A little more than twelve years ago I sat in my room in the Norfolk Hotel and listened to our embassy in Nairobi being blown up. Now, our ambassador at the time says we knew it was going to happen.
Prudence Bushnell, U.S. ambassador to Kenya in August, 1998, listed 8 reasons in a July interview with the Washington Post that contributed to bad intelligence sharing that prevented her from knowing at the time that the Nairobi and Dar embassies were going to be blown up. But it was only last week that she got frighteningly specific, during a radio interview on WBEZ’s WorldView program.
A man walked into the Nairobi embassy in December, 1997, identified himself as a scared Al-Qaeda recruit and said he wanted to warn the embassy that it would be blown up with a truck bomb. (That was how it was done eight months later.)
Dismissed as a “flake” by embassy staff, the man was later apprehended in Tanzania and tried for his involvement in the Dar embassy bombing. He wasn’t convicted, but deported back to Egypt where he’s disappeared.
Bushnell is obviously quite bitter. Her rants and raves against the intelligence service then and now fluctuate between on-point and churlish. But the truth seeps out.
Bushnell wasn’t very good. I remember thinking that at the time, comparing her diplomatic capability to the caliber of binoculars that carry her name. She morphed as a career civil servant into high diplomatic brass when Bill Clinton was elected president.
She was immediately thrust into two failures as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. First, Blackhawk Down, and second, the Rwandan genocide. She complains often viciously of being placed in public positions of prominence, but never being let into the circle of real intelligence that knew she was going to fail. Sort of propped up to the be the fall girl.
Her ultimate excuse for not stopping the African embassy bombings was that the growing intelligence that something was going to happen was buried by the Monica Lewinsky affair.
But cut through her whining and you find some terrible news. There was enough intelligence to stop the Rwandan genocide, we’ve known that for years. But there was also plenty of intelligence to stop the Kenyan and probably Dar bombings five years later; that’s news.
Not only didn’t we learn from our mistakes, but apparently, doomed to suffer them, again.
And let her personal vindication settle out and she describes an America we know all too well: inebriated with its successes, blind to the future.
She accurately explains how the end of the Cold War fooled the government, mostly a Republican Congress, into thinking the world was now hunky dory.
“Many Congressmen didn’t think we needed embassies, anymore,” she claims. So funding was slashed for the State Department.
The 1986 truck bombing of our Lebanon embassy resulted in new regulations requiring all embassies to be off-set from main thoroughfares. Had those regulations been implemented in Nairobi, 224 people would not have been killed and more than 4000 not wounded.
But they weren’t. Because Congress denied the funds.
I think it’s important that we keep in mind this happened during the Clinton administration. I’ve always been skeptical about his popularity. Today, he’s championed as the democrats White Knight, saving Obama from himself.
But my feelings about Clinton have always been tainted by his failures in Somali, Rwanda.. and now, apparently, Kenya and Tanzania. The guy oversaw an exploding domestic economy and did implement a few home policies that seemed progressive.
But he was a failure when it came to intelligence and was unable or unwilling to correlate these failures with the growing threats to America, much less the world as a whole.
So long as he could get top billing with Jay Leno for wiping out welfare services, Clinton seemed pleased as puddin-pie as the world was being subsumed by Al-Qaeda. Bushnell claims that the Clinton Administration considered Nairobi a “backwater” not worth paying any attention to.
After wards, Clinton became a real Afrophile, apologizing profusely for his negligence in Rwanda and throwing untold millions into East Africa, almost as reparations for the bombings, implying if never saying, “If Only I’d Known.”
And in that context, Bushnell comes right out of his mold. Capable of complaining and apologizing, she nevertheless reflects blame elsewhere.
Later this swirl of evil hits the Twin Towers. We now know that Bush II also ignored important intelligence, thrust the world into wrong wars in reaction and probably never read John Le Carre.
Has this ostrich head in the sand ended? I hope so, but just for insurance I think I’ll trust Kenyan diplomacy over American diplomacy when it comes to dealing with Al-Qaeda.