At least according to Fred Kaplan over at Slate, who was telling us yesterday that Clarke is too shrewd to get caught contradicting himself. Well, now Clarke has been caught contradicting himself, but Kaplan is still sticking with the story that he is extraordinarily shrewd. I was eager to see how Kaplan would explain the discrepancy between Clarke’s 2002 briefing and various other statements on the one hand and his book on the other. He doesn’t. Kaplan makes two points.
1) That Clarke’s prior testimony to the 9/11 commission–when he apparently wasn’t so harsh about Bush–didn’t focus on the Iraq War. His book sounds different because it does focus on the war. As Kaplan says, “The heart of his book’s attacks surrounds the war.” This won’t wash. Yes, there is a lot of Iraq in the book, but there is also a lot of argument about how Bush did, as Clarke has put it, “virtually nothing” about al Qaeda prior to 9/11. You can’t square Clarke’s 2002 briefing and the book on this point. So I guess Kaplan is wise not to try.
2) Kaplan explains that Clarke had limited choices when he was asked to give that 2002 briefing. He could have resigned, but he thought he still had important work to do. “He could have lied, but nobody told him to do that, and he wouldn’t have in any case.” Or he could just put the best spin on things that were strictly true. Fine. As I said earlier, it is theoretically possible for Clarke to give a generous version of the facts in 2002, then write a more complete and critical account once he becomes a private citizen. But this is manifestly not what Clarke has done. He has written a book arguing that Bush did virtually nothing, when we know from Clarke’s briefing that it was the Bush team that began to change counterterrorism policy and move it in a more aggressive direction after it had been frozen in place since late 1998. Clarke defenders like Kaplan have to square the book with the briefing and none of them that I have seen have done it–and in my opinion, it can’t be done.