On Richard Clarke

Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar for both the Clinton and Bush administrations, recently appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and harshly criticized President Bush’s handling of the war on terror.

Are there reasons to criticize the Bush White House? Well liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans all can find issues to complain about — and fairly enough. But Clarke’s claims about the President’s conduct regarding the United States’ fight against terrorism seem disingenuous at best.

The following items are some of what you may not have read or heard about Richard Clarke’s experiences and background:

From Rumsfeld’s War: The Untold Story of America’s Anti-Terrorist Commander (p. 6, 2004, Regnery Publishing, a sister company of HUMAN EVENTS):

    “Rumsfeld’s territorial strategy served not just for the war on terror, but for bureaucratic turf wars. By the time he was conducting the war in Afghanistan in October 2001, Rumsfeld was also fighting what he saw as a move by White House national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and her staff to gain power at his expense. Rumsfeld wanted direct access to the president without National Security Council (NSC) staff interfering in military decision making. Those decisions were the prerogative of the president, the defense secretary, and his combatant commanders. Rumsfeld did not want a replay of the Clinton era, when NSC analyst Richard Clarke ruled the White House on counterterrorism issues and repeatedly challenged the Pentagon.

From Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror (pp. 148-149, 2003, Regnery Publishing):

    Inside the State Department an age-old argument raged: Is it better to engage or isolate rogue regimes? Many counterterrorism hawks favored isolation, while failing to appreciate that defeating bin Laden required intelligence — and some of the best intelligence regarding him was held by Sudan. Admittedly, given that Sudan was a haven for terrorists, dealing with that regime was unappealing — but the alternative was worse.

    A systematic interagency review of government policy toward Sudan, which included the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the National Security Council, began. That interagency process lumbered forward in the spring and summer of 1997.

    By September, every major executive-branch office involved in national security had agreed to send an intelligence team to Khartoum. Those who favored limited engagement had won. America would send to Khartoum eight diplomats, some of whom were actually CIA and FBI counterterrorism officers. In time, even Ambassador [to Sudan Tim] Carney would return. Secretary of State Madeline Albright unveiled the plan on September 24, 1997.

    But the quicksand of the Clinton White House swallowed up the promising policy change. According to one former State Department official, in the first two weeks of October 1997, the head of the Africa Bureau at the National Security Council, Susan Rice went to see Richard Clarke, Clinton’s counterterrorism czar. Clarke confirmed to the author that Rice came to see him in October 1997 to overturn the State Department’s initiative toward Sudan. They agreed to go around Madeleine Albright. But they had to move quickly. Rice had been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Africa and Albright would soon be her boss.

    Whatever the cause, within six days, the State Department announced that it was scrapping its own initiative to re-engage Sudan in the hopes of combating terrorism. American intelligence agents would not see Sudan’s treasure trove of information on bin Laden until July 2001.

    Bureaucratic infighting had saved bin Laden again.

From Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security and of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, on March 23, 2004:

    “Dick Clarke appeared before my subcommittee during both the Clinton and Bush years, and I know that his concerns about the government’s response to terrorism long preceded the current administration. Indeed, if we’re going to start assessing blame for 9/11, then one must consider that the Clinton administration had eight years to confront the al-Qaeda threat, and the Bush administration less than eight months.

    “So imagine my surprise to learn that, in the course of his book tour, Dick Clarke has chosen to save his sharpest rebukes for the Bush administration, rather than the Clinton team. That may help him with book sales, but it’s not a full or fair assessment of the views I know he held. As I learn more about Clarke’s connections to people on the Kerry presidential campaign, it’s become quite clear that his attacks have more to do with politics than public service. That’s disappointing, to say the least.

    “Until Dick Clarke produces his detailed strategy memo that would have have toppled the Taliban government in record time, captured or killed 2/3 of known al-Qaeda leaders, bolstered dramatically intelligence-sharing here at home, and assembled one of the greatest global coalitions in history to go after terrorists all over the world, I’ll find it hard to believe he had a better plan for fighting terrorism than George W. Bush.”