Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth
Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism.
By Fred Kaplan

Or, "Why Fred Kaplan Is Usually Full of Shit".
I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against president Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence.

Every single charge, Fred? Really? 100%? Oh, such confidence, such objectivity, such rhetorical vigour! And look! See? He's even left his outline in the finished article, so that the weak-minded and malicious can easily follow his train of logic. Such a giver, our Frederick.
First, his basic accusations are consistent with tales told by other officials, including some who had no significant dealings with Clarke.

That is, Clarke has successfully tailored his message to resonate with the echo chamber. Of course, the likelihood that Clarke has been one of the "background" or "off-the-record" or "unnamed sources" contributing to this chorus of received wisdom probably had something to do with it.
Second, the White House's attempts at rebuttal have been extremely weak and contradictory. If Clarke were wrong, one would expect the comebacks—especially from Bush's aides, who excel at the counterstrike—to be stronger and more substantive.

Because, of course, Fred Kaplan is capable of evaluating the strength of administration responses. Hey, prove me wrong. Show me where this particular Kaplan has accepted any administration statement at face value.
Third, I went to graduate school with Clarke in the late 1970s, at MIT's political science department, and called him as an occasional source in the mid-'80s when he was in the State Department and I was a newspaper reporter. There were good things and dubious things about Clarke, traits that inspired both admiration and leeriness. The former: He was very smart, a highly skilled (and utterly nonpartisan) analyst, and he knew how to get things done in a calcified bureaucracy. The latter: He was arrogant, made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who disagreed with him, and blatantly maneuvered around all obstacles to make sure his views got through.

Wow, that's a doozie. Clarke is credible because he was an Old Boy with Kaplan. Our kind, darling. Note that the personal qualities Kaplan lists aren't actually good ones. Arrogant, blinkered and uninterested in the opinions of others is not my idea of the ideal intelligence agent. But then, I'm not a Beltway bureaucrat. Things are different there.
The key thing, though, is this: Both sets of traits tell me he's too shrewd to write or say anything in public that might be decisively refuted. As Daniel Benjamin, another terrorism specialist who worked alongside Clarke in the Clinton White House, put it in a phone conversation today, "Dick did not survive and flourish in the bureaucracy all those years by leaving himself open to attack."

Well, he's already been documented lying about written documents which contradict his statements. No more so than Bush and the 16 Words, but good for the goose and all that. And this line of argument isn't one that a defender of Clarke really ought to take - "he's too smart to get caught lying". The obvious corollary is that his lies are going to be undetectable. Except see the above link about stupid, petty lies about unimportant, preserved memos.
Clarke did suffer one setback in his 30-year career in high office, though he doesn't mention it in his book. James Baker, the first President Bush's secretary of state, fired Clarke from his position as director of the department's politico-military bureau. (Bush's NSC director, Brent Scowcroft, hired him almost instantly.) I doubt we'll be hearing from Baker on this episode: He fired Clarke for being too close to Israel—not a point the Bush family's political savior is likely to make in an election season. (For details on this unwritten chapter and on why Clarke hasn't talked to me for over 15 years, click here.)

Hmm. Maybe I'm mis-judging Kaplan. This certainly doesn't sound like a defense. Sounds rather like Mark Anthony "I Come to Bury Caesar" material. Wonder if it's intentional?
But on to the substance. Clarke's main argument—made in his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in lengthy interviews on CBS's 60 Minutes and PBS's Charlie Rose Show, and presumably in his testimony scheduled for tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission—is that Bush has done (as Clarke put it on CBS) "a terrible job" at fighting terrorism. Specifically: In the summer of 2001, Bush did almost nothing to deal with mounting evidence of an impending al-Qaida attack. Then, after 9/11, his main response was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. This move not only distracted us from the real war on terrorism, it fed into Osama Bin Laden's propaganda—that the United States would invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country—and thus served as the rallying cry for new terrorist recruits.

Oh, well. I always knew that the invasion of Iraq in the fall of 2001 was a terrible idea. If we had only gone after Bin Laden and the Taliban that fall, everything would be all right.

Wait, what?
Clarke's charges have raised a furor because of who he is. In every administration starting with Ronald Reagan's, Clarke was a high-ranking official in the State Department or the NSC, dealing mainly with countering weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Under Clinton and the first year of George W. Bush, he worked in the White House as the national coordinator for terrorism, a Cabinet-level post created specifically for his talents. When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, Condi Rice, Bush's national security adviser, designated Clarke as the "crisis manager;" he ran the interagency meetings from the Situation Room, coordinating—in some cases, directing—the response.

So he was actually in charge of our counterterrorism efforts in the vital period in question. Boy, yeah, he'd *better* blame Bush. There isn't really much between him and the Oval Office to pass the buck to accept responsibility for the failure. Note how he had to be designated again to do the job he was already supposed to be doing - coordinating the anti-terrorism effort. A month later, he was demoted. Tell me, what does this sort of job-title clarification followed by demotion usually mean in *your* organization? In the ones I've been involved in, it means that the joker in question wasn't doing his job, was reminded of that job by a last-chance re-appointment, and then moved someplace where he wouldn't do any damage.
Most pertinent, Rand Beers, the official who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House in February 2003, resigned in protest just one month later—five days before the Iraqi war started—for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, he told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more." And: "The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged, and generally underfunded." (For more about Beers, including his association with Clarke and whether there's anything pertinent about his current position as a volunteer national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign, click here.)

Hey, note that error there. Beers didn't directly replace Clarke, who wasn't the terrorism guy after October 2001. Beers wasn't appointed until August 2002. Sloppy goddamn work - I pulled that in thirty seconds on Google. Beers, of course, is a partisan through and through. There's a lot of "we're old Beltway hands, of course we're not partisan!" flailing about these days, don't you think? You'll see more of it, I guarantee it. These are folks whose self-image demands the idea that they're objective, even after decades of politicking and compromise.

Skipping around...
To an unusual degree, the Bush people can't get their story straight. On the one hand, Condi Rice has said that Bush did almost everything that Clarke recommended he do. On the other hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's show, acted as if Clarke were a lowly, eccentric clerk: "He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff." This is laughably absurd. Clarke wasn't just in the loop, he was the loop.

Well, that's rather the point, isn't it? The loop was OUT OF THE LOOP. We got caught with CLARKE'S PANTS AROUND OUR COLLECTIVE ANKLES. That isn't "get[ting] their story straight", that's the FUCKING POINT! Because Clarke, the coordinator, wasn't in the loop, wasn't doing his job, everybody else was not in the loop because the loop was obsessed with bullshit like wi-fi and cyber-security. The FBI wasn't talking to NSC, the CIA wasn't talking to either, and CLARK WAS THE GODDAMN COORDINATOR!

There's some crap about how he wasn't demoted, but he was demoted, he wasn't a cabinet-level secretary, but he was really important, etc, etc. Maybe I was right in the first place - Kaplan does seem to be defending Clarke's importance. In such a way that I find myself less and less impressed, but that's more a Kaplan thing than a Clarke thing, I suppose.
Clarke writes (and nobody has disputed) that when Condi Rice took over the NSC, she kept him onboard and preserved his title but demoted the position. He would no longer participate in, much less run, Principals' meetings. He would report to deputy secretaries. He would have no staff and would attend no more meetings with budget officials.

Kaplan doesn't include the key fact here, which is that Clarke was of the opinion that Rice had never heard of al Queda before he briefed her at the transition. Now, this is ludicrous on the face of it - there are pre-administration interviews with Rice in which she discusses al Queda. But this might have been what Clarke thought of Rice. In other words, he seems to have had a basic contempt for Dr. Rice which he expresses in the book by denigrating her competence. Would you want such a man in a position of serious importance working under you? If I was Rice, I would have shitcanned his condescending ass after the first interview. The fact that she didn't, combined with his reputation as an "al Queda" expert, suggest to me that the only reason Clarke survived the turnover was a combination of some sort of residual concern about Islamic terrorism and his status as a Bush I "Old Boy".

Hrm. That's sort of interesting, come to think of it. At one point, Clarke is supposedly demoted to cyber-security matters during the turnover in February 2001. Elsewhere, he's demoted in October 2001. Which is it? Folks have noticed that his public pronouncements have, over the years, turned more and more to goofy cyber-terrorism, cyber-security matters, and less and less to actual, y'know, terrorism. How much of this confusion is ass-covering in the White House, and how much of it is a bored bureaucrat shirking an old obsession - non-state-sponsored terrorism - for a new, shiny, sexy obsession like cyber-security?

No comments: