Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DICK CLARKE'S WHITE WHALE....Dan Drezner has a good summary of what kind of person Dick Clarke is:

Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it's clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

I think that's about right: he's a true believer, and his religion is counterterrorism something that he himself acknowledges. "Maybe I'm becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale," he quotes himself telling Condi Rice in May 2001.

This explains a lot of what's happened. He didn't find a home in the Bush administration because his monomania was different from Bush's and that made him an intolerable pain in the ass. (Clinton was genuinely more interested in terrorism than Bush, but I suspect the main difference was simply that Clinton had a gift for making it seem like he cared deeply about your issues even if they weren't truly at the top of his agenda.) It also explains why he wrote the book: when a true believer is ignored, he's likely to feel contempt and scorn toward nonbelievers and to lash out accordingly.

Clarke's monomania also illuminates what I felt was probably his biggest weakness: he's willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who "gets it" even if they aren't very effective. He's scathing toward FBI Director Louis Freeh, for example, who simply didn't take counterterrorism seriously, but is rather more complimentary toward CIA Director George Tenet. CIA didn't really get much more done than FBI, but he felt that at least Tenet understood the problem and was doing his best.

As Dan points out, the irony in all this is that Bush's terrorism policies turned out to be largely identical to Clinton's. It's just flatly false to pretend that Bush was planning a broader, more serious attack on al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. In fact, Clarke's real problem with Bush wasn't so much his policies, but rather that from where he stood Bush spent more time on stem cells than he did on terrorism. To him, this made Bush a lightweight. If Bush had had his priorities straight, maybe just maybe he would have kicked some bureaucratic ass in the summer of 2001 and 9/11 would never have happened.

And one more note: Clarke says that in early September he told Condi Rice to "put herself in her own shoes when in the very near future al Qaeda had killed hundreds of Americans: 'What will you wish then that you had already done?'" If that's really what he said, it sure explains why she didn't want him around any longer. Who wants to share an office with their very own personal Cassandra?

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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