Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLARKE AND THE WAR....I sometimes think Gregg Easterbrook must have a secret stash of the same stuff that turned Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Today, in his Dr. Jekyll guise, he writes a perfect little post about why stock options should be expensed and why corporate executives are fighting like crazed weasels to prevent it. (Short answer: they should be expensed because, um, they're an expense. See Easterbrook for the slightly longer answer.)

Then, a mere hour and 13 minutes later, he's Mr. Hyde, writing a surreal post that bashes Dick Clarke because, based on no evidence at all, he thinks Clarke is lying when he says he opposed the Iraq war. After all, why didn't he mount his bully pulpit and say so at the time?

But maybe in the month before the Iraq war, Clarke had decided to hold his tongue and say nothing about his former job? Um, not exactly. As New Republic super-intern Anne O'Donnell points out, on resigning from the National Security Council in February 2003, one month prior to the attack on Iraq, Clarke quickly signed as an on-air consultant to ABC News. During the month before the war, Clarke made several appearances....And yet by the most amazing and astonishing coincidence, Clarke apparently didn't mention any of the strongly-held antiwar views he has now suddenly remembered!

Well, gee, I can use Nexis too. Here's Clarke in the New York Daily News on March 17, 2003:

Clarke, who recently retired after working for three U.S. Presidents, said "tens of thousands" of terrorists have trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and are spread all over the world. "There will be new recruits . . . probably because of the war that's about to happen," he said.

Hmmm, he doesn't sound very excited about the upcoming war, does he? Now let's listen in on NPR on March 22:

SCOTT SIMON: And has there been a diversion from the concentration of talent and power and skill and intelligence and, for that matter, money away from the fight against terrorism that's been invested into this campaign in Iraq?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, the administration's spokesman's saying that there has not been a diversion, but I think there obviously has been. And we should rather be talking about the degree and whether or not it makes sense. For one thing, there are tens of thousands of police and firemen who have been taken off the streets in the United States and put in National Guard units and mobilized and sent out of the country. That diminishes our homeland security. And all you need to do is talk to police chiefs and fire chiefs to hear about that.

....I think US intelligence assets have clearly been taken away from Yemen, Afghanistan, the various places where we think al-Qaeda remains and shifted onto the war. So, yes, there's been a diversion. The real debate should be about whether or not it's worth it.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Well, why don't you pick up that debate?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, I don't think we know the answer to that yet. The president says he is diminishing future terrorism, potentially future nuclear terrorism, by engaging in this war. Now all of us shudder at the thought of Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons, and clearly by engaging in this war we're preventing that. But there is a real debate, I think, as to whether or not Saddam Hussein or his regime would ever have transferred weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. After all, they've had weapons of mass destruction now for about 20 years, and there's no evidence that they've ever transferred them so far.

ABC News hired him to analyze the war, and that's what he did. But in these other two appearances in mid-March Clarke says that (a) al-Qaeda recruitment will increase because of the war, (b) counterterrorism resources have been diverted because of the war, and (c) there's no evidence that Iraq has ever transferred WMD to terrorists.

This is only a few weeks after he left the Bush administration, and apparently at that point he didn't feel comfortable doing a Michael Moore impersonation, especially on the eve of a war. What's more, it's possible that Clarke's anti-war views did indeed grow stronger as Iraq continued month after month to suck resources away from attacking al-Qaeda. Still, his basic position is pretty obvious: he was skeptical about the war from the start and preferred instead to keep our guns trained on al-Qaeda. And that's still his position today.

UPDATE: In comments, Ott points to this Washington Post story from March 13:

Among friends, Clarke is skeptical that the coming war with Iraq is integral to the war on terrorism, as the White House maintains. He describes it as a diversion of scarce resources and a wedge between Washington and critical allies in destroying al Qaeda. Until late last year, he has said, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would not have been among the top suspects should al Qaeda manage to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. Now, with Hussein's regime on the brink of falling, he will.

The rest of the article is quite revealing as well. Be sure to read it.

Kevin Drum 8:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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