Clarke's Claims


As everybody now knows, Richard Clarke, a top terrorism advisor for the Clinton and both Bush administrations, says the president bungled the war on terrorism by ignoring the threat of al Qaeda and obsessing over Iraq.

National Security Advisor Condi Rice—who Clarke says appeared not to know what al Qaeda was during a meeting in 2001—gives the administration's response here.

The controversy grows. Josh Marshall says: "Someone is not levelling with us. If the press is worth anything it should find out who, right?" The Weekly Standard says "Clarke's testimonials are, in a word, bizarre." John Kerry, who's snowboarding in Sun Valley, awaits a Fed Ex package of the book.

NEXT: Out of the Elevator, Endlessly Rocking

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. After watching the 60 Minutes piece on Clarke last night, my impression was that he appeared more credible than the NSC deputy that spoke for the administration. That’s not to say Clarke was right on the facts, only to suggest the NSC official’s arguments rang hollow. His statements were second-rate spin.

    It should not be a smoking-gun revelation that the president did not take an active interest in fighting terrorism pre-9/11. He was not elected on a national security platform, and his appointments to key posts indicated a resumption of the pre-Clinton Republican foreign policy of managed international order. Everything we’ve seen post-9/11 shows that once that order was shaken, the White House’s response ceased to have cohesion, and evey subsequent response was ad hoc and built on incomplete theories and evidence.

  2. Skip,

    According to Clarke, though, Bush WAS interested in ONE national security issue. He may not have been interested in a “little terrorist” in Afghanistan, but he was sure interested in getting rid of Saddam.

  3. Kevin Carson,

    Well, in discussing F/P issues with European leaders in the summer of 2001 (I believe it was a June visit), two things seemed paramount in the Bush administration’s discussions: Iraq and Kyoto. Now these discussions didn’t include invasion, etc., but they do show that Iraq was on their mind. I have to admit that I think that the Clinton administration had a similar obsession with Iraq.

  4. Recently President Bush said, “?we’re helping former Soviet states find productive employment for former weapons scientists.” Bush refers to Defense Enterprise Fund (DEF) is a venture capital fund financed by the US Congress to convert former Russian producers of weapons of mass destruction.

    And here is how DEF is doing. According to the Department of Defense Audit, DEF spent half of its grant on itself, which is twenty five times the industry average. As far as DEF’s investment portfolio of $30M, $20M disappeared from it under very suspicious circumstances.

    DEF was closed as of December 31, 2003, having converted just a pitiful few Russian scientists with its $67M grant- and for that nobody was punished. By contrast, whistleblower was punished viciously. Bush condones theft and is interested in cover-up, not in America’s security. And when Bush takes credit for the “success” of the program that has gone down in infamy he clearly reveals what he is all about. Relevant documents are here:

  5. I would prefer to believe that a Gore administration would have assumed office at least as “interested” in resolving the issue in Iraq as the previous Clinton admin

    …and I would assume would be at least marginally more prepared to take action, as Gore would have been freed from the constraints felt by Clinton who was bedevilled by the impression that his every foreign policy move was some kind of “wag the dog” scenario to take attention off his internicine personal scandals.

    I would also assume that Gore’s interest in “wrapping up” Hussein’s regime would have been quickened rather than diminished by 9/11.

    And, of course, there is no reason to assume Gore would have been any more alert to al-Qaida than Clinton was.

  6. And you can bet Gore would have been roasted over it much sooner than two years later.

  7. “They don’t even make an attempt to judge the validity of Clarke’s claims, just nitpick to make him seem unreliable.”

    Read it again, especially page 2. They show, for example, where Clarke’s claims that there was no doubt at all that Iraq and al Qaeda were not connected were false, as Clarke himself oversaw an attack on an aspirin factory that was linked by the Clinton admin. not just to al Qaeda, but Iraq as well. This of course will never be noted by your mainstream press, especially not CBS/Viacom, who have a book to sell.

    Most of Clarke’s claims appear to be subject to interpretation. Clarke THOUGHT that Rice looked as though she hadn’t heard of al Qaeda. Clarke FELT intimidated by Bush. Clarke originally THOUGHT Rumsfeld was joking about Iraq, and now apparently has decided he was not, based on… what? The left will proclaim that his claims were not refuted when they are much like David Brock’s… hard to confirm either way.

  8. Clarke’s claims are prima facie unserious and say more about our political culture than anything else. Rice’s response strikes me as puerile and overly defensive. A more effective rebuttal would be to say nothing.

    Who needs Ken Starr when everybody can be a “Starr”?

  9. If Clarke was correct in his assessments why didn’t anyone in the Clinton administration listen to him? Did he not try to persuade them?

    So, why didn’t those smart people listen to smart Mr. Clarke? Why didn’t Mr. Clarke (knowing immediately the Bush people were stupid) resign immediately in February 2000, proclaim the urgency of the threat and write his book then?

    Isn’t this about a big a pile of self-serving nonsense as you can get?

  10. >Most of Clarke’s claims appear to be subject to interpretation.

    At one point during the Leslie Stahl interview, Clarke said that he wrote an intelligence paper detailing the non-existant connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Before it got to the president, it was returned to him with a note reading “Wrong Answer…. do it again.”

    What about this do you feel is open to interpretation?

  11. From the 60 Minuites Interview:

    Wesley Clark:

    “And I said, ‘Paul, there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!’ And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, ‘Isn’t that right?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States.”

    …”There’s absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever.”

    I haven’t found a complete interview on the internet yet, but as I watched the interview last night, one of the things I remember Clark saying that struck me was that Iraq had nothing to do with the War on Terrorism. I can see Clark making a case for that IF he assumes that the War on Terror is a war on Al Quaeda only.

    But, whether or not he believes that Saddam Hussein had contact with and gave (or would have given) support to Al Quaeda, there’s no question that Saddam Hussein was actively supporting Terrorist Organizations, and, thereby, could most certainly be a legitimate target of the War on Terror.

    From the White House web site:

    “…Saddam Hussein increased from $10,000 to $25,000 the money offered to families of Palestinian suicide/homicide bombers.”

    I don’t remember seeing any reputable source dispute that Saddam Hussein engaged in this practice.

    I remember people arguing that Bush shouldn’t take any more action anywhere in the Middle East until the Palestine situation had cooled, and it seemed to me at the time that the suicide bombers of Palestine were Saddam’s first line of defense.

    So if Clark meant that the War on Terror is only a war against Al Quaeda, well okay. But otherwise, his statement, as I remember it, was misleading at best.

  12. an objective assessment of these developments would at least admit that this is bad for the bush administration. bush-backing partisans who label clarke’s charges “unserious” or “nonsense” are engaging in “denial,” in both its political and psychiatric sense. since i am just an anonymous blog commenter, you’re welcome to view what i offer as a nonpartisan reaction with skepticism, but i think this makes me less likely to vote to reelect that idiot phony bush.

  13. > I have a hard time believing that Rice did not know who Al Qaeda was. –Posted by Britton

    I don’t know. I get Al and Hal mixed up all the time.
    I mean, Hal Burton, the Englishman, of course
    and Al Qaeda, the Arab.

    And where is the U in Qaeda? That’s breakign the rules.
    Why not Anglize the words coming in?

    What makes one spelling right or wrong is usage.
    What will be your usage on spelling this word:

    al Quida
    is used, and is somewhat more anglicized, which is technically more proper
    than using the foreign spelling, I like the U to follow the Q, too….

    is used in academic papers, at least, for what that’s worth…

    is used by the BBC, a standard maker for sure….

    al Qaeda
    is used without the hyphen, and so is cleaner…

    is popular in the newsprint, with the capital A,
    which might come from the word beginning so many

    has the Arabic slant, but slows typing speed and ease,
    but looks exotic….

    Media, with its foreign correspondents,
    likes the ‘native’ spelling and even pronunciation, of words, but hey pick and choose…
    how many of those Russian alphabet characters do you see?

    Translating the word into ‘the Base’ would be my preference,
    but so less exotic and just doesn’t convey
    the essence of the group so just won’t do.

    just some thoughts…

  14. Q: “What about this do you feel is open to interpretation?”

    A: “Clark said”

    This is a person who was not promoted by Bush. It would be reasonable to think he’s bitter. He was the “terrorism tsar” under Clinton (bringing to mind the 1993 WTC attack and the pathetic response). That makes me think he is incompetent and deflecting potential criticism with pre-emptive finger pointing. He, and CBS, are selling a book right now. The makes me think they are good capitalists, but unethical in not disclosing the business relationship. None of this makes him an outright liar, but combined I’d say there is reason to question “facts” that are only backed up by his own version of reality.

    This blogger seems to have revealed a bit of undisclosed bias as well:

    Good enough for me: He’s full of shit. (don’t worry, I’ll still vote LP 🙂

  15. bigbigslacker,
    As weak as the response to the WTC bombing was, at least we got the guys responsible for it. Powerline has a list of reasons why Clinton’s anti-terrorism credentials stunk due to attacks on American interests:

    *1993: Shot down US helicopters and killed US servicemen in Somalia
    *1994: Plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila
    *1995: Plotted to kill President Clinton during a visit to the Philippines
    *1995: Plot to to bomb simultaneously, in midair, a dozen US trans-Pacific flights was discovered and thwarted at the last moment
    *1998: Conducted the bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed at least 301 individuals and injured more than 5,000 others
    *1999: Attempt to carry out terrorist operations against US and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations was discovered just in time by Jordanian authorities
    *1999: In another millenium plot, bomber was caught en route to Los Angeles International Airport
    *2000: Bombed the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 US Navy members, and injuring another 39

    Some problems with this list. Since when is the Pope an American interest? Or Somali guerrellas al-Queda (or is AQ shorthand for anti-American dark people)? The events that didn’t happen are successes aren’t they, since they didn’t happen. In fact, one could say the Clinton administration accomplished a lot considering the obstruction from Congress that Clinton had to deal with because of the accusations of “wagging the dog” that came about everytime Clinton acted internationally (or domestically for that matter). If Clinton is bad because he didn’t respond to the Cole attacks, then why is Bush’s inaction any better?

    I don’t think that Clinton did a particularly good job regarding terrorism, but neither did Bush. Clarke has one good point, Bush should not be campaigning on being strong on the war on terrorism. Bin-Laden escaped when we had him surrounded in Afghanistan. The Taliban and al-Queda has been pushed aside in favor of Iraq (otherwise why would we need to re-focus on them). I have no clue if Kerry will be any better, but Bush isn’t the best man in the anti-terror game just because he has an (R) next to his name.

  16. From the start I’ve had very little doubt that the Bush administration wished to invade Iraq. So I really don’t find this part of Clarke’s revelations all that revealing.

    On one level I don’t really blame them, the previous system hurt the Iraqi people more than it hurt Saddam. Ending that system was worth while, but ending it and leaving Saddam in power would have been failure. Imagine a bigger version of Castro. Saddam needed to go.

    Unfortunately the Bush administrations history puts them in a position that makes me question there motives (I know why should I care about motives right?). There’s a history inhereted from George Bush’s that I believe sat under the holdovers like a burr under a saddle. I’d even venture that they don’t all agree on why they needed to go back, each having their own reasons: Assassination attempt on GB, sale of Anthrax by Rumsfeld, Cheney see’s oil profits… Some may even truly believe that they can achieve build a democracy, but I find this to be a red herrring.

    I doubt the authenticity of Clarke’s information regarding Al Qaeda. While I suspect that Clarke was warning Bush regarding Al Qaeda,I seriously suspect that they were all thinking USS Cole, not what eventually occurred. I don’t think anybody really foresaw 9/11 even Clarke. It went too far beyond any previous event, with the exception of OK City.

    The problem this raises for Bush is the same one that occurred in Spain. If the US public really thought that Bush used 9/11 to get Saddam, whether or not getting Saddam is worthy (I contend it was), they might question Bush’s honesty.

    In any case I remain hopeful that the Iraq war has served to greater goods: Saddam is gone, and the policy of pre-emption (and it’s certain abuse) has been put to rest.

  17. What would have been a less pathetic response to the 1993 WTC bombing? Are you saying we should have invaded Afghanistan then? Clinton did attempt to eliminate OBL and his upper hierarchy by firing some missiles at them. If there was an obvious course of action that Clinton should have followed but didn’t, I’m not privy.

  18. fyodor,
    Don’t forget in 1993 the Taliban and Afghanistan weren’t nearly the al-Queda base of operations that they were in 2000. Maybe we should have invaded Sudan instead.

  19. Aside from Clinton’s weak response to terror attacks, there is his obvious weakness in the military actions he engaged in. For example, in Somolia, after the Blackhawks were shot down & our Rangers & Delta were shot up, Clinton basically assumed the submissive position: he withdrew our forces, showing the likes of Bin Laden (who may have been supporting Adid) that we would give in if they hurt us a bit. Of course, that was early in the administration. Later on, in Kosovo (while supporting the terrorist KLA), the Clinton administration decided to bomb at 50k ft, resulting in few destroyed Serb tanks but few American losses as well, reinforcing a perception of weakness. And you can be damn sure Bin Laden was paying attention . . .

  20. Mo,

    Clinton could probably have gotten Bin Laden from the Sudan without any need for invasion.

  21. Ultimately there can only be two effective responses to terrorism.
    One. Out-terrorize them.
    Two. Acknowledge and try to accomodate their greivances.

    The thought of out-terrorizing them is especially tantalizing when you are “the world’s superpower.” The reality, however, is that no government, not even the US is capable of out-terrorizing.

    Terrorism is thinking outside the box. Governments are the boxes.
    The US may have come up with “shock and awe,” but no one has yet admitted “shock and awe” was a far, far cry from out-terrorizing.

    Clarke is accurate in calling Bush on hypocrisy, but Clarke, Bush, Kerry, Rummy, Condi… they’re all “boxes.”

    Sadly, they’re all equally incompetent at understanding and accomodating grievances of terrorists.

    So this middle ground is going to lead to some sort of crescendo of violence.

    Have a nice day.

  22. Ruthless,

    The third approach is to try and create a new political / social setting in the Mideast. Something that gives potential terrorist some hope for the future and a reason not to blow themselves and others up.

  23. > Clinton basically assumed the submissive position: he withdrew our forces, showing the likes of Bin Laden (who may have been supporting Adid) that we would give in if they hurt us a bit.

  24. I have a hard time believing that Rice did not know who Al Qaeda was.

  25. Actually, John Kerry is snowboarding AND skiing at Sun Valley. Not prudent to alienate anyone by coming down in favor of one recreational activity over another…

  26. God, but the Weekly Standard sucks. They don’t even make an attempt to judge the validity of Clarke’s claims, just nitpick to make him seem unreliable. You’d think they’d demonstrate at least a passing interest in determining whether the charges are true, at least for the sake of appearances.

    And the tactice of calling every statement they don’t like “bizarre” is getting old.

  27. I read that Clarke’s argument was with a Clinton military that did not want to be involved in anti-terror actions under law enforcement rules. I suspect he change the slant in his book for political effect.

  28. Les,
    NPR is an entire network that claims to be politically neutral and Rush is a single opinion talk show host who says he is proud to be conservative. Only one has a hidden agenda. I think they should both lose whatever federal funding they are recieving. Would you agree?

  29. “At one point during the Leslie Stahl interview, Clarke said that he wrote an intelligence paper detailing the non-existant connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Before it got to the president, it was returned to him with a note reading “Wrong Answer…. do it again.”

    What about this do you feel is open to interpretation?”

    Who returned it to him? There are lots of unanswered questions, not least of which, where is his evidence? Does he have the document? If this is it, he really has nothing. By the way, as the Weekly Standard notes, such a claim contradicts what Tenet was saying in 2002.

  30. bbs: “NPR is an entire network that claims to be politically neutral and Rush is a single opinion talk show host who says he is proud to be conservative. Only one has a hidden agenda.”

    Conservatives editorialize on NPR fairly often. Conservatives like David Frum. Not in an interview context, but in a context where they can just read their statement, unopposed.

    Fact is, liberals have been rather miffed at NPR for a while.

  31. As long as we’re blaming current and past Presidents for appeasing and encouraging terrorist I would point out that one of the biggest appeasers was Ronald Reagan and Bush one. They actually sold/supplied weapons to terrorist States ( Iran and Iraq ) and to militant Islamist in Afganistan. When 251 Marines were killed in Lebanon we “cut and run”. At least that’s what the Republicans would have called it were it not done by RR. It appears to me that American policy, with some ups and downs, has been pretty consistent in regards to our approach to terrorism/terrorist: They either supported it if it served their purpose, or they did very little about it. As the sitting President on 9/11, the responsibility, fairly on not, is on George Bush’s shoulders, unless we blame it on Intelligence failures thereby letting Presidents, current and past, off the hook entirely.
    Not to worry, everything is going according to plan. The players know what the score is, it is only the American people who are confused.

  32. Am I the only one who heard Sen Graham let slip a couple of weeks ago that as chair of intelligence he had info on how many Iraqi agents versus AQ agents were active in the US in 2002? He meant to shield Sen Kerry from criticism that, as only a member, he did not know there were Iraqi agents active in the USA. Am I also the only one who thinks he heard Ed Bradley’s interview with another terror expert who said the AQ #2 was in the USA in 1997 fund raising in Boston, NY and Calif? Doesn’t that seem extremely and impossibly odd?

  33. What Jon H said. And before we get our panties in a wad over the pittance they receive from the federal government (which they probably ought not to), maybe we should get a little more miffed at the much larger sums the feds provide to large corporation for overseas advertising. Priorities, right?

  34. The NY Times today has, by my count, three people confirming Clarke’s story (only one named) about a meeting with Bush where he “intimidated” him… except for the fact that two of them (including the named one, Cressey) differ with his interpretation.

    But I’m sure the rest of Clarke’s accounts are all very solid.

    Also the Washington Post in Oct. of 2000 reported a conversation between Berger and Rice on the USS Cole, which would mean she did indeed know about al Qaeda.

    But I’m sure the rest of Clarke’s accounts are all very solid.

  35. I think Rush has NPR beaten in terms of bias. If you’re looking for a liberal equivalent, Pacifica Radio is a better bet.

  36. “Ultimately there can only be two effective responses to terrorism.
    One. Out-terrorize them.
    Two. Acknowledge and try to accomodate their greivances.”

    Accomodate? Sure, we can submit to Islam, shut down our free markets, and join them in poverty.

    Their motivation is envy–envy of a “decadent culture” that out performs their “virtious culture” in every measurable way. This suggests a third possible option: remove Saddam & replace him with a democratic government that is encouraged to become free with secure property rights. If this works, it can become a model for the arab world. Maybe one day they can kick our ass in the marketplace for the first time in over 500 years. The risk? Well, it’s expensive and its a long shot–it might just fail. But that’s a false risk: no other alternatives to ending Islamic terror exist.

  37. I don’t much of anything about Josh Marshall, but looking at that smug mug of his on his website, I say we should send the bastard to boot camp. Marine boot camp.

  38. I’m sure that in the September 10 world, Bush’s orders of wet jobs against Osama, Mullah Omar, and various thugs & mugs around the Middle East and Asia would have been quite well received both here at home, and abroad. And I’m sure the arrest and trial of 19 innocent flight students, all of Arab descent and Muslim religion, on ludicrous charges that they would hijack planes with box cutters (box cutters? yeah, right) and fly them into buildings would be highly regarded as well.

    And by the way, Les, you need to recalibrate your political spectrum meter there, pal. NPR is most assuredly liberal. Pacifica isn’t liberal radio in any sense of the word; it’s flat out, left wing, radical, “Stalin didn’t go far enough and we think the Nation is right wing trash”, let’s-put-on-a-black-hood-and-go-protesting-capitalism, livin’ in a commune eatin’ home grown organic lentils cooked with solar power, Dennis Kucinich-loving tinfoil hat left wing moonbat radio.

  39. Don said:
    “a third possible option: remove Saddam & replace him with a democratic government that is encouraged to become free with secure property rights.”

    Don, yours sounds pie-in-the-skyish, not to mention touchy-feely.

    How’s this for another “third” option?
    Open our borders to make it easy for all those “envious” terrorists to come here and get a job?
    That would only require opening our borders, repealing the minimum wage, and stopping all welfare in this country so my scheme would be politically “doable.”

    Ready to say “Uncle” in the touchy-feely arena?

    I’m ready to say “Uncle” on this particular thread.

  40. Turns out Clarke was grossly distorting when he said there was a memo saying “wrong… do it again.” It did not say that at all. 60 Minutes mentioned this, and astonishingly, did not point out how it made Clarke look dishonest.

    But I’m sure the rest of Clarke’s accounts are all very solid.

  41. The Washington Post article said Berger was keeping Rice updated on events in October of 2000, so at minimum, it’s difficult to believe that the Cole and who might be behind it never came up. Even if you believe that it didn’t come up, Rice was interviewed by David Newman of WJR-AM in Detroit on October 4, 2000, where she spoke at length about the bin Laden threat and warned that we could wake up one day to find that bin Laden had attacked us on our soil if we didn’t find some solutions…

    But I’m sure the rest of Clarke’s accounts are all very solid.

  42. Stephen, I agree that NPR is somewhat liberal, I just don’t think it’s as liberal as Rush Limbaugh is conservative.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.