I haven’t said much about the Richard Clarke situation: he clearly has some important things to say AND he equally clearly has an agenda against the Bush administration. Stuart Taylor has advice on what the administration should have been saying about Clarke, rather than their wholesale smear campaign against him:
- Richard Clarke served his country for many years with extraordinary dedication. But it is deeply irresponsible for him to create the false impression that if only we had listened to him, this administration could have prevented the September 11 attacks. Even Mr. Clarke himself admits — very quietly — that immediate adoption of every one of his recommendations would have made no difference. His claim that we did not make Al Qaeda our most urgent priority before 9/11 adds little to the president’s own statement in December 2001 (to The Washington Post), that he did not feel a “sense of urgency” about Al Qaeda then and was more focused on other threats.
Mr. Clarke credits the Clinton administration with worrying more about Al Qaeda than we did. But worrying is not a policy. Despite the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the bombings of our East Africa embassies in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000, the Clinton administration took no effective action. It blew up some empty tents in Afghanistan and retreated under fire from Somalia. We in the Bush administration wish that we had moved more rapidly against Al Qaeda. But by September 11, we had — as Mr. Clarke himself has previously stated — authorized a “fivefold” increase in the CIA’s covert action budget “to go after Al Qaeda” and “changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years … to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda.”
Mr. Clarke has said that “the reason I am strident in my criticism” of almost everything President Bush has done is his strong (although previously undisclosed) view that one of those actions — the liberation of Iraq — has hurt the war against terrorism. Mr. Clarke is entitled to his opinion. But disagreement with our post-9/11 Iraq policy cannot justify distortion of our pre-9/11 Qaeda policy. And we are convinced that he is wrong about Iraq — as are many independent analysts and some former Clinton administration officials who are more expert on strategic issues than Mr. Clarke is. He virtually ignores the clear benefits of removing the most dangerous tyrant in the world’s most dangerous region, a man who had used chemical weapons against his own people and sought far more devastating nuclear and biological weapons that might someday be used against America.
Mr. Clarke’s attacks are so riddled with inaccuracies and exaggerations, so inconsistent with his own prior statements, and so clearly designed to help the president’s political adversaries as to cast doubt on his credibility and motivations. Consider his claim that during a January 2001 briefing on Al Qaeda, Condi Rice’s “facial expression gave me the impression she had never heard the term before.” In fact, she had used the term, quite publicly. He could have looked it up.
Perhaps Mr. Clarke’s judgment has been warped by resentment of Rice and others who denied him the higher-level status that he considered his due and failed to stroke his legendary ego. Perhaps he sensed that a strident Bush-bashing book would sell more copies and be more helpful to John Kerry’s campaign than a thoughtful and sober critique. In any event, we would respect him more if he had voiced his objections on Iraq internally and then resigned in protest. Instead, he has waited until the heat of the presidential campaign to launch a vitriolic attack calculated to damage the president and enrich himself. This is not a stand on principle. It is partisan warfare. And it is a breach of trust. [National Journal]
Rebuttal without smear and hyperbole: this administration has a very hard time with that. Now would be a good time to learn – if they wish to remain in office past January, 2005, that is.