March 24, 2004

RICHARD CLARKE — NOT JUST FLIP-FLOPPING, BUT WRONG, as Michael Young writes in Reason:

By intervening in the relationship between the brutish Iraqi regime and its long-suffering subjects, the US adopted a policy of enforced democratization. As far as the Bush administration was concerned, a democratic Iraq at the heart of the Arab world could become a liberal beacon in the region, prompting demands for openness and real reform inside neighboring states. Ridiculous you say? The Syrian regime, faced in the past two weeks with protests by individuals seeking greater freedom and a revolt by disgruntled Kurds, would surely disagree.

This is where Clarke’s allegations, and those of critics who see a disconnect between Al Qaeda and Iraq, are misleading. Iraq always was essential to the anti-terrorism battle precisely because victory there was regarded as necessary to transform societies from where terrorists, spawned by suffocating regimes, had emerged. One can disagree with the practicability of such a strategy, but it is difficult to fault its logic. . . .

Lest some find this argument—that autocracy breeds terrorism—deceptive, it is worth recalling it was one that America’s most vociferous critics floated after Sept. 11. But that was before they realized that such an opinion placed them in the same boat as Bush administration hawks. Once they did, they preferred to backtrack, on the assumption that anti-Americanism is always more rewarding than consistency.

Indeed. The good news is that — used as a plan for action, rather than a formula for hair-shirted American inaction — this approach is actually working.

UPDATE: This story has more examples of Clarke flip-flops. Clarke’s current explanation — he was lying then, not now:

“When you are special assistant to the president and you’re asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn’t do enough or didn’t do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice,” he said.

One “choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did.”

This guy’s working for Rove. By the time he’s done imploding, Bush will have discredited the media and all his critics. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

The other possibility is that Clarke held an important national security job for years while being dumb as a post, so dumb that he would write a book making explosive accusations against the White House while knowing — or forgetting? — that all sorts of contradictory evidence was on the record and bound to come out. Otherwise, wouldn’t he at least have tried to explain this stuff up front?

As I’ve said before, I think there’s a lot to complain about regarding pre-9/11 antiterror policy, by both Clinton and Bush. (Read this piece by Gerald Posner). And a lot of people probably should have been fired. But Clarke is now saying that his real problem is with the invasion of Iraq, even as he focuses on pre-9/11 events.

A useful critique would be nice, but Clarke seems to be producing incoherent grandstanding.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It just gets worse. Here’s a report that Clarke was linking Iraqi WMDs and Al Qaeda back in 1999:

Clarke said U.S. intelligence does not know how much of the substance was produced at El Shifa or what happened to it. But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to El Shifa’s current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan.

There’s a lengthy excerpt from the Washington Post story (it’s pay only now) at the link above. I looked at the whole thing on NEXIS just to be sure it was in context. The excerpt does omit this passage, which perhaps weakens the Al Qaeda WMD point (but not the Iraqi connection) a bit:

Clarke said the U.S. does not believe that bin Laden has been able to acquire chemical agents, biological toxins or nuclear weapons. If evidence of such an acquisition existed, he said, “we would be in the process of doing something.”

On the other hand, it’s followed immediately by this howler:

Assessing U.S. counterterrorism policy to date, Clarke said it’s no accident that there have been so few terrorist attacks on American soil.

“The fact that we got seven out of the eight people from the World Trade Center [bombing], and we found them in five countries around the world and brought them back here, the fact we can demonstrate repeatedly that the slogan, ‘There’s nowhere to hide,’ is more than a slogan, the fact that we don’t forget, we’re persistent — we get them — has deterred terrorism,” he said.

Clarke thought our limp response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was scaring Al Qaeda?

We know better today. He should have known better then. Or maybe he was just trying to make his boss look good, which he’s admitted is a major consideration in his public statements.

So who’s his boss now?

MORE: Not Rep. Christopher Shays, who writes: “Clarke was part of the problem before September 11, because he took too narrow a view of the terrorism threat. His approach was reactive and limited to swatting at the visible elements of Al Qe’eda, not the hidden global network and its state sponsors. ” That description certainly fits with Clarke’s comments about the 1993 bombing response! Read the whole thing, along with the attachments, dating back to 2000. (Via Poliblog).

STILL MORE: Stephen Green observes:

Surely, there’s enough blame for 9/11 to go around the Washington Beltway once or twice at least. (How many times do I have to say George Tenet and John Ashcroft needed to be fired on September 12, before the usual fools stop accusing me of being a low-rent shill for the Bush Administration? Ugh. Anyway.) But to claim that Clarke was some kind of maven is just a desperate attempt to keep the blame all in one little pile.

And we all know how those stink.

Indeed. Meanwhile Eric Scheie looks at Clarke’s Y2K record and observes, “hype is nothing new to Richard Clarke.” Read the whole thing, which offers the kind of interesting background you seldom find in newspaper accounts.

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