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March 22, 2004

Richard Clarke and the smoking gun

While it comes as little surprise, former anti-terror czar Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes interview confirms our worst suspicions about the Bush administration's grievous errors both before and after 9/11 (detailed in his new book, Against All Enemies), excerpted here. You truly MUST read the out-takes from the interview online--it is as damning as anything that has appeared so far about the administration, highlighting its disregard for facts, its ideological fixation, and its shameful abuse of anyone who tried to get in the way of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war machine. It is literally one sickening jaw-dropper after another.

Mind you, Clarke was appointed by W's dad, held over by Clinton because of his excellent qualifications and strong relations with both the CIA and the FBI. During the Clinton administration, his post was accorded Cabinet-level status; soon after he took office, W had Clarke demoted, leaving no terrorism expert within the administration's inner circle.

Clarke clearly points out the extent to which senior officials were obsessed with Iraq, to the exclusion of all else:

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat seriously.

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back. They wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"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."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

So what does Clarke think will be the result of W's monomaniacal focus on Iraq?

Does Clarke think that Iraq, the Middle East and the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power?

"I think the world would be better off if a number of leaders around the world were out of power. The question is what price should the United States pay," says Clarke. "The price we paid was very, very high, and we're still paying that price for doing it."

"Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country. He had been saying this. This is part of his propaganda. So what did we do after 9/11? ... We stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda," adds Clarke. "And the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it, offshoots of it, second-generation al Qaeda have been greatly strengthened."

So why come out with all this now? Because there is no way the country can afford another 4 years of ignorant, morally bankrupt, and ideologically corrupt leadership:

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."

Posted by jay at March 22, 2004 11:33 AM | TrackBack
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If you can stand to go through the looking glass,it's worth checking out what Paul Wolfowitz had to Jim Lehrer the other night.

"Well, for one thing, we think there is a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. We think that Zarqawi and the people associated with him are al-Qaida people who were finding sanctuary in Iraq, that there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, so that was part of the equation, as Secretary Powell said in his U.N. statement."

He's still insisting on the connection and ignoring the scrutiny that Powell's UN presentation recieved.

I wonder if the administration isn't digging in it's collective heels on the Iraq war because it's all they've got. It's stunning to see them still towing the party line. Wolfowitz had the agenda from day one, and continues to preach from it as though nothing has happened in the meantime. It will be interesting to see if Clarke's statements have any affect on the faithful. I've always wondered when Powell is going to break ranks. Maybe he'll follow Clarke's lead?

Here's the transcript.

Posted by: pam on March 22, 2004 05:15 PM

The part of that interview that hit me the most was:
"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to Stahl. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.

It fits with a recent assessment of George Bush on Slate (which I can't find the link to at the moment) about how W does represent the antithesis of Kerry's "waffling" insofar as he won't change a position once he's taken a stand, regardless of the amount of new evidence that a course correction is warranted.

Still, I think the thing most disturbing in all of this is how much more outraged the American people were over Clinton's completely non-work-related shenanigans, and they don't seem overly concerned to learn that Bush's inability to lead may well have opened the door for 9/11 and that his inability to be led by reason has resulted in the mess we're in all over the Middle East right now.

Posted by: paulette on March 23, 2004 02:30 PM
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