Rock, Paper, Schism

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If the spat between Richard Clarke and the White House gets anymore childish they'll be breaking each others' crayons and lobbing poopy-head around. The relevant, important stuff is simple enough, yet easily obscured by all the invective.

Clarke, warts and all, simply stands for all the counter-terror people inside the federal government who thought the U.S. should not invade Iraq, who thought there were other, better options to combat terrorism. Hence President Bush did not have to invade Iraq to fight terror. His top aides evidently thought invading Iraq was the best way to fight terror. They may yet be proven right.

But it is time to bury the fiction that the choice was between invading Iraq and doing nothing.

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  1. Shannon Love,

    “Clarke is frustrating for the Bush administration because they cannot actively refute his arguments because they are entirely hypotheticals.”

    Actually, much of what he states is rather concrete and is not hypothetical; especially his statements on the inactivity of the Bush administration prior to 9/11. Indeed, that is by far the most damaging thing he’s done if opinion polls are to be believed.

    “He pontificates about what the Clinton admin was going to do…”

    Actually, he also discusses what they did; such as covert activities against Iran.

    “During Clarke’s ‘reign’ terrorism grew more widespread and more powerful…”

    Well, of course the same can be said about the Bush administration as well; terrorism is far more widespread now than ever before – witness the acts in Bali, Morocco, Spain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Phillipines, etc. Indeed, there have been more acts of “hyperterror” during the Bush administration than there ever were during the Clinton administration, and Bush hasn’t even served one full term, much less two terms.

    “…and our responses to it were wholly ineffective culminating eventually in 9/11.”

    Of course the corollary to that is that whatever the Bush adminstration did was also wholly ineffective.

  2. Douglas Fletcher,

    Clarke argues that, for the first eight months of his administration, Bush did even less than Clinton. He compared Clinton’s proactive attempts to disrupt and forestall a projected AQ major attack in late 1999, to Bush’s non-reaction to such warnings in May and June of 2001.

  3. The attack on the USS Cole happened on Thursday October 12th, 2000. Three months before Clinton left office.
    Al-Qaeda was suspected, but there wasn’t enough proof. The CIA confirmed Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack after the Bush administration came to office. The Bush administration did not retaliate reasoning (?) that ?it happened on Clinton’s watch?.
    Reagan did not retaliate after 279 Marines were killed in Lebanon.
    George H. W. Bush did not retaliate for flight 103 ( Lockerbie)
    Under Reagan / Bush 1 we actually gave/sold weapons to a terrorist state,
    and aided the very group of men that would form “the base” of Al-Qaeda.
    Compare that to the Clinton administration’s record:
    Retaliated for Iraq’s attempt to kill Bush 1 by Bombing Iraqi intelligence, stopping Iraqi terror.
    Exerted pressure and issued threats which stopped Iranian terror.
    Retaliated for the Al-Qaeda embassy bombings and was roundly criticized as wagging the dog.
    Uncovered and stopped the millennium attack.
    Had 9/11 happened in the first 9 months of the Clinton administration you can damn well bet the people blaming 9/11 on Clinton now would not have blamed it on Bush Sr. then. They would say we were attacked because the terrorist saw Bill Clinton as weak.
    Clinton administration officials warned their Bush administration counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda was the worst security threat facing the United States.
    Two respected Republicans (one respected enough to run the White House on 9/11 while Condi and Dick were secure in the basement bunker), and George W. Bush himself, have said Mr. Bush was focused on other things besides terrorism.
    Yes, someone was asleep at the wheel, just don’t forget who was driving on 9/11.

  4. joe,

    “During Clinton’s term, there was a military strike against Al Qaeda targets”

    And that one “strike” aimed to accomplish what? A single Tomahawk missile sent with “intelligence” gained from 60,000 foot observations hardly constitutes much of a serious “mission”, no?

    “an upgrading of anti-terror intitiatives including the authorization of OBL’s assassination by the CIA”

    According to extensive testimony the CIA never understood the assassination of OBL was an option. They understood he was to be “captured” somehow and brought to “trial” but even then, the Clinton justice department couldn’t figure how to charge him (that’s why they wouldn’t take him when Sudan offered him, remember?).

    “and the creation of a plan/policy document/whatever, that was to be used to guide US antiterror efforts.”

    No Clinton “plan” ever existed. Even Clarke admits that. Some tactics were suggested by Clarke, but no “plan”. Surely we would know by now the details of any “plan” that existed….particularly IF it showed Clinton in a good light, wouldn’t we?

    And why is it no one ever talks about the distraction of the Chinese downing of our recon aircraft? Holding that crew and aircraft was a pretty big deal. Getting a grip on whether that was just an accident or a significant “test” by a major superpower of a new president might have preoccupied intelligence and national security resources for a couple of months, no?

  5. JAG,
    I would hope that our Far East intel and our MidEast intel aren’t the same thing. If we had the military might to have a two theater war, our intel should have the same capability.

    Actually, I take that back. Our intel could focus on more than the China incident and MidEast terrorist threats. If one downed spy plane ties up our national security and intelligence resources, we have problems.

  6. Who said the choice was between invading Iraq or doing nothing?
    Does any politician do nothing?
    There’s always the barn door to close after the horses have escaped. There’s an aspirin factory to pulverize. There’s the UN where the liberal media will picture you whining.

    The real choice is between politicians doing the WRONG thing or kicking all politicians out of office.

  7. Ruthless,

    I believe that Jeff is arguing that Bush has intimated or otherwise implied that these were the only choices. This appears to be the essence of his “I saw a threat…” statement in his political speeches.

  8. I read Clarke’s book on Saturday; its an interesting narrative.

  9. His top aides evidently thought invading Iraq was the best way to fight terror. They may yet be proven right.

    Sheesh. “Evidently”? I dunno, Jeff, that’s a pretty shallow reading of the situation. Yes, Bush’s PR team SAYS that “they thought invading Iraq was the best way to fight terror”. But don’t you think we could be a little more thoughful, and look beyond their simplistic claims? Look, perhaps, at the mountains of information provided by O’Neill, Theilmann, Clarke, Kwiatkowski, etc.

    I’m sorry, but the “relevant, important stuff” is being obscured by your over-simplification of a complicated issue. Surely, a third-grader could understand “attacking iraq: good or bad for the war on terror?” But to simplify it to this level is to ignore the neoimperialistic intentions of Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Frum, and Feith. It’s just not that simple, Jeff.

    Yes, you are correct that it is incorrect to see it as a choice between attacking Iraq and doing nothing, and yes, we should “bury” that “fiction”. But you have presented another fiction in its place: that the choice to invade Iraq was based on whether it was good or bad for the war on terror to invade Iraq.

    Maybe you have enough faith in politicians to take them on their word. Maybe you can ignore the OSP, and the matching claims of Kwiatkowski, Theilmann, O’Neill, Clarke, and others. Maybe you can ignore the fact that a great deal of higher-ups in this administration (see “PNAC”) had been arguing for an attack against Iraq long, long before 9/11 or the “war on terror”.

    However, I, for one, refuse to forsake one fiction, just to accept another.

  10. Clarke, warts and all, simply stands for all those officials in the Clinton administration who stand to be tarred and feathered by history for sitting on their hands for 8 years while the terrorist threat grew before their eyes, and who seem to be pinning their hopes for their salvaged reputations on the apparent perception of Clarke that Condoleeza Rice didn’t nod her head at his sage advice when he told her something she already knew.

    Clearly the biggest mistake Bush made here was not throwing out every Clinton holdover, from Clarke to Tenet, out on their asses from day one.

  11. Jean:

    The same foolish intimation as “you’re with us or against us”, or “you either support our invasion of Iraq, or you support Saddam”.

  12. Douglas Fletcher,

    And the Bush administration was all concern and celerity regarding terrorism? Clarke claims that on Jan. 24 he sent a memo to Rice which set out his plan for counter-terrorism; he also claims that the Sept. 4 national security direction (NSD) was a near copy of that memo’s recommendations, recommendations that he re-hashed in a meeting in May as I recall when Bush finally started asking a few questions about terrorism. Perhaps Clinton was asleep at the wheel for eight years; that does not mean that Bush wasn’t as well.

  13. BTW, and I think this needs pointing out, both the Clinton and the Bush administrations ignored the USS Cole bombing; indeed, if Bush had been serious at terrorism, he could have used that attack (on a US naval warship!) as a means to justify attacking the terrorist camps in Afghanistan (amongst other things).

  14. “you either support our invasion of Iraq, or you support Saddam”.

    You have no idea how angry I get when I hear that statement. I have to tip my hat in respect for the effectiveness of that talking-point. I would love to know who the hate-mongering bastard was who came up with that one.

  15. Make that: …anti-American, hate-mongering bastard.

  16. I agree with the original post. Yes, there is something childish about the whole business. Clarke has his axes to grind, as do the Bushies. God, what a shock. The usual mix of political grandstanding, ass-covering and personal animus is in play. Who cares?

    The real scandal, if there is one, is that George Tenet still has a job.

  17. JAT is right on. Among the many dynamics going on is the Bush administration getting nailed for its “I don’t need these Washington-insider-bureaucrat-northeastern-smartypants-types telling me what to do” attitude – the same one in evidence in the “I read the report put out the bureaucracy” comment Shrub made about the EPA’s global warming report.

    You see, because the close friends of the Bush familia who work in the White House are so much better and smarter and more ruggedly individualistic and more godly than the help-I mean, career professionals-who they found waiting when they came into office, the President and other top people didn’t have to listen to self serving chicken littles like Clark, and could concentrate on important things. Like sparring with China, building a missile defense system that doesn’t work, and invading Iraq.

  18. Yeah, man. If a vicious street gang mows down 20 people in L.A., the natural and logical response is to direct all law enforcement resources into going after a Vegas mob boss.

    It may appear like the policy’s a failure when the street gang spreads to Santa Barbara and San Diego and kills people there. But taking out the mob boss was only part of a long-range vision to eliminate the seeds of murder. Plus he may have had extensive contacts with the gangs, and could have supplied them with guns (although there’s no evidence of that). And he’s a bad guy, with a history of doing bad things, just like the gangs.

    Don’t listen to liberal wackos like Fareed Zakaria. It’s all part of the “war on organized crime.”

  19. Clarke is frustrating for the Bush administration because they cannot actively refute his arguments because they are entirely hypotheticals. He pontificates about what the Clinton admin was going to do and what he thinks Bush should have done but nothing Clarke advocated or advocates is testable against the real world.

    It’s very easy to defend a hypothetical strategy compared to defending a strategy actually in implementation. Clarke can claim that invading Iraq did nothing to fight terrorism but how could we possibly test that assertion?

    The only real world test of Clarke ideas and judgment we can make is against the policies of the Clinton administration were Clarke was Clinton’s terrorism czar. During Clarke’s “reign” terrorism grew more widespread and more powerful and our responses to it were wholly ineffective culminating eventually in 9/11.

    We should compare Clarke’s real world performance against Bush’s real world performance, not Clarke’s hypothetical performance against Bush’s real world performance. That will tell us who has the better model for fighting terrorism.

  20. ewilliam,

    “…the neoimperialistic intentions of Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle …”

    Could you elaborate on what you think are these ‘intentions’?

    At most Bush will be in office for another 4+ years. Do you think they will colonize some parts of the world and retire to the same in 2008? Do you think they will somehow not give up power in DC?

  21. “indeed, if Bush had been serious at terrorism, he could have used that attack (on a US naval warship!) as a means to justify attacking the terrorist camps in Afghanistan (amongst other things).”

    Imagine the outcry.

  22. Wait til the FBI guy, Mueller, gets on the hot seat. There’s more to come.

  23. Poopy-head! Poopy-head! Poopy head!

    Now am I qualified to enter the ruling class?

  24. Shannon, “It’s very easy to defend a hypothetical strategy compared to defending a strategy actually in implementation.”

    During Clinton’s term, there was a military strike against Al Qaeda targets, an upgrading of anti-terror intitiatives including the authorization of OBL’s assassination by the CIA, and the creation of a plan/policy document/whatever, that was to be used to guide US antiterror efforts. Those aren’t hypotheticals, but actual (though inadequate) steps forward.

    Prior to 9/11, the Bush administration downgraded the position of NSA counterterrorism chief from Principle-level to Sub-Cabinet level, formed a counter-terror task force headed by Dick Cheney that never met (his energy task force, on the other hand, met about 10 times), and did nothing to implement the counterterror plan given them by the Clinton NSA as they revised it. One step back, one step forward (studying and revising the rollback policy they received), and two examples of idling in place.

    So I give a slight advantage to Clinton.

  25. Jeff Taylor completely misses the point. It would be nice to have a serious argument about the Iraq war, but Clarke sure doesn’t. He’s too busy talking (or lying) about how the Bush administration should have done something before 9/11 (that somehow he couldn’t get done during two terms with Clinton).

  26. Republicans are quite good at exploiting wedge issues. The false choice of invading Iraq or doing nothing is right in line with their tactics.

    Personally, I was ecstatic when Bush was able to bring the inspectors back in; and if he had stopped there – I would have thought he was a genius. As it turns out, he is quite the opposite.

  27. Clarke has said that both Clinton
    and Bush deserve a grade of “F” on
    their anti-terrorism efforts. He
    does claim that Bush was worse.
    I suppose Bush deserves an F-,
    in his opinion.

    Clarke claims that he recognized
    the Al Quaeda threat early on and
    fought the internal political battles
    to try to get more done.

    He made some progress during the
    Clinton administration, but not
    enough. And then during the
    Bush administration, he thought
    that his efforts to get the U.S.
    to confront Al Quaeda lost ground.

    I am cynical, but people able to
    remain at the high levels of a
    bureacracy are likely to have
    a good bit of practice in flatering
    superiors and telling half-truths.

    That Bush’s people are attacking
    Clarke because he lied to the press
    in a way to make Bush’s policies look
    good when he was still trying to
    influence that policy is what..
    supposed to fool idiots?

  28. “Clarke argues that, for the first eight months of his administration, Bush did even less than Clinton. He compared Clinton’s proactive attempts to disrupt and forestall a projected AQ major attack in late 1999, to Bush’s non-reaction to such warnings in May and June of 2001.”

    That’s what he’s saying this year — he was saying something different in 2002. What’s he going to say next year?

  29. “And why is it no one ever talks about the distraction of the Chinese downing of our recon aircraft?”

    I actually did raise China, above. The administration thought it more important to play reindeer games with the Chinese than to focus on Islamic terror, because states are clearly more important and dangerous than non-state actors in the 20th century.

    And Mo and JAG miss the point – it isn’t Langley that divided its focus, it’s the White House and Pentagon.

  30. ok…

    “21st century”

    “Pentagon Civilian Authorities that divided….”

  31. You are correct Mr. Woolsey. They do take us for fools precisely because it is proven that a majority of us are willing to believe their BS. To understand the war in Afghanistan, the shift to war in Iraq, and what is going on in this world today, which is not a result of 9/11, but a reason for 9/11, is first read ?The Grand Chessboard?, and second, understand the consequences of ?peak oil? ? do a search on that subject. I will not explain further as to do so would be an exercise in futility as those who refuse to read will not be convinced without hours and hours of explanation which they are not wiling to listen to because it is not a sporting event, it ain?t NASCAR, and those willing to read are fully capable of finding out for themselves.

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