Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLARKE ON 60 MINUTES....Well, I saw the Richard Clarke interview on 60 Minutes and it seemed fairly devastating. Still, his main criticism was that Bush immediately focused on Iraq instead of al-Qaeda after 9/11, and I have a feeling this may turn out not to resonate all that much with the average guy. After all, the whole controversy over whether Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda or ties to terrorism in general has been hashed to death, and it's not clear if fresh evidence on this score is going to have a big impact.

Still, it's going to have some impact and the attack machine is certain to start a smear campaign fairly quickly, just as it did with Joe Wilson and Paul O'Neill. Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice's deputy, was on 60 Minutes to present the Bush administration side of the story, and he was pretty ineffective, mostly reduced to little more than insisting that Clarke was wrong and Bush was too focused on al-Qaeda. He wisely avoided any implication that Clarke was incompetent or grinding an axe.

Others will do that, of course, but I'm not sure what tack they'll take. Clarke's primary reputation prior to 9/11, after all, was that he was too obsessed with terror, a veritable Chicken Little constantly warning that an attack was imminent. Under other circumstances there might be some mileage there, but not now. In fact, if you read his old speeches he sounds an awful lot like a hardline Bush administration neocon.

Perhaps they'll whisper that he's bitter over being demoted? I guess they might try it, but it will be a mighty quiet whisper. After all, they really don't want to remind people that counterterrorism was a cabinet level position under Clinton and was downgraded by Bush immediately upon taking office.

OK then, how about suggesting that he's just a partisan hack who worked for the Clinton administration? Sure, but he also worked for Reagan, Bush Sr., and then GW Bush. It's going to be hard to hang a partisan hat on him, as this AP report from last year indicates:

Clarke was "a bulldog of a bureaucrat," wrote former national security adviser Anthony Lake in a book two years ago. He said Clarke has "a bluntness toward those at his level that has not earned him universal affection."

....Clarke managed largely to avoid Washington's finger-pointing over failures to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, even though he was the top counterterrorism adviser and he was replaced by the White House in that role less than one month later.

"Dick in both the Clinton and Bush administrations was the voice pushing this forward, calling out about the dangers," said William Wechsler, a former director for transnational threats on the National Security Council.

"There's an easy reason why no one is pointing the finger at him."

Hmmm, maybe something about his cyberterrorism hobbyhorse? That's a possibility, since he spent a lot of time banging that particular drum and often seemed guilty of exaggeration and undue fearmongering especially since he never really turned out to be right about it. What's more, there are plenty of people in the high tech world who got tired of his Chicken Little act and probably have some less than flattering stories to tell. We might hear some of them in the days to come.

Perhaps there are some specific missteps in his career that hurt his credibility? He's been working for the government for 30 years, so there are bound to be some. Expect to hear a lot about sonic booms over Libya, for example.

For now, wait and see.

UPDATE: Billmon has some good background on Clarke here.

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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