Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DICK CLARKE: ONE YEAR AGO....I mentioned this story in a previous post, but it's worth a post of its own. It's a profile of Dick Clarke written by Barton Gellman of the Washington Post a year ago, right after Clarke left the Bush administration and just before the Iraq war started.

Note the timing: this is a year ago, long before his book came out and long before anyone had an axe to grind one way or the other about him. There's no reason to think that Gellman is doing anything except telling the story straight, and the story matches Clarke's own pretty well. Here are a few excerpts:

Clarke, 52, reached the peak of his influence under President Bill Clinton, after serving presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as deputy assistant and assistant secretary of state. The present commander-in-chief is said to like Clarke -- he sent him a warm, handwritten note and invited him to the Oval Office on Feb. 19 for a goodbye chat -- but Clarke's bulldozing style did not fit as well with the quiet consensus that the White House looks for now.

He submitted his resignation two months after White House foes blocked his selection as deputy secretary, under Tom Ridge, of the new Homeland Security Department. Clarke had made it clear he would not accept a lesser position.

....Clarke was the government's first counterterrorism czar -- formally from 1998 to 2002, but in practice beginning in 1995. Security officials, friends and foes alike, said no one rivaled him as a spur to action. He was the first to draw effective attention to the risk that terrorists would acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the first to force concrete steps to protect critical information networks from cyberattack, and a dominant voice for spending money and covert resources against terrorists at a time when government was inclined to perceive them as a minor threat.

....Under Clinton, Clarke had carte blanche from national security advisers Anthony Lake and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger to blow past bureaucratic turf lines and assume operating and budgetary powers that were nowhere specified by statute or executive order. Berger said he regularly turned down demands that he fire Clarke.

Clarke had the political cover to roll two Treasury secretaries on funding for a terrorist-asset tracking center -- Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers both opposed it, but Clarke pushed the money through Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. When the FBI and State Department clashed in Yemen after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, it was Clarke who brought together the secretary of state and the attorney general to decide lines of command.

His biggest loss came when a technology he championed, the armed Predator drone, proved five months before the Sept. 11 attacks that it could find and kill individuals. Clarke wanted to set it loose on Osama bin Laden. "Usually the CIA supported him, but on this one the directorate of operations resisted," said Michael Sheehan, State's former counterterrorism coordinator.

....The Bush White House works differently, valuing consensus and rewarding longtime loyalists. Clarke earned the confidence of Ridge and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but neither encouraged him to break crockery if his proposals stalled. Some Bush partisans suspected him as a Clinton holdover. And Clarke had uneven relationships with Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and Lawrence B. Lindsey, Bush's former top economic adviser.

....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.

Note the description of the Bush White House: sure, stopping terrorism is important, but "valuing consensus" is apparently more important. And if the bureaucracy gets in the way of getting the job done, well, that's the way it goes. No need to "break crockery" over it, is there? It's just terrorism, after all.

No wonder he doesn't think very highly of them.

Kevin Drum 2:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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