Don’t Have to Be a Hippie to Identify a Liar
Clarke must be wondering if explaining what the United States
did not do in the war on terrorism is more dangerous than
actually fighting the terrorists. Clarke, the former terrorism
czar for presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now
being vilified by a host of Bush officials, including Dick
Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, as a liar.
The type of attack being made on Clarke, which consists of
leaks, threats and intimidation tactics, has become the genuine
hallmark of the Bush presidency. Previous victims of the Bush
smear machine include:
Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who challenged the fantasy
spun by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and correctly insisted
that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to pacify
Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had provided the Bush administration
with a report that Niger had not supplied Iraq with uranium
yellowcake essential for building a nuclear device. Not only
were his character and competence called into question, but
his family’s security was jeopardized by a White House leak
that his wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative.
Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, who reported on the
Bush administration obsession with Iraq and talk early on
of removing Saddam Hussein.
These smear campaigns were mild compared to the vicious assault
now underway against Clarke. What is the truth about Clarke?
I was neither a personal friend nor fan of Clarke when I was
in government. In my experience, he was arrogant and intense.
He probably still is. However, Clarke also is a competent
professional who has served faithfully with Democratic and
Republican administrations since the 1970s.
My first contact with Clarke came during January 1991 in the
operations center at State Department. Clarke was then assistant
secretary of state for political military affairs, and shared
space in the back rooms of the task force area with our state
In 1992, Clarke was exiled to the National Security Council
over a flap involving Israel. I was told at the time that
this move was intended to get rid of him.
I left government service in 1993, but continued to monitor
Clarke’s counterterrorism activities through friends and former
colleagues in the various policy and intelligence bureaucracies.
Some close friends complained (and still do) that Richard
was too alarmist and too pushy on some issues. While some
can quibble about his personality, there should be no dispute
that Clarke was an aggressive advocate for a tough response
Unfortunately, politicians in both parties chose to ignore
him on key issues. President Clinton, for example, sat on
the Presidential Decision Directive 39, which laid out his
administration’s plan for fighting terrorism, for 28 months
after taking office in January 1993. Clinton finally signed
the document after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995.
Clarke had pushed to get it done sooner.
Clarke was just as pushy with the Bush administration. In
the first months of the Bush presidency, a terrorism issue
unrelated to Al Qaeda came to the front burner. Four U.S.
oil workers were being held by individuals tied to Colombian
terrorists in the jungles of Ecuador. The U.S. Embassy requested
the deployment of U.S. counterterrorism forces (civilian and
military) to Ecuador to help find and rescue the workers.
Clarke chaired a meeting of the Counter Terrorism Support
Group (CSG) at the Old Executive Office Building to consider
the matter. He wanted to grant the request and was backed
by the Department of State, the CIA and the FBI. The Department
of Defense, however, balked. At the end of the day, the Bush
administration, against Clarke’s recommendation, chose to
treat terrorism in Ecuador as a criminal matter rather than
a military issue. U.S. military forces stayed at home.
Clarke has told the uncomfortable truth in his book, and now
finds himself the target of the full fury of angry Bush partisans,
who insist that fighting terrorism was Bush’s highest priority.
The evidence shows otherwise.
For starters, Clarke presented a memo to Rice outlining the
URGENT (this tag is on the document) threat presented by Al
Qaeda in January 2001. While Rice insists she made terrorism
a top priority, one of her first decisions in the early days
of 2001 was to downgrade Clarke’s position as the national
coordinator for counterterrorism. How is that making terrorism
an elevated priority? It is not. Clarke also requested in
January 2001 that President Bush convene a meeting of principal
Bush officials (e.g., the secretary of state, secretary of
defense and the attorney general) but this meeting was postponed
by Rice until Sept. 4, 2001. That seven-month gap represents
time that, in retrospect, could have been used to prevent
the 9/11 attacks.
The Clarke bashers also insist that that no more could have
been done before 9/11 than what was done during the first
eight months of the Bush presidency. Oh? If that was the case,
why did Bush direct the airlines to lock cockpit doors after
9/11? Why did the Bush administration decide to arm pilots,
put more air marshals on planes and federalize the security
force doing screening at airports? Why did the Bush administration
order attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan? Why did Bush
officials establish emergency financial task forces to hunt
down the trails of terrorist financing, if all had been done
prior to 9/11?
The uncomfortable facts show that Richard Clarke proposed
many of these measures in the early days of the Bush presidency.
Action was taken only in the aftermath of 9/11.
Here is the bottom line: Clarke was right, and the Bush administration
and the people of the United States would have been better
off if his warnings in the early days of 2001 had been heeded.
Rather than attack Clarke’s character, Republican operatives
should focus their venom on the terrorists who killed Americans
in the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon. George W. Bush
should set the tone and thank his former terrorism chief,
apologize for this week’s ugliness, and focus on getting Osama
bin Laden. As one American, I say: Thank you, Richard Clarke.