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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Clarke Bashes Bush

Richard A. Clarke is a career bureaucrat, serving Presidents Reagan through Bush II. Most recently, he spent a decade directing the federal government's counterterror efforts. He left that post 13 months ago...just before the US attacked Iraq.

Oh, and he has been a registered Republican, at least as recently as the 2000 presidential election, and is hawkish on terrorism.

In his brand new book, Clarke says Bush was soft on terror before 9/11 and has been horrible for the past 18 months because of his decision to focus on Iraq instead of al Qaida.

Clarke has been giving a number of interviews, most prominently on CBS television's "60 minutes" program and will undoubtedly be in the press for the foreseeable future. Here are some choice words from tomorrow morning's Washington Post story:
The president, he said, "failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks." The rapid shift of focus to Saddam Hussein, Clarke writes, "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."

Among the motives for the war, Clarke argues, were the politics of the 2002 midterm election. "The crisis was manufactured, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war,' " Clarke writes.

"I'm sure I'll be criticized for lots of things, and I'm sure they'll launch their dogs on me," Clarke told CBS's "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast last night. "But frankly I find it outrageous that the president is running for reelection on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism."
Essentially, this is the same argument that Democratic hawks like Wesley Clark have been making for many months.

Clarke says the administration completely missed the boat on the threat from al Qaida -- and bought Laurie Mylroie's wacky theories that Iraq was behind all the major terror of the 1990s.
Like former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who spoke out in January, Clarke said some of Bush's leading advisers arrived in office determined to make war on Iraq. Nearly all of them, he said, believed Clinton had been "overly obsessed with al Qaeda."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Clarke wrote, scowled and asked, "why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden." When Clarke told him no foe but al Qaeda "poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States," Wolfowitz is said to have replied that Iraqi terrorism posed "at least as much" of a danger. FBI and CIA representatives backed Clarke in saying they had no such evidence.

"I could hardly believe," Clarke writes, that Wolfowitz pressed the "totally discredited" theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, "a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue."
I've blogged about this repeatedly.

Clarke also echoes many others who say that DoD leaders Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were itching for a fight against Iraq from the moment the World Trade Center was attacked.
In the first minutes after hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, Rice placed Clarke in her chair in the Situation Room and asked him to direct the government's crisis response. The next day, Clarke returned to find the subject changed to Iraq.

"I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq," he writes.

In discussions of military strikes, "Secretary Rumsfeld complained that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan" -- where al Qaeda was based under protection of the Taliban -- "and that we should consider bombing Iraq."

Worse, Bush bought it hook, line and sinker:
"Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary [for al Qaeda] by invading," Clarke writes. "What was unique about George Bush's reaction" was the additional choice to invade "not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq." In so doing, he estranged allies, enraged potential friends in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and produced "more terrorists than we jail or shoot."

"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq,' " Clarke writes.
Republicans spent much of the 1990s arguing that using military force to topple dictators didn't automatically improve American security. Bush campaigned on that topic in 2000.

Now, however, we're expected to believe that toppling Saddam improved US security even though it meant shifting the war on terrorism. Lots of special units and other real military assets were moved from Afghanistan to the Iraq diversion.

And now, we have 130,000 American troops bogged down with no draw-down date in sight. Even more forces are training for Iraq or recovering from recent deployments.

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