The Counterterrorism Czar: Born-Again Critic of the Bush Administration

Richard Clarke, President George W. Bush’s former “counterterrorism czar,” accuses the Bush administration of seeking a tie between Iraq and 9/11, and pushing America into an ill-advised war in Iraq. Clarke claims that Bush attempted to “intimidate him” into finding evidence — which Clarke maintains doesn’t exist — to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Clarke accuses Bush of doing little to combat terrorism pre-9/11.


Fox News’ Jim Angle disclosed a tape of an August 2002 briefing by then-Special Adviser to the President for Cyberspace Security Richard Clarke. There, Clarke gave a decidedly different version of the Bush administration’s terrorism policy:

Clarke: “. . . [T]he Clinton administration had . . . a number of issues on the table since 1998. . . . [T]he Bush administration decided . . . mid-January [2001], to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings. . . . The second thing the administration decided to do is to initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided. . . . [The Bush administration] decided in principle . . . in the spring to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al Qaeda. [The Bush administration] changed the strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda over the course [of] five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda. That is in fact the timeline.

“. . . [T]he Bush administration changed — began to change Pakistani policy, by a dialogue that said we would be willing to lift sanctions. So we began to offer carrots, which made it possible for the Pakistanis, I think, to begin to realize that they could go down another path, which was to join us and to break away from the Taliban. So that’s really how it started . . .”

Question: “What you’re saying is that . . . there was no delay, and that actually the first changes since October of ’98 were made in the spring months just after the administration came into office?”

Clarke: “You got it. That’s right. . . . President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the NSPD (National Security Presidential Directive) from one of rollback to one of elimination.”

Yet Richard Clarke now attacks the president for falsely claiming that he promptly and forthrightly began conducting a war on terror. But in Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror, author Richard Miniter writes that Clarke accused the Clinton administration of lack of focus on terrorism. He criticized Bush’s predecessor for making only half-hearted attempts at capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda due to bureaucratic infighting, foot-dragging, and military and diplomatic roadblocks. After the bombing of the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000, Miniter writes, “(Secretary of State Madeleine) Albright urged continued diplomatic effort to persuade the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Those efforts had been going on for more than two years and had gone nowhere. It was unlikely that the Taliban would ever voluntarily turn over its strongest internal ally. Clarke summed up the diplomatic efforts in a conversation with the author as amounting to ‘lots of cups of tea.'”

Gleeful over Clarke’s current slam against the Bush administration, the president’s critics overlook key Clarke admissions. First, despite feeling “intimidated” by the perceived presidential wish to find a connection between Iraq and 9/11, Clarke said the president never asked him to “make it up.” And Clarke admits that, he, too, thought Saddam possessed WMD. “Everybody did,” said Clarke.

So where does this leave us?

The 9/11 commission intends to issue their final report this July. Expect a finding of enough blame to go around. This we know: The Clinton administration had eight years to go after terrorists, and the Bush administration had eight months. We also know that the planning for 9/11 began under Clinton’s watch.

After the successful toppling of the Afghanistan and Iraq governments, a fearful Moammar Kadafi of Libya admitted and then renounced his WMD. This led to the unraveling of the nuclear network between Libya, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. North Korea, after balking, now appears willing to engage in non-proliferation talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. The movement toward democracy in Iraq emboldens dissidents in Syria and Iran. An ABC News poll found that while 39 percent of Iraqis oppose the invasion, 48 percent approve! And 71 percent of Iraqis expect their lives to improve within a year’s time.

If only Americans felt that optimistic.

The 9/11 commission appropriately seeks to find out why 9/11 occurred and what might have prevented it. The question becomes, now what? Clarke’s harsh criticisms of the current Bush administration offers red meat to the president’s enemies, but does little to assist in this colossal struggle for the very survival of human civilization.