavery. Icke attributes a number of world catastrophes to the aliens, including 9/11. Icke began a new series of speaking engagements in late 2014 entitled "9/11 was an inside job". Therefore reptiles did the job
No votes have been placed for this debate.
You are not eligible to vote on this debate
This debate has been configured to only allow voters who meet the requirements set by the debaters. This debate either has an Elo score requirement or is to be voted on by a select panel of judges.