Almost all I know is what I saw on “60 Minutes” last night. I need to do more homework. But it seems to me that Clarke cannot simply be dismissed as a jerk with an agenda (as I am perfectly comfortable doing with Joe Wilson). That said, that doesn’t mean we have to buy everything Clarke says without skepticism. The first point, which I think “60 Minutes” did a masterful job of blurring is that Clarke’s criticism is twofold, with part 1 being very different than part 2.
His critique of pre-9/11 Bush says that Bush and his crew weren’t particularly interested in Clarke’s opinions. Clarke takes this as an outrage, and it may well be that it was stupid on the Bushie’s part to ignore him (that’s certainly turned out to be true politically). But it’s sounds like Clarke was an embittered holdover from the Clinton administration who was kept on out of an admirable desire for continuity. Clarke basically confirmed this when he admitted that he was upset about his demotion from Cabinet level status. He just said — through clenched teeth — that he wasn’t angry enough to quit right away. I guess he wanted to bide his time for a book.
He also complains that the Administration was “too” concerned about Iraq when it took over. Well, A) this isn’t news and B) this is debatable given what Clinton himself had said publicly about Iraq’s WMD programs. Obviously, in retrospect, the Bush administration did not concentrate on al Qaeda enough as Clarke suggests. And — if true — the allegation that the Bushies ignored the pre-9/11 chatter to the extent Clarke claims is a serious one.
But, it strikes me as a shocking example of blame-dodging for the guy who ran Bill Clinton’s anti-terrorism agency to be making these charges. After all, if there’s one guy more completely culpable for the growth of al Qaeda over the last decade you’d think it would be Clarke. Of course, his defense might be that Clinton didn’t listen to him enough (Where’s my copy of Legacy). But that’s not Clarke’s charge. Rather, he charges — according to “60 Minutes’” telling that all of the serious mistakes on this front were made by Bush & Co.
Clarke’s critique of post 9/11 Bush is quite vague beyond Clarke’s opposition to the Iraq war. Again, this can be a serious argument, but it’s nothing new and beyond his stature, he offers nothing new to it. The substance of his major critiques beyond that were that Bush and Rumsfeld were too eager to hit Iraq, not Afghanistan. Maybe so, but Bush quite quickly ended up following precisely the course Clarke had reccomended, i.e. hitting Afghanistan. Clarke tries to make it sound like Bush was willing to falsely blame Iraq for 9/11, but this charge is flimsy in Clarke’s own telling (Clarke got that sense, but never heard those words) and the more charitable interpretations are the more plausible — i.e. Bush & Co. thought it was Iraq but were persuaded by the facts that Afghanistan had to be the first target. A-ha, says Clarke, but the Bushies were willing and eager to have Iraq be the second target. True enough. But here again we are back in to a fairly conventional anti-war argument. That Clarke made it from the inside of the White House at least demonstrates that those who claimed the White House suffered from group-think were wrong.