Politics & Policy

Clarke’s Self-Immolation

Auditioning for Dishonesty Czar.

Dean Acheson famously titled his memoir of his years as secretary of state after World War II Present at the Creation. Anyone close to Richard Clarke these last few days could write a memoir called Present at the Self-Immolation. Rarely has a former public servant with such a sterling reputation shot it all away so quickly.

If Clarke is ever hired in another administration, it should be as Dishonesty Czar. Even by the standard of the host of recent anti-Bush books, Clarke’s Against All Enemies distinguishes itself for its pathetically misleading and incomplete account of the facts.

For evidence of this, look no further than Clarke’s August 2002 briefing for reporters while he was still at the National Security Council.

In that briefing, first reported by Fox News, Clarke portrayed Bush as an antiterror stalwart.

Was he merely parroting talking points given to him by the Bush team? That’s the explanation he offered at yesterday’s hearing. But he can’t get off the hook so easily.

At the very least, what he said in August 2002 must have been factual. Otherwise, Clarke has revealed himself to be an opportunist who will lie at the direction of his superiors.

So, if what Clarke said was true (and no one has contradicted it), why didn’t he include it in his book?

A crucial (false) claim of Clinton defenders is that the Clinton team forged an anti-al-Qaeda war plan that was then handed over to the Bush administration and ignored. In his August 2002 briefing, Clarke said, “I think the overall point is, there was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.” His book seems to confirm that, but nowhere puts it so starkly.

In his 2002 briefing, Clarke said that the Bush administration decided in “mid-January” 2001 to continue with existing Clinton policy while deciding whether or not to pursue more aggressive ideas that had been rejected throughout the Clinton administration. Nowhere does this appear in his book.

He said in 2002 that the Bush administration had decided in principle in the spring of 2001 “to increase CIA resources . . . for covert action, five-fold, to go after al Qaeda.” Nowhere is this mentioned in his book.

In 2002, Clarke emphasized that the Bush team “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.” This is mentioned in his book, but–amazingly–as an afterthought.

Clarke in 2002 knocked down the idea that there was irrational animus toward the Clinton team on the part of the Bushies that blinded them to the necessity of strong counterterrorism. He offered himself, kept on as a holdover from the Clinton administration, as a refutation: “That doesn’t sound like animus against the previous team to me.” In his book, he suggests there was such an irrational animus.

Finally, in his 2002 briefing, Clarke made it clear that there was no “appreciable” change in U.S. terror policy from October 1998 until the Bush team began to reevaluate policy in the spring of 2001 and get more aggressive. His book implausibly argues the opposite, that Clinton was on the ball and Bush dropped it.

This is just the beginning of the contradictions and mistakes.

‐In his testimony yesterday, Clarke said that the Clinton administration had “no higher priority” than fighting terror. No. In his own book, he says trying to force a Middle East peace agreement was more important to Clinton than retaliating for the attack against USS Cole.

‐Clarke says in his book that Bush asked him to look into a possible Iraq connection to 9/11 in an “intimidating” way. No. Two other witnesses say there was nothing intimidating about Bush’s manner.

‐Clarke says Condi Rice appeared as if she hadn’t heard of al Qaeda before he mentioned it to her in early 2001. No. Rice made public statements in late 2000 noting the threat from bin Laden.

Given all of this, it’s hard to believe that anyone takes Richard Clarke seriously–including himself.

This first appeared in the New York Post and is reprinted with permission.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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