EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the May 3, 2004, issue of National Review.
In the weeks since former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke began promoting his anti-Bush book, Against All Enemies, it has become commonplace for the president’s critics to say there are “contradictions” or “inconsistencies” in the Bush administration’s defense of its actions in the days leading up to the 9/11 attacks. The talk became so intense that Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the 9/11 investigating commission, virtually demanded that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice testify “under the penalty of perjury.” The New York Times reported that the chairman was moved to act because of “discrepancies” between Rice’s statements and Clarke’s.
Yet after Rice testified, Clarke himself declared, “I don’t see that there are a lot of factual problems with what Dr. Rice said.” Appearing on ABC News, where he is a paid analyst, Clarke added, “There were one or two minor points here or there that I think are probably wrong. But overall, I think she corroborated what I said.”
Given all the accusations that had been made, a fair-minded observer might be moved to ask, “What’s going on? Are there contradictions, or not?” And the answer is, mostly not. To begin with, much of the arguing about contradictions and discrepancies was simply rhetorical. Arguing from the same set of facts, administration critics said Bush did not do enough to fight terrorism before 9/11, while the president’s defenders said he did. Other controversies involved more invective than argument, as when Clarke, making the rounds of TV talk shows, said, “President Bush did nothing [about terrorism] prior to September 11.” No one who was trying to seriously portray the administration’s position on terrorism would have said that.
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