It seems like every year, our nation’s 20/20 hindsight gets better and better. I’d put our vision looking back at 20/10 even. If only the future were more clear. Some are making the charge that they did see the future and the rest of us just didn’t happen to be listening. Richard Clarke is the latest to make such allegations.
Like Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke has come out saying that the Bush administration was pre-occupied with the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq just days into the presidency. Clarke charges that not enough was done to prevent 9/11, and that despite warnings that he made, no action was taken: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe, we’ll never know.”
It would actually be a much more accurate assessment to say that terrorism had been ignored by our government for years, possibly decades, but I’m not counting. Clarke goes on to say that, “I think they had an idée fixe, a plan from Day One that they wanted to do something about Iraq.” Yes, why not show the regime in Iraq that starting with this presidency, Saddam is ok with us?
The fact is, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, not Iraq, 40 days after September 11th, 2001. It wasn’t until a year and a half after Afghanistan that our military forces invaded Iraq. Before September 11th, there had simply been no attempt to raise Iraq as an issue by the Bush administration. On March 4th 2001, Vice President Cheney told CNN that Iraq did not represent a serious threat at the time. Later that month, the Chicago Tribune reported that Bush would scale back enforcement of the no-fly zones in Iraq.
Richard Clarke, who served as “terrorism czar” under the Clinton administration, and who was passed over as Homeland Security Director in favor of Tom Ridge following 9/11, did air his concerns about al Qaeda in early 2001. According to the Bush administration, many of his ideas were implemented. However, none of his concerns related to an al Qaeda attack on American soil, and none of his suggestions would have helped prevent 9/11. Condoleeza Rice characterized Clarke’s discussion of al Qaeda as pedantic; “I wasn’t born yesterday when Clarke briefed me. This wasn’t an issue of who knew about al Qaeda, but what we were going to do about al Qaeda.” Richard Clarke did meet with the president a week before the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Clarke’s main focus for that cabinet meeting was “cyber terrorism.”
To anyone with a recollection of events before 9/11, it’s obvious that at that time, our government was not pursuing an agenda to remove Hussein from power. Even Paul O’Neill backtracked from initial reports, admitting that President Bush was simply continuing work that had been started by administrations past, both Democratic and Republican. Given Saddam Hussein’s brutal past, chemical warfare on his own people, secretly developing weapons of mass destruction (at least, according to everyone including the U.N. before 2003), taking constant potshots at coalition pilots in the No-Fly zone, support of terrorists, and at one time conspiring to kill an American president, it’s not surprising that removal of his regime would merit greater attention following 9/11 – regardless of his direct involvement in it. And by all accounts (bi-partisan ones at least), America is safer as a result of his removal.
James Golden is a political columnist for MBGZ.com