Clarke Strikes Out

It had already been a two rough weeks for the opposition candidate, with John Kerry slipping and cursing a Secret Service agent on the Idaho ski slopes, and only a Malaysian Jew—hater fessing up to being a foreign leader who wants Kerry to win. Last week was supposed to be the Democrats' big week.


Former terrorism chief Richard Clarke was given 36 minutes of precious time with a fawning Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes to launch his charges against the Bush White House. The charges included all the following: Bush was not interested in  Al Qaeda before 9/11; Bush wanted to go after Iraq after 9/11; Condi Rice had never heard of Al Qaeda when she became National Security Advisor; and the Bush team never went to battle stations to deal with terrorism, as the  Clinton team had.


A day after the 60 Minutes interview, Clarke's book came out. He appeared on the morning talk shows. He testified before the 9/11 Commission. He showed his humility as a public servant by apologizing to the 9/11 families at the hearing, saying 'We failed you, I failed you'. He made the tour of the Sunday talk shows the day before yesterday, with the normally truculent Tim Russert choosing to give Clarke a series of soft—ball questions.

Sure, the Bush team counter—attacked, challenging dates and times, and inconsistencies. But the free media was all over this story, much as they were with the Bush National Guard story two months ago.

The Clarke attack would certainly lead to a softening of Bush's support on the national security and terrorism issues, according to liberal pundits Paul Begala and George Stephanopolous, and this, they gleefully told us, was Bush's last reservoir of  strength. Some early polling suggested that Bush had dropped 10 points in his approval ratings on national security.

So Democrats should be rejoicing today. But they are not. For the latest Presidential polls show Bush further ahead of Kerry than he was a week ago. They also show huge majorities who think Clarke's attacks are partisan, and unfair.

So where did Clarke and his allies on the Democratic left go wrong? A three pronged attack of 60 Minutes, a new book, and 9/11 hearings should have been a trifecta for the Democratic attack  forces.

That it hasn't worked out this way (yet) is evidence that Americans can smell a rat. Where was Richard Clarke before last week? If he was so unhappy, why didn't he quit a long time ago? Why was he so angry at Bush?  But most of all, most Americans have common sense. The most significant Clarke charge is that after 9/11, Bush was interested in Iraq—region>'s connections to the attacks. But five weeks after 9/11, the American military took on, and then quickly defeated the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan—region>, not Iraq—region>.  Americans know this. They know that the Afghanistan—region> war preceded the Iraq—region> war by almost a year and half.

Americans also know that there were many al Qaeda terror attacks before Bush took office, to which we (i.e., the previous Clinton Administration) did not respond. So why should Bush be blamed for an attack that occurred just months after he took office?

Most of all, Americans blame al Qaeda, and not American politicians, for the attack. People are sensible enough to understand that in a big open free country like ours,  even with the best intelligence and immigration controls, there are still likely to be killers already among us (as there were in the case of the 19 murderers on 9/11).


Bush didn't kill 3,000 Americans, and neither did Clinton.  Al Qaeda did, and Bush soon went after them.

Maybe Americans are just not nuanced enough to blame Bush for not having his national security team on battle stations, whatever this is, when they know that he went to battle soon after 9/11. Clinton's team was apparently on battle stations for weeks at a time, but in the war on terror they were never in actual battle itself.  

My guess is that Richard Clarke was opposed to the war against Iraq—region>. He probably believes that it wasted American resources: dollars, soldiers, and focus on the war on terrorism. He is entitled to that opinion, and many other smart people agree with him. And, of course, many other smart people disagree with him. History will soon enough tell us if this part of the Bush legacy was a disaster, or a strategic breakthrough. The jury is still out. We did not find WMD in Iraq—region>, and it has certainly not been a smooth occupation or transition back to Iraqi control. 

But as a result of Iraq—region>, we found WMD in Libya—region>, and soon they will be gone from there. With 130,000 American troops in the neighborhood, the UN seems a bit more interested in Iran—region>'s nuclear program, if for no other reason than to keep the American cowboy from taking the battle to another country.

But even more than policy disagreement, Clarke seems to have felt snubbed. Bush had his team, and Clarke was not a key part of it. The Bush team values loyalty. Clarke has shown that the Bush team made the right judgment excluding him from the inside tam.

In another month or so, Clarke probably will go the way of Ron Susskind and Paul O'Neill. Anyone remember that book or that 60 Minutes interview?