Politics & Policy

Dick Clarke’s Not-So-Grand Stand

A former national-security aide is all over the map.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the April 19, 2004, issue of National Review.

What do they say about a woman scorned? She apparently is nothing compared with a career bureaucrat. Hell hath no fury–especially if 60 Minutes is willing to play along.

Former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism official Richard Clarke is an intelligent and well-informed man, who projects a serious (if rather egomaniacal) image. His anti-Bush case has been helped by the fact that his essential charge–that the Bush administration should have done more sooner to try to prevent 9/11–seems undeniable in light of events. (Clinton should have done more, Congress should have done more, the media should have done more–everyone should have done more.)

Clarke has taken this inherent credibility and used it to make a discreditable case against the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 counterterror policy. In August 2002, when he was still a White House official, Clarke gave a press briefing that portrayed the Bush team grappling energetically with the issue of terrorism before 9/11. By way of explaining the difference between that session and his critique of Bush in his book (Against All Enemies), his TV appearances, and his testimony to the 9/11 commission, Clarke said it is mostly a matter of “tenor and tone.” So it is. He extends a sympathetic understanding to the Clinton administration’s failure to adopt a more aggressive anti-al-Qaeda posture, while subjecting the Bush administration’s delay in doing so to the harshest possible interpretation.

About the Clinton administration, Clarke says, in effect, that he himself would have been more aggressive, but other very concerned and serious officials disagreed, for understandable reasons: the sheer difficulty of changing policy; the importance of other priorities, such as the Middle East peace process and Kosovo; the broader domestic political context, from the distraction created by Clinton’s impeachment to the fact that “only” 35 Americans had been killed by al-Qaeda prior to September 11.

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