Saturday, March 27, 2004

Shooting the Messenger

I'll admit that I haven't read Richard Clarke's book, but I did hear him interviewed on Fresh Air, and I also heard part of his testimony to the 9/11 commission. I have also read the press briefing released by the Bush Administration in the hope of smearing him. And I am aware of the accusations that he is hopelessly partisan, wants to make money, etc., ad nauseum.

But when I hear Clarke speak, he is far more nuanced and far more balanced than his critics pretend. His worst claims about both the Bush and Clinton administrations have been previously aired by others. And his critics never, ever focus on the facts of Administration actions and policies before 9/11. As Peter R. Neumann notes in today's Times:
Consider an article in the January/February 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Condoleezza Rice, titled "Campaign 2000 — Promoting the National Interest." Ms. Rice, spelling out the foreign policy priorities of a Bush White House, argued that after years of drift under the Clinton administration, United States foreign policy had to concentrate on the "real challenges" to American security. This included renewing "strong and intimate relationships" with allies, and focusing on "big powers, particularly Russia and China." In Ms. Rice's view, the threat of non-state terrorism was a secondary problem — in her to do list" it was under the category of "rogue regimes," to be tackled best by dealing "decisively with the threat of hostile powers."

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that there was relatively little interest in Al Qaeda when the Bush team took over. For most of 2001, the national security agenda really consisted of only two items, neither of which had anything to do with the terrorist threat of radical Islam. First, the administration increased its efforts to bring about regime change in Iraq, which was believed to be the prime source of instability in a region of great strategic importance. ... The second goal was a more competitive stance toward China.
A week before 9/11, various Republicans were advancing White House policy by declaring the immediate necessity of a multi-billion dollar "missile defense" system, while key Democrats, perhaps most notably Joe Biden, were asserting that the much greater risk was of a terrorist attack.

To date, the only hard factual assertion the Bush Administration challenged has been Clarke's claim that he met with the President on September 12. After insisting time and time again that he was lying about that meeting, the White House has revised its story: "We are not denying such a meeting took place. It probably did.". Oh yes - and after Dick Cheney insisted that Clarke didn't know what he was talking about because he was "out of the loop", Condoleezza Rice had to set the record straight.

The most concerted attack on Clarke is now that he supposedly (may have) contradicted himself - with the accusation coming from Bill Frist, who later admitted that he didn't even know if there were contradictions at all, let alone any of a serious nature - but his critics don't even bother to call on the Bush Administration to disclose the facts which would definitively establish if Clarke is right or wrong. Dennis Hastert claims that some members of the 9/11 commission already have Clarke's former testimony. If that is true, obviously nobody on the 9/11 commission will be misled by any discrepancies, real or imagined. And we have the latest idiotorial on the subject from David Brooks, where Clarke is condemned because he praised the Bush Administration for taking certain anti-terrorist actions - which, apparently, means that he can't criticize any other acts or policies which he might regard as failures or shortcomings - and because Brooks thinks he is more critical of the Bush Administration's failures than of the Clinton Administration's, although Brooks does not dispute that Clarke documents the failures of both administrations. That's it, folks - that's the indictment.

And yes - that means that while the prior testimony was "too sensitive" to even disclose to the full committee before Clarke's testimony, it is suddenly not worthy of such classification when the Bush Administration decides it may help with their very public smear campaign against Clarke. National security, it seems, takes a back seat to the Bush Administration's smear campaigns. (In fairness, there is an alternative hypothesis - the Bush Administration has maintained as classified many documents highly relevant to the commission's investigation in order to conceal the true record, despite there being no present need to maintain them as classified documents, and thus feels no national security concern about releasing various parts of that record for public relations purposes.)

So it appears that again we are offered by the Bush Administration selected snippets of selected documents, the bulk of which remain classified, meant to distract us from the facts. And Condoleezza Rice will testify... well, not really testify, but she will answer certain questions... in private... as long as she doesn't have to swear to tell the truth. And they dare suggest that Clarke is the deceptive one?
"I don't know necessarily what the difference is" between a private interview and public testimony, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said. "She's going to tell it exactly how it happened," he said.
Well, gee, Scott.... Perhaps you are that stupid, but the rest of us can tell the difference between a private interview and sworn, public testimony.

The worst offense to some Administration insiders, apparently, is that Clarke had the courage to do what they have refused to do for more than two years - he apologized. The nerve of the man.

I know - everybody and his brother's talking about this. But it was bugging me, so I vented.


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