No, this is not Richard Clarke’s blog. But the guy has been saying so much in recent days about the Clinton and Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts that I just can’t move on to other things yet.
I’ve been watching his public testimony today before the bipartisan 9/11 commission, where Clarke said:
-- President Bush “greatly undermined” the war on terrorism by invading Iraq. He’s hardly alone on this. Other analysts have complained that Iraq a) drained resources from the campaign to find Osama bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida and its sibling networks and b) fed al-Qaida propaganda that the real U.S. goal was the occupation of oil-right Muslim countries in the Middle East.
-- In 15 hours(!) of closed testimony before the commission no one had asked his opinion of the Iraq war. Well, they are tasked with investigating 9/11, but you would think the little matter of the war might have come up at some point.
-- “No, it is not,” when asked if National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s characterization of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts – which she claimed included the option of military action and “taking the fight to the enemy where he lives” before 9/11 -- was accurate.
We also learned that one week before the disastrous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Clarke sent Rice a letter urging administration officials to imagine how they would feel if hundreds of Americans were killed in a terrorist strike.
That letter certainly was prescient, and it underscores Clarke’s contention that he was doing everything he could to spur the Bush administration into faster action against the threat posed by al-Qaida.
The administration and its supporters clearly are livid over Clarke’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” about his new book, and about his testimony before the 9/11 commission. Republicans on the commission, in particular former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, John Lehman, who was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, and Fred Fielding, who was Reagan's counsel, attacked Clarke for what they said was inconsistency and partisanship. IMHO, they didn’t make much of a dent in Clarke’s credibility.
When questioned, harshly, about his stinging criticisms of the Bush administration, Clarke denied he was doing any work for the campaign of Sen. John Kerry and said he would not accept any position in a Kerry administration if one was offered.
“The reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because ... by invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism,” he said.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who followed Clarke before the commission, conceded that:
-- “In retrospect, you can say we weren’t going fast enough” in developing a policy to respond to the al-Qaida threat – one of Clarke’s key assertions.
-- Rice was not accurate in claiming that an invasion of Afghanistan was being considered before 9/11.
-- The administration “didn’t have the imagination” to envison an attack as horrific as 9/11.
Clarke did. No one knows if a quicker, more determined attempt to deal with al-Qaida would have prevented 9/11. But it’s tragic that it didn’t happen.
Footnote: For a conservative take on Clarke's testimony, here's a link to Gregory Djerijian's blog, Belgravia Dispatch.
Update: The 9/11 commission also issued a report that said efforts to kill or capture Bin Laden were hamstrung by reliance on Afghan rebels for intelligence and confusion over whether Bill Clinton had given the OK to kill the terrorist if necessary.