Richard Clarke was right. So was Paul O'Neill.
During the six months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration
paid little attention to the threat from al-Qaeda and instead set the stage
for a war with Iraq.
Two weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, national security wasn't even a
top priority for the Bush administration. Security – job security, health
security, and national security – was last on a list of major issues Bush planned
to deal with in the fall of 2001, according to a transcript
of a speech Bush gave on August 31, 2001, to celebrate the launch of the White
House's new website.
National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, who is scheduled to testify
Thursday before the commission investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks, says
Clarke, President Bush's counterterrorism specialist, is a liar after Clarke
told the commission two weeks ago that the Bush administration failed to deal
with al-Qaeda seriously before 9/11.
Clarke exposes the Bush administration's attitude toward Islamic terrorists
in his book, Against All Enemies and says the Bush administration was
obsessed with Iraq before the terrorist attacks. Paul O'Neill, the former
Treasury Secretary, made similar statements a few months ago in the book The
Price of Loyalty, and he too was branded a liar and a disgruntled former
White House employee.
Rice is expected to be grilled by the commission. She'll try and prove that
the Bush administration dealt with al-Qaeda seriously. But there's no denying
that the allegations Clarke, O'Neill, and other whistleblowers have made, that
the White House was obsessed with Iraq, are rock solid. Here's the proof.
As early as January 2000, Rice was trying to sell a war with Iraq. It was then
that she wrote an article for Foreign Affairs magazine titled "Campaign
2000 – Promoting the National Interest," in which she promotes regime change
in Iraq, but fails to mention threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups such
"As history marches toward markets and democracy, some states have been left
by the side of the road. Iraq is the prototype. Saddam Hussein's regime is
isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people
live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international
politics. He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until
Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can,
including support from his opposition, to remove him. These regimes are living
on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them."
She echoed that line in August 2000, during an interview with the Council on
Foreign Relations, where Rice said Iraq posed the gravest threat to the U.S and
"The containment of Iraq should be aimed ultimately at regime change because
as long as Saddam is there no one in the region is safe – most especially his own
people," she said during the August 9, 2000 interview. "If Saddam gives you a
reason to use force against him, then use decisive force, not just a
Rice was interviewed by dozens of print and broadcast journalists between
January and September 2001. An extensive search of more than 400 news stories
available on Lexis Nexus between January 1, 2001 and September 10, 2001 show
that Rice never once spoke about the threat posed by al-Qaeda or its leader
Osama bin Laden.
When Rice discussed terrorism in public speeches and interviews in 2001, she
only utters the word to describe rogue nations such as Iraq and then follows it
up by promoting President Bush's National Missile Defense strategy. The White
House wanted to build a missile defense system to defend the United States
against small-scale missile attack by so-called rogue states like North Korea,
Iraq, and Iran.
On July 29, 2001, Rice was interviewed by CNN's John King. She was asked how
the United States would respond to missiles Iraq fired at U.S. war planes
patrolling the no-fly zones. She didn't mince words with her answer:
"Well, the president has made very clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to
be a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact a
threat to international security more broadly," Rice said. "And he has reserved
the right to respond when that threat becomes one that he wishes no longer to
"But I can be certain of this, and the world can be certain of this: Saddam
Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration. The administration is
working hard with a number of our friends and allies to have a policy that is
broad; that does look at the sanctions as something that should be restructured
so that we have smart sanctions that go after the regime, not after the Iraqi
people; that does look at the role of opposition in creating an environment and
a regime in Baghdad that the people of Iraq deserve, rather than the one that
they have; and one that looks at use of military force in a more resolute
manner, and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with him every day."
The question of whether the Bush administration targeted Iraq prior to 9/11
has long been the center of heated debate between Democrats and Republicans. The
Bush administration says Iraq was not in its crosshairs prior to 9/11. But
former White House officials, such as Clarke and O'Neill, claim the
administration was searching for reasons to attack Iraq as soon as Bush took
office in January 2001.
A January 11, 2001 article in the New York Times, "Iraq Is Focal Point
as Bush Meets With Joint Chiefs," should finally put an end to that
debate. Its first paragraph reads:
"George W. Bush, the nation's commander in chief to be, went to the Pentagon
today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot
spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm's
Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney,
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Times further reported
"…about half of the 75-minute meeting…focused on a discussion about Iraq
and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed
because 'it's the most visible and most risky area' Mr. Bush will confront after
he takes office, one senior officer said."
"Iraqi policy is very much on his mind," one senior Pentagon official told
the Times. "Saddam was clearly a discussion point."
On June 22, 2001, President Bush spoke briefly about terrorism during a
speech in Alabama, but, like Rice, Bush used the word "terrorist" to describe
rogue nations, not terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, and to gain support
for his National Missile Defense policy
"It's time to come together and to think about a new security arrangement
that addresses the threats of the 21st century," is how Bush put it, according
to a transcripts
of his remarks:
"And the threats of the 21st century will be terrorist in nature,
terror when it comes to weaponry. What we must do – freedom-loving people must be
willing to think differently and develop anti-ballistic missile systems that
will say to rogue nations and leaders who cannot stand America, or what we stand
for: you will not blackmail us, nor will you blackmail our allies."
Clarke was right. Our government failed us. Worse, they lied, too.