Dick Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission turned into a political ping pong match, with John Lehman, former secretary of the navy, insisting that Clarke has a “real credibility problem.”
I read Clarke’s book while traveling the past couple of days, and found it anything but a liberal tract. Clarke comes across as a principled conservative with special expertise. He clearly feels that his expertise was respected by Bill Clinton, who made him a cabinet official and took an intellectual interest in the nature of terrorism. And he clearly feels that George W. Bush lacks that intellectual curiosity, and surrounded himself with anti-Iraq hawks who simply did not understand asymmetrical organizations and the threat they posed. As a result, Bush and the people around him demoted Clarke from the cabinet and paid no attention to his suggestion that the administration go to ‘battle stations’ as a result of the increased chatter in summer of 2001.
That Clarke, while in office, tried to put a positive face on the Bush administration, in which he was serving, does not detract from the credibility of his memoir, Against all Enemies. Only the most naive observer could fail to be able to distinguish between the discourse of a public servant and that of a private citizen released from such duties, and now able to speak his mind. Washington rhetoric is often so simple-minded that it is insulting to those of us west of the Potomac, as if we are little children who will swallow any tall tale fed us.
Clarke’s integrity in standing against the Neocons’ and Rumsfeld’s outrageous politicization of intelligence and peddling of false charges that Saddam was behind 9/11 or in cahoots with al-Qaeda more generally, is extremely admirable. But, clearly, he was reduced to a second or third tier player, and could not counteract the enormous influence of Feith, Hannah, Libby, and others, who worked through Cheney to get up a phoney case against Iraq.
Clarke was rumored to have been personally targeted for assassination by al-Qaeda before 9/11, and served honorably in the fight against that organization at a time when most high US government officials had no idea what al-Qaeda was. To have his “credibility” now challenged on partisan political grounds, when his book is anything but partisan, is shameful.
John Lehman, by the way, is the one with credibility problems. He tried to blame the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 at Aden on a failure of the CIA and the State Department, and alleged that an anti-US and anti-Israel state was behind it (read: Iraq). In fact, the USS Cole bombing was a purely al-Qaeda affair in which Iraq was in no way involved. And, as Clarke explains, it happened in part because the Navy decided to start refueling at Aden without passing the plan by any of the civilian counter-terrorism officials, including himself. Lehman’s brother, Chris, served in Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Programs, which cherry-picked intelligence so as to manufacture huge Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs and extensive collaboration with al-Qaeda, both of them fantasies.
Lehmann and his brother Chris have been wrong all along the way in downplaying al-Qaeda and foregrounding Saddam. That is why he has to now smear Clarke, who has simply told it like it was.
If you read the preface to Clarke’s book carefully, you’ll see that he predicted the smear campaign against him. Indeed, the word “enemies” in the title of his book refers to the way the Bushies treat anyone who doesn’t get with their program.
For more on the anti-Clarke campaign see the always sharp and canny commentary of Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.