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Friday, March 26, 2004

Republicans Suddenly Embrace Transparency

Yahoo News has a new AP wire story on-line entitled, "GOP Moves to Declassify Clarke Testimony."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) claims that Richard Clarke told a very different story about Bush administration counter-terror efforts when he testified before congressional intelligence committees in July 2002 than he's telling now.

To prove this, various Republicans are seeking to declassify his testimony. Frist implied that perjury charges could lie ahead for Clarke "if it is found that he has lied to Congress."
"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The Tennessee Republican said he hopes Clarke's testimony in July 2002 before the House and Senate intelligence committees can be declassified. Then, he said, it can be compared with the account the former aide provided in his nationally televised appearance Wednesday before the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Frist, without elaborating, said Clarke's testimony in 2002 was "effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration."
I'm pretty skeptical that such declassification could help the Bush administration all that much. Most importantly, a huge point of departure for Clarke is his opposition to the war against Iraq and the argument that it distracted (and made more difficult) the wider war on terror.

Thus, I can't really see a "gotcha" moment if this testimony merely points to the admininstration's anti-terror achievements during the months after 9/11. Everyone knows they sent the military to Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban and destroyed al Qaida camps.

In August 2002, of course, George Herbert Walker Bush's National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft authored a critical op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal that is just as damning as Clarke's book in terms of the horrible consequences attacking Iraq would have for the war on terror. I quoted a lot of it before, but let me repeat this:
"An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism....At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists."
Earlier this week, someone leaked to Fox News a background brief Clarke gave in early August 2002. It generally supports the administration on the war on terror -- but Iraq is never mentioned.

Ironically, the White House has repeatedly linked the war in Iraq to the war on terror, but they are focusing all their attention on Clarke's claims about early 2001 -- that the incoming Bush administration was weak on terror from the beginning.

In the long run, that stuff may all wash out and the Iraq argument will prevail. So far, the White House doesn't seem to have a response for it.

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