The press is abuzz with reports that former Clinton staffers are set to testify before the September 11 commission next week that "they repeatedly warned their Bush administration counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda posed the worst security threat facing the nation — and how the new administration was slow to act." The Clinton officials expected to so testify include Sandy Berger, Madeline Albright and Richard Clarke.
Where to begin: the mind boggles at such shamelessness. To state the obvious, in late 2000 the Clinton administration was STILL IN OFFICE. If there were steps that needed to be taken immediately to counter the al Qaeda threat, as they "bluntly" told President Bush's transition team, why didn't they take those steps themselves?
More broadly, of course, the Clinton administration was in power for eight years, while al Qaeda grew, prospered, and repeatedly attacked American interests:
*1993: Shot down US helicopters and killed US servicemen in Somalia
*1994: Plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila
*1995: Plotted to kill President Clinton during a visit to the Philippines
*1995: Plot to to bomb simultaneously, in midair, a dozen US trans-Pacific flights was discovered and thwarted at the last moment
*1998: Conducted the bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed at least 301 individuals and injured more than 5,000 others
*1999: Attempt to carry out terrorist operations against US and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations was discovered just in time by Jordanian authorities
*1999: In another millenium plot, bomber was caught en route to Los Angeles International Airport *2000: Bombed the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 US Navy members, and injuring another 39
So what, when they had the power to act effectively against al Qaeda, did these Clinton administration officials do? Little or nothing. Their most effective action was to bomb what turned out to be an aspirin factory in Sudan. They had the opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden, but decided not to do it because they were not sure their lawyers would approve.
For these people to criticize the Bush administration's efforts to protect Americans against terrorism, long after their own ineptitute had allowed al Qaeda to grow bold and powerful, is contemptible.
Of these Clintonite critics, the most important appears to be Richard Clarke. Clarke has written a book called Against All Enemies which will appear tomorrow--coincidentally, just in time for the 2004 election campaign. Clarke is being interviewed on 60 Minutes as I write this--a cozy corporate tie-in, as Viacom owns both CBS and the publisher of Clarke's book.
Clarke's charges against the Bush administration have already been widely published. Like his former boss Sandy Berger, he decries the Bush administration's failure to heed his "warnings" while Clarke and his fellow Clintonites were still in power. And he claims that Bush ignored terrorism "for months"--unlike his former boss, Bill Clinton, who ignored it for years.
But most of the attention flowing Clarke's way has centered on his claims about what happened when he was working inside the Bush administration after January 2001. Clarke was President Clinton's counter-terrorism coordinator; he was demoted by the Bush administration to director of cybersecurity. But before that demotion, he says that Bush's foreign policy advisers paid too much attention to Iraq. Then, after September 11, Clarke says that President Bush asked him to try to find out whether Iraq had been involved in the attack:
Now he never said, "Make it up." But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, "Iraq did this.'' He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection," and in a very intimidating way.
Clarke seems to view this request as a manifestation of a weird obsession. But Clarke must know that Iraq was involved in the Islamofascists' 1993 attempt to destroy the World Trade Center. So it was hardly unreasonable for President Bush to want to know whether Saddam was behind the successful effort in 2001 as well.
Assuming, of course, that the conversation ever took place. Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice's deputy, says that: "We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the president ever occurred."
More generally, Clarke accuses the administration of spoiling for a fight with Iraq and claims that Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, was talking about Iraq immediately after the September 11 attacks. This is exactly the same claim that was made by the rather pathetic Paul O'Neill. The most basic problem with this claim is that while the administration endorsed the act of Congress that made regime change in Iraq the policy of the United States, it didn't attack Iraq for a year and a half after September 11, and then only after Saddam had definitively thumbed his nose at a series of U.N. resolutions.
So, Richard Clarke's criticism of President Bush comes down to this: before September 11, like everyone else in the United States (including Clarke), he did not make al Qaeda terrorism his number one priority. Everything else he says is self-serving nonsense.
But let's pursue a little further the question, who exactly is Richard Clarke? What do we know about him?
First, we know that before September 11, he was professionally committed to the idea that al Qaeda represented a new form of "stateless terrorism" that could never cooperate with a country like Iraq:
Prior to 9/11, the dominant view within the IC was that al Qaida represented a new form of stateless terrorism. That was also the view promoted by the Clinton White House, above all terrorism czar, Richard Clarke. To acknowledge that Iraqi intelligence worked with al Qaida is tantamount to acknowledging that all these people made a tremendous blunder--and they are just not going to do it.
We now know that this dogma was false, and Iraq did in fact support and collaborate with al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. But there is no one as resistant to new information as a bureaucrat who has staked his career on a theory.
Second, we know that Richard Clarke was very willing to justify pre-emptive attack, on the basis of imperfect intelligence, when the attacker was Bill Clinton:
I would like to speak about a specific case that has been the object of some controversy in the last month -- the U.S. bombing of the chemical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger wrote an article for the op-ed page of today's Washington Times about that bombing, providing the clearest rationale to date for what the United States did. He asks the following questions: What if you were the president of the United States and you were told four facts based on reliable intelligence. The facts were: Usama bin Ladin had attacked the United States and blown up two of its embassies; he was seeking chemical weapons; he had invested in Sudan's military-industrial complex; and Sudan's military-industrial complex was making VX nerve gas at a chemical plant called al-Shifa? Sandy Berger asks: What would you have done? What would Congress and the American people have said to the president if the United States had not blown up the factory, knowing those four facts?
Is it really a crazy idea that terrorists could get chemical or biological weapons?
Well, no, it's anything but a crazy idea. But Clarke seems to have gotten a very different attitude toward that possibility once a Republican became President.
Third, we know that Clarke bought into the now-discredited "law enforcement" approach to counter-terrorism: if people are making war on us, arrest them!
Long before our embassies in Africa were attacked on August 7, 1998, the United States began implementing this presidential directive. Since the embassies were attacked, we have disrupted bin Ladin terrorist groups, or cells. Where possible and appropriate, the United States will bring the terrorists back to this country and put them on trial. That statement is not an empty promise.
No, it wasn't an empty promise. Clinton's promise of due process for terrorists explains why bin Laden is alive today, along with many of his confederates.
So it is not hard to see why Richard Clarke, a discredited and demoted bureaucrat, would be bitter toward President Bush and the members of his administration who have carried out a successful anti-terrorism campaign, far different from the one endorsed by Clarke and the Clinton administration.
But is Clarke only a bitter ex-bureaucrat, or is there more to his attack on President Bush? Let's consider both Clarke's personal history and his current employment. Clarke now teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; here is his Kennedy School bio, which notes that the capstone of his career in the State Department was his service as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Another professor at the Kennedy School is Rand Beers, who is evidently an old friend and colleague of Clarke's, as Beers' Kennedy School bio says that "[d]uring most of his career he served in the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs."
So Clarke and Beers, old friends and colleagues, have continued their association at the Kennedy School. Indeed, they even teach a course together. And, by the most astonishing coincidence, their course relates directly to the subject matter of Clarke's attack on the Bush administration: "Post-Cold War Security: Terrorism, Security, and Failed States" is the name of the course. Here is its syllabus:
Between them Rand Beers and Richard Clarke spent over 20 years in the White House on the National Security Council and over 60 years in national security departments and agencies. They helped to shape the transition from Cold War security issues to the challenges of terrorism, international crime, and failed states...Case studies will include Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, Colombia, and Afghanistan. Challenges of counter-terrorism and homeland security will also be addressed.
Why do we find this particularly significant? Because Rand Beers' bio says:
He resigned [his State Department position] in March 2003 and retired in April. He began work on John Kerry's Presidential campaign in May 2003 as National Security/Homeland Security Issue Coordinator.
There you have it: Richard Clarke is a bitter, discredited bureaucrat who was an integral part of the Clinton administration's failed approach to terrorism, was demoted by President Bush, and is now an adjunct to John Kerry's presidential campaign.
Thanks to the indefatigable Dafydd ab Hugh for noting the connections between Clarke and Beers.