Sunday, March 28, 2004

Make Up Your Mind, Clarke

Richard Clarke is confused – or at least so it seems. In his recent testimony before the 9/11 commission he began by theatrically announcing to the 9/11 families present in the audience, “Your government failed you.” He went on to describe how the terror threat under the Bush Administration was “not an urgent issue” and that “by invading Iraq, this president has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” Why do I say that Mr. Clarke appears confused? Because these statements delivered under oath in 2004 are diametrically opposed to what he said under oath in 2002.

The year after the terrorist attacks, Clarke gave testimony to congress which Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is pushing to have declassified. “Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Senator Frist said, continuing, “Loyalty to any administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied to Congress.”

Even though his testimony is not yet available to us, we do have a pretty good idea of what he said – as luck would have it, we have an audiotape of his statements to the press in the same year. In this tape, Clarke says that, in only the second month of the new Bush administration, Bush decided “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after Al Qaeda.” He also said that Bush, “changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda.” Clarke was further asked if the Bush administration refused to pay attention to the former Clinton administration’s suggestions because of the animosity between the two. He replied, “I think if there was a general animus that clouded their vision, they might not have kept the same guy dealing with [the] terrorism issue. This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn't sound like animus against uh the previous team to me.” Clarke continued to bubble over Bush’s effective leadership.

Clarke made the further error of admitting (in 2004) that, even if the President had done exactly what Clarke wanted him to, 9/11 would still not have been prevented. This is the one point he agrees on with the other officials who recently testified (including Rumsfeld, and Tenet). One wonders why Clarke himself wasn’t more effective, having served four different administrations in his career. Why should he blame Bush’s few months before 9/11 as opposed to blaming Clinton’s eight years? In fact, perhaps he should blame himself for failing in his specific capacity as a terrorism advisor.

So, why should Clarke change his former ‘opinions’ now? Because he is very angry at the Bush administration – not over the war on terror, but because he was essentially fired from the government. While it is true that Clarke formally resigned, he did so because he wanted to be Tom Ridge’s assistant, and to help lead the new Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately for Clarke, he had somewhat removed himself from “the loop.” He missed important meetings because, as he said, he had more important things to do. Therefore he was turned down in favor of Admiral James Loy and missed getting the assignment that he thought he deserved. He retired and broke precedent by writing a book full of scathing – and false – allegations about the current administration, breaking National Security’s reputation of professionalism and bipartisanism.Mr. Clarke should enjoy the limelight while he has it – because you can bet that the press will be a lot quieter when he is tried for perjury.

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