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March 25, 2004

If Clarke Is Right, Bush Must Go

by Christopher Deliso

The Bushies disparage him for allegedly harboring a work – related grudge and having an ulterior motive. They say counter – terrorism whistleblower Richard Clarke was sore about being demoted from a cabinet – level to a staff – level position, and that he is friends with a man working on John Kerry's campaign.

Yet so far, these rather pedestrian smears have been backed up by nothing more than adjectives. Thus the Pentagon demeaned Clarke's allegation that George W. Bush has failed the war on terrorism "absurd." And National Security Advisor Condy Rice, who also comes in for much criticism in Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, called his charges "ridiculous." Her deputy and Office of Special Plans intriguer Stephen Hadley dismissed the Clarke charges as "just wrong" (but was contradicted by 60 Minutes' own research, when he maintained a key meeting between Clarke and President Bush hadn't taken place). And National Review blowhard William F. Buckley, among others, mocked Clarke's evidence for being "incoherent."

Yet the Bushies are having problems with contesting the evidence – mostly, because they are afraid of what it may cause. Indeed, if the administration were so confident that Clarke was just full of hot air, they wouldn't have responded by going on an immediate full – court press in the media. In a new low for government propaganda, the White House put Rush Limbaugh's interview with Darth Cheney on the White House's taxpayer – funded website. Condy cobbled something together for the Washington Post and, though she still refuses to brief the American people in public over the 9/11 investigation, was only too happy to brief Rupert Murdoch and the Fox News gang by phone on Friday. Meanwhile, White House PR chief Dan Bartlett used national public television to repudiate Clarke, and W. himself heroically rose to his own defense.

Yet whereas the administration is attacking Clarke with adjectives and slander, he's coming after them with facts and quoted statements to show the following: that the terror attacks of 9/11 could have been prevented; that the Bush Administration's obsession with Iraq above all else was pervasive and present from Day 1; and that the prosecution of the anti – terror war since 9/11 has been shoddily executed.

If Clarke is right, then criminal negligence is the very least with which George W. Bush and the War Party can be charged. As Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo reminds:

"…Ideological blindness is one thing: deliberate diversion is another. It is the difference between incompetence and treason. But that difference, in the context of the Clarke revelations, seems to disappear in light of the numerous warnings received by U.S. government officials in the months and days prior to 9/11: As the target date of the terrorists drew nearer, the alarm bells – sounded by foreign intelligence agencies, including the British, the French, the Argentineans, and the Israelis, and some of our own people – were getting louder. But was anybody listening? Was anybody in charge?"

Before the Apocalypse: Poor Planning Before 9/11

These are legitimate questions indeed, and Clarke – a counter – terrorism veteran working under the Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations – is certainly someone who should be able to answer them. What Clarke suggests is that the Bush Administration had its priorities in the wrong place from the start, refusing to take an interest in the Clinton Administration's focus on Al Qaeda and instead developing its malignant obsession with Iraq, which like a tumor quickly grew until it had eaten up everything else around it.

In an interview yesterday with the Guardian's Julian Borger, Clarke detailed his unsuccessful efforts to get the White House and National Security Advisor Rice to take the Al Qaeda threat seriously from the beginning of their tenure:

"…between April and July [2001] only four of the 30 or 35 deputy principal meetings touched on al – Qaeda. But three of those were mainly about US – Pakistan relations, or US – Afghan relations or South Asian policy, and al – Qaeda was just one of the points. One of the meetings looked at the overall plan. It was the July one.

April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al – Qaeda. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that's interesting because there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn't been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn't believe the CIA and FBI, that they've been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I've been doing this for 8 years and I don't know about any Iraqi – sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993.

When I said let's start talking about Bin Laden, he said Bin Laden couldn't possibly have attacked the World Trade Centre in '93. One little terrorist group like that couldn't possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq."

'Revisionism,' or Realistic Objections?

Rice and others have disparaged Clarke's objections as revisionism, nothing more than mere Monday – morning quarterbacking that arbitrarily and unfairly holds the administration responsible for preventing an attack that was beyond prediction. The Guardian's Borger put this question to Clarke, and asked what specifically the Bush Administration could have done differently. Clarke responded:

"…Well let me ask you: Contrast December '99 with June and July and August 2001. In December '99 we get similar kinds of evidence that al – Qaeda was planning a similar kind of attack. President Clinton asks the national security advisor to hold daily meetings with attorney – general, the CIA, FBI. They go back to their departments from the White House and shake the departments out to the field offices to find out everything they can find. It becomes the number one priority of those agencies. When the head of the FBI and CIA have to go to the White House every day, things happen and by the way, we prevented the attack.

Contrast that with June, July, August 2001 when the president is being briefed virtually every day in his morning intelligence briefing that something is about to happen, and he never chairs a meeting and he never asks Condi Rice to chair a meeting about what we're doing about stopping the attacks. She didn't hold one meeting during all those three months.

Now, it turns out that buried in the FBI and CIA, there was information about two of these al – Qaeda terrorists who turned out to be hijackers [Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi]. We didn't know that. The leadership of the FBI didn't know that, but if the leadership had to report on a daily basis to the White House, he would have shaken the trees and he would have found out those two guys were there. We would have put their pictures on the front page of every newspaper and we probably would have caught them. Now would that have stopped 9/11? I don't know. It would have stopped those two guys, and knowing the FBI the way they can take a thread and pull on it, they would probably have found others."

This is compelling logic. Clarke knows well the incredible slowness with which Washington's bureaucracy moves, and with which reforms are made. He's speaking from experience when he says that the only way to make things happen is to "shake the trees" of regional law enforcement offices and drag the net. As we know well now, there were FBI agents and others crying out to be heard, whose terrorist warnings were ignored by an administration too involved with seeking ways to invade Iraq.

For the Neocons, "The Absence of Evidence Is Not The Evidence of Absence"

Indeed, although Clarke had petitioned Condoleezza Rice to hold a cabinet – level meeting in January of 2001, recounts Raimondo,

"…it wasn't until April, however, that a high – level meeting was convened, at which, according to Clarke, Wolfowitz cited as evidence to the contrary the writings of conspiracy theorist Laurie Mylroie, who has created an entire oeuvre around the idea that Saddam Hussein was responsible not only for the 1993 WTC bombing, but also the Oklahoma City terror incident – and, quite possibly global warming. 'We've investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that,' replied Clarke. 'It was Al Qaeda. It wasn't Saddam.'"

Mylroie's so – far unsubstantiated Iraq – terrorism connection nevertheless continued to receive the backing of former CIA chief and neocon leader James Woolsey, who has forwarded a rather Zen – like paradox for supporting it: "…the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence."

The same policy, of bombing first and then hoping the evidence would manifest itself eventually, has been applied unilaterally throughout the Bush Administration's policy – making on Iraq.

In the end, Bush's policy has simply been the fruition of the motto of neocon ideologue Michael Ledeen, as transmitted by National Review's Jonah Goldberg:

"…the United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense… Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business."

Afghanistan: From the 'Botched' Hunt for Bin Laden to the Office of Special Plans

Clarke also told the Guardian that, once the terrorists did strike, the Bush team reacted slowly and insufficiently, hampered by its Iraq obsession and an unwillingness to get men on the ground within striking distance of bin Laden. Because of this reticence, Clarke charges, the Evil One had more than enough time in which to make his escape:

"…when they finally did the ground invasion they kind of botched it, because all they did initially was send special forces with the northern alliance. They did not insert special forces to go in after Bin Laden. They let Bin Laden escape. They only went in two months after."

In the interview Clarke builds on his critiques of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and other "faith – based" intelligence initiatives, making the case again that Iraqi war planning hampered the more important anti – terrorist work in Afghanistan:

"…the people in Rumsfeld's office and in Wolfowitz's operation cherry – picked intelligence to select the intelligence to support their views. They never did the due diligence on the intelligence that professional intelligence analysts are trained to do. [The OSP] would go through the intelligence reports including the ones that the CIA was throwing out. They stitched it together they would send it out, send it over to Cheney. All the stuff that a professional would have thrown out.

As soon as 9/11 happened people like Rumsfeld saw it was [their] opportunity. During that first week after September 11, the decision was made. It was confirmed by [the] president. We should do Afghanistan first. But the resources necessary to do a good job in Afghanistan were withheld. There was not enough to go in fast, to go in enough to secure the country. Troops were held back. There were 11,000 troops in Afghanistan. There were fewer in [the] whole country than police in the borough of Manhattan."

George W. Bush: The Malevolent Failure of Leadership

Although there are many other criticisms that Clarke makes the final and most sensational of all is that regarding the demeanor and ability of George W. Bush. When asked by the Guardian to delve into the subject of Bushian psychology, Clarke candidly replied:

"…he doesn't like to read a lot – not terribly interested in analysis. He is very interested in getting to the bottom line. Once he's done he puts a lot of strength behind pushing it, but there's not a lot of analysis before the decision."

It's gratifying to know that the commander – in – chief of the most powerful country in the world is allergic to foresight and disinterested in reasoned analysis. Of course many people have pointed out the vacant, deer – in – the – headlights look and verbal miscues that characterized the first 9 months of Bush's reign. This pre – 9/11 Dubya got off relatively easily, however; the American people hate to be mean, and lapped up the image of Dubya as a lovable dimwit, as portrayed on the fictional TV show "That's My Bush," by actor Timothy Bottoms.

However, after 9/11 Bush the village idiot was transformed into Bush the statesman and military leader of steely determination, as portrayed on the fictional TV melodrama, "D.C. 9/11": Time of Crisis" – by actor Timothy Bottoms.

Yet the real life Bush seems to be a very different animal. Clarke's testimony reveals a belligerent, stubborn and unrelenting man, willfully disinterested in finding the truth, bent on a course of action regardless of the existence of evidence to support it.

This ignorance cannot be forgiven, whether passed over as charming idiocy or lamented as an unfortunate deception of the president, because he was (according to Clarke) quite sure of what he wanted – to the point of becoming aggressive and even abusive:

"…the president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this' [9/11]. Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.

…It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'"

This high – level disinterest in dissenting voices is not a new story; what is is the dictatorial behavior of the president. Clarke's depiction shows us a side of the American leader more in keeping with some Central Asian strongman than with the rational and responsible kind of leadership that the 'free world' demands.

It was clear well before the 2000 elections that George W. Bush was not the man for the job. Since he took office, the security and prosperity of the United States – and the world – have progressively declined. Of course, he cannot be blamed for everything that's gone wrong. Until now, his saving grace had been the war on terror. Surely no one, not even the more experienced Al Gore, could have made the country more secure and certainly no one could have prevented the 9/11 abominations. If things have been messy and difficult since then, it's not Bush's fault. It's just a wilder, more chaotic world than when he first took office. So goes the conventional wisdom.

Yet these life rafts for the president's job performance have been effectively blown out of the water by the Clarke revelations. If he is telling the truth (and there is no reason to believe that he's not), then George W. Bush is not only an inept statesman and unreflective leader – he and his closest advisors represent a mortal danger to the well being of Americans and the entire rest of the world.

If Clarke is right, then Bush must go – immediately. To where is not important right now. But he has to get out of the way and let someone with responsibility, analytical skills, statesmanship and an open mind take over. America and the West are right now teetering on the edge of an abyss and without sound leadership may easily be toppled.

There is now a sense that the revelations about the administration's massive failing of its own people regarding 9/11 and massive fraud in launching an unnecessary war on Iraq are approaching some sort of a critical mass. The War Party had better hope that the next whistleblower, whoever that may be, is satisfied with accusing them of willful ignorance and criminal negligence. For if the American people learn that the truth was anything worse than what Clarke has revealed, there will be hell to pay. If there is any justice at all on God's green earth, the architects of this colossal disaster of endless war will be forced to take something George W. Bush so often demands of others – responsibility.

Read all of Richard Clarke's revelations in his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside the White House's War on Terror – What Really Happened.

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  • Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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