Both the ferocity of the White House attacks and his lionization by the liberal press testify: Richard Clarke has drawn blood.
The former counter-terrorism chief seeks to dynamite the central pillar of the Bush presidency: that the president has bravely and brilliantly led us in the War on Terror and that the war on Iraq made us more secure.
According to Clarke, the White House, especially Condi Rice, was diffident if not indolent in coping with the threat of Al Qaeda prior to 9-11. And the obsession with Iraq blinded the White House to the real threat.
As Clarke tells it, at a meeting of sub-Cabinet officers he called in April 2001 to discuss Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Paul Wolfowitz dismissed the “little terrorist” in Afghanistan and sought to refocus the meeting on Iraq.
On 9-11 itself, Clarke was stunned to hear Donald Rumsfeld call for bombing Iraq — not Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was — because there were better “targets” in Iraq, though Baghdad had had nothing to do with the atrocities.
On Sept. 12, Clarke was enraged as he watched Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz try to steer the president’s wrath away from Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, toward Iraq and Saddam. Clarke contends the eventual invasion of Iraq was a disaster for the war on terror.
First, it diverted vital resources, such as U.S. Special Forces, away from the hunt for Osama when we might have caught and killed him. In the two years since bin Laden escaped, the cancer cells he created have multiplied. Now we face Al Qaeda clones all over the world.
Second, the Iraqi invasion played into bin Laden’s hand. He had long predicted the United States would invade an oil-rich Islamic nation to seize its resources, and in the eyes of the Arab and Islamic world, we have done exactly that.
Third, the pandemic hatred of the United States, as seen in the recent Pew polls, is, Clarke believes, a direct consequence of our invasion.
Fourth, we ignited a war of national resistance in Iraq that has given the Islamic young a cause in which to believe and for which to fight — i.e., to expel imperialist-infidel America from Baghdad, which for 500 years was the seat of the caliphate.
Bush’s grand strategy is the Bush Doctrine. By it, the United States asserts a right to launch pre-emptive strikes and preventive wars on rogue nations to deny them weapons of mass destruction. After 9-11, said Bush, we cannot risk a rogue nation giving a biological or nuclear weapon to Al Qaeda. To prevent it, we take down rogue regimes and disarm them, before they strike.
Under the Bush Doctrine we invaded Iraq. Yet, we now know that Saddam had no links to 9-11, no ties to Al Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, no plans to attack us.
The White House has fallen back on the argument that Saddam and his Baathist regime constituted a terrorist state with a horrific record on human rights that would forever be a threat if ever it did acquire the weapons for which it still had plans, if not programs.
Moreover, our long-term policy for ending the terrorist threat is to use our resources to advance a “world democratic revolution.” When all Islamic states are free and democratic, the threat of terror will pass away.
The test case is Iraq, but only the early returns are in.
What do they show? Clearly, the Iraqi people are glad to be rid of the tyrant and his regime. And while no roses were strewn in the path of U.S. troops, the Iraqis are not all hostile. The Libyans have come around, and the Iranians want to talk. Progress is being made.
Yet, the price in U.S. and Iraqi dead and wounded is high, and the cost in resources, $150 billion and counting, is prohibitive of any new war on Iran or North Korea, whose arsenals are far more advanced. Much of our Army is tied down. Our alliances are strained. The cancer of terrorism appears to have metastasized. The Islamic world appears to be against us.
By our old standards — America does not attack nations that do not attack us — Iraq was not a war of necessity, but a war of choice. Was it wise? Bush says yes, Clarke no.
The verdict of history is not yet in. But if Iraq collapses in chaos or civil war to become a spawning ground of Islamic terror, Bush will be a failed president and America will need a new foreign policy.
However, by then, the architects of the Iraq war could still be in power. We are headed for interesting times, made more interesting by Richard Clarke.