Flash! Bush Incompetence Continues!

New York Times columnist Frank Rich:

[W]hen a hyperventilating President Bush rants that the exposure of his warrant-free wiretapping in a newspaper is shameful and puts “our citizens at risk” by revealing our espionage playbook, you have to wonder what he is really trying to hide. Our enemies, as America has learned the hard way, are not morons. Even if Al Qaeda hasn’t seen “Sleeper Cell” because it refuses to spring for pay cable, it has surely assumed from the get-go that the White House would ignore legal restraints on eavesdropping, just as it has on detainee jurisprudence and torture.

That the White House’s over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney’s disingenuousness. In last week’s oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, “The match is about to begin,” and, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president’s excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to mañana; the N.S.A. didn’t rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.

The highest priority for the Karl Rove-driven presidency is … to preserve its own power at all costs. With this gang, political victory and the propaganda needed to secure it always trump principles, even conservative principles, let alone the truth. Whenever the White House most vociferously attacks the press, you can be sure its No. 1 motive is to deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures.

The louder the reports of failures on this president’s watch, the louder he tries to drown them out by boasting that he has done everything “within the law” to keep America safe and by implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous. Mr. Bush certainly has good reason to pump up the volume now. In early December the former 9/11 commissioners gave the federal government a report card riddled with D’s and F’s on terrorism preparedness.

The front line of defense against terrorism is supposed to be the three-year-old, $40-billion-a-year Homeland Security Department, but news of its ineptitude, cronyism and no-bid contracts has only grown since Katrina. The Washington Post reported that one Transportation Security Administration contract worth up to $463 million had gone to a brand-new company that (coincidentally, we’re told) contributed $122,000 to a powerful Republican congressman, Harold Rogers of Kentucky. An independent audit by the department’s own inspector general, largely unnoticed during Christmas week, found everything from FEMA to border control in some form of disarray.

Yet even as this damning report was released, the president forced cronies into top jobs in immigration enforcement and state and local preparedness with recess appointments that bypassed Congressional approval.…

THE warrantless eavesdropping is more of the same incompetence. Like our physical abuse of detainees and our denial of their access to due process, this flouting of the law may yet do as much damage to fighting the war on terrorism as it does to civil liberties. As the First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus wrote in The Huffington Post, every defense lawyer representing a terrorism suspect charged in the four years since Mr. Bush’s N.S.A. decree can challenge the legality of the prosecution’s evidence. “The entire criminal process will be brought to a standstill,” Mr. Garbus explains, as the government refuses to give the courts information on national security grounds, inviting the dismissal of entire cases, and judges “up and down the appellate ladder” issue conflicting rulings.

Far from “bringing justice to our enemies,” as Mr. Bush is fond of saying, he may once again be helping them escape the way he did at Tora Bora.