Wednesday, March 24, 2004
The 9/11 commission: Probably the only way to make this thing non-partisan and not a political cudgel to be wielded by one faction or another is to wait until George W. Bush is out of office. Right now you've got Republicans blaming Clinton and Democrats blaming Bush. The truth is that the roots of this go back at least to President Reagan and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. That pull-out, the pull-out after our noses were bloodied in Somalia, our refusal to even consider putting troops into Kosovo should the bombing prove unsuccessful ... all of these things gave terrorists -- including Osama bin Laden -- the false impression that we would be unwilling to sacrifice any treasure (read human lives) to avenge an attack.
I've been watching Richard Clarke's testimony before the committee -- and he puts on a good show, if that's all you're paying attention to.
Frankly, the joke going around the blogosphere is that Clarke is a Karl Rove plant, designed to blow-up and inoculate Bush from any criticism regarding his handling of terrorism.
Fox News today released a transcript of a background briefing given by Clarke to various members of the media in August 2002. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey lashed out at Fox News for doing it, but Kerrey's anger is misplaced. The right to confidentiality of the background briefing by an administration official is reserved by the administration, no the official. Fox News got an OK from the White House to use it -- and once the White House has waived confidentiality, that's all there is to it.
In his testimony to the 9/11 commission today, Clarke, confronted with the background briefing, said that he had not lied to the press in that briefing, but merely that he had tried to put the best face possible on the administration's handling of the issue.
Frankly, after reading the 2002 press briefing and today's testimony, it is abundantly clear that Mr. Clarke is a disgruntled former employee who is trying to sell a book. To put it simply, the man is a liar. You can say he's lying now, or you could say he was lying in 2002 and earlier, but despite his best efforts, both things cannot be true.
Today's storyline, as propounded by Clarke, was that the Clinton administration worked hard to fight al Qaeda, but Bush wasn't as interested in it.
Democrats teed up easy questions for him. Commissioner Timothy J. Roemer got Clarke, who served in four administrations, to say that there was "no higher" priority than terrorism under President Bill Clinton, but the Bush administration "either didn't believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem."
No higher priority? To quote Bubba: "That dog won't hunt." The USS Cole was bombed in October 2000, and Clinton did nothing. Clarke and others claimed they weren't sure it was al Qaeda until about the time Bush came into office. Well, if there was no higher priority, maybe the would've found out sooner. Clarke's claimed knowledge of Clinton's priorities aren't believeable. In the closing days of his administration Clinton was focused on two things: the Arab-Israeli conflict and granting enough pardons so that he wouldn't look a stingy bastard next to Bush 41 and Reagan.
It's interesting that the New York Times in its Clarke story doesn't include his claim of "no higher" priority -- maybe because that puts the lie to line that he is honest.
From that press background briefing:
Second point is that the Clinton administration had a strategy in place, effectively dating from 1998. And there were a number of issues on the table since 1998. And they remained on the table when that administration went out of office — issues like aiding the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, changing our Pakistan policy -- uh, changing our policy toward Uzbekistan. And in January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. They were also briefed on these series of issues that had not been decided on in a couple of years.
"No higher priority" and some issues hadn't been decided on in a "couple of years"?
And what about the difference in attitude towards terrorist attacks on our country?
And then changed the (Clinton) strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda. That is in fact the timeline.
The Clarke story is effectively over with his testimony today. The long-term impact of what he says -- both in his commission testimony and his book -- is zilch. The strength of Clarke's testimony wouldn't be enough to convict someone of jaywalking.
For those who are interested, Tom Maguire has a good round-up of various links regarding Clarke here. If you've been hiding under a rock, they provide a pretty good primer on the subject.