Richard Clarke. Credible Witness?

    Running scared

    The Bush administration fears voters will believe Richard Clarke's allegations, writes Philip James

    Philip James
    Friday March 26, 2004
    The Guardian

    The swiftness and ferocity of the Bush White House's attack on Richard Clarke tells you two things: his story may be largely true, and the Bush administration is terrified that the American people will believe it.

    The central allegation - that Mr Bush was so obsessed with going after Saddam Hussein that he openly challenged his counter-terrorism adviser to find a link between September 11 and Iraq the day after the attacks took place - is serious.

    It threatens the fundamental platform of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign: that you are safer with them than you are with the Democrats.

    The White House did not let a single news cycle go by before questioning that the alleged encounter between the president and Clarke had ever taken place, assigning dark motives to a man who has served four presidents, three of them Republicans.

    But you don't have to be Bob Woodward to check Clarke's story out. There were other witnesses to this meeting, one of whom spoke to me.

    "The conversation absolutely took place. I was there, but you can't name me," the witness said. "I was one of several people present. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the president had Iraq on his mind, first and foremost."

    This former national security council official was too terrified to go on the record - he knows how vengeful this administration can be.

    He remembers the late night phone call former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill received just before he published The Price of Loyalty, his account of how the Bush White House set its sights on Iraq from day one. He was about to discover the price of disloyalty to this administration.

    It was Donald Rumsfeld on the line, a man more used to authorising deadly force on the grandest scale, gently advising him that it might not be in his best interests to go public.

    When O'Neill ignored him, he instantly became the target of an investigation by his former department, which claimed that he had revealed state secrets.

    Bush's mantra to the international community during his inexorable march to war in 2002-2003 - you are either with us or against us - applies, with equal force, to all who serve him.

    His inner circle has used fear and intimidation to keep the White House airtight. But the cracks are opening up, and those pesky facts keep resurfacing like unsightly flotsam, evidence that supports Richard Clarke's revelations.

    The fact that the Pentagon pulled the fighting force most equipped for hunting down Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan in March 2002 in order to pre- position it for Iraq cannot be denied.

    Fifth Group Special Forces were a rare breed in the US military: they spoke Arabic, Pastun and Dari. They had been in Afghanistan for half a year, had developed a network of local sources and alliances, and believed that they were closing in on bin Laden.

    Without warning, they were then given the task of tracking down Saddam. "We were going nuts on the ground about that decision," one of them recalls.

    "In spite of the fact that it had taken five months to establish trust, suddenly there were two days to hand over to people who spoke no Dari, Pastun or Arabic, and had no rapport."

    Along with the redeployment of human assets came a reallocation of sophisticated hardware. The US air force has only two specially-equipped RC135 U spy planes. They had successfully vectored in on al-Qaida leadership radio transmissions and cellphone calls, but they would no longer circle over the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

    The Bush White House has banked on all who were privy to these details keeping the code of silence. But too many people outside the White House sphere of influence are too well informed, be they commandos on the ground or career civil servants at the state department and CIA.

    Some have come forward, risking the ire of the Bushies. Many more are considering it, weighing their conscience alongside their sense of self-preservation. Several who are talking are doing so on the condition of anonymity.

    But, as this campaign heats up, some will rethink and go on the record. It is becoming clear their silence might ensure that the Bush White House gets away with the central lie of its tenure - the blanket denial that it abandoned the war on terror to pursue an unrelated, pre-selected Iraq agenda.

    The louder the Bush administration proclaims that it is the only qualified protector of national security, the more offensively that rings in the ears of those who know the truth. Sooner or later - and certainly before November - that truth will out.

    - Philip James is a former senior Democratic party strategist

    Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
    Last edit by donmurray on Mar 26, '04 : Reason: Speling
  2. 5 Comments

  3. by   fergus51
    He would be a lot more credible if he wasn't always changing his story.... The sad thing is I do believe him when he says he feels the government could have done more and he apologized..... But all those complimentary emails and letters, whether they were just diplomatically worded or not, don't make him a great witness now.

    I do think the way the Bush administration is portraying him is unfair though. He served in government for 3 decades, starting under Reagan, and that shouldn't be forgotten.
  4. by   Mkue
    At first I thought he might be credible but then I found out that he has "flip/flopped" on his story. First praising the Bush team in 2002 then changing his story, kind of like he voted for it then against it, sort of like Kerry.
  5. by   fergus51
    He didn't really flip flop so much as omit the bad and highlight the good. Did you actually see him testify? His rebuttal to that question was simply amazing. Totally shut down the questionner and made him look like a dummy. He came off as completely frank to me. I wanted to yell "THANK GOD!!! SOMEONE WHO ADMITS MISTAKES INSTEAD OF JUST BLAMING THE OTHER GUY!!!" He came off way better than anyone else I saw.

    I don't think it serves the Bush administration well to attack this man. If he was such an idiot, why did they keep him as head of counter-terrorism? And Cheney actually said he was "out of the loop".... Now, I don't pretend to be a genius, but shouldn't the head of counter-terrorism BE in the loop? Course, later Condi said he was in the loop, so who really knows?

    Plus, he doesn't show any venom towards the Bush administration. He basically said he believes they thought terrorism was important, but not urgent and he personally said he failed at his work in preventing 9/11 and apologized. Hardly sounds like the embittered ex-employee the attack dogs are making him out to be. Makes the Bush admin look desperate when they attack someone moderate.
  6. by   pickledpepperRN

    ... Some issues of the moment. There is no love lost between Richard Clarke and the President and his team. The former anti-terrorism czar, who has served for many years, most honorably, under presidents of both the Republican and Democratic parties, going back to the Reagan administration, has offered up some powerful comments in his just published book. The most telling critique by the former counterterrorism coordinator for Mr. Bush, concerns the administration's apparent obsession with Iraq. Mr. Clarke claims that he and other intelligence experts repeatedly told top officials and even the President, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no involvement with 9/11 or in fact any involvement with Al Qaeda.

    His overall assessment of the President? He has "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."
    And as for the Sec. of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, he states that the Secretary argued for post 9/11 strikes against Iraq rather than going after the Taliban in Afghanistan. He quotes Rummy as saying, "there aren't any good targets in Afghanistan." Coupling that with the on-going hearings of the special presidential commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, it appears more likely that we'll have a clearer understanding of what the president knew and when he knew it and how he did or should have responded.

    I would like to know too, why the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton did not act more aggressively against Al Qaeda if the Clinton White House was so well aware of the threat posed by terrorists. Remember it is claimed that the Clinton people had warned Bush officials during the period of transfer about Al Qaeda's threats.

    Have you heard Vice President Dick Cheney's response to the Clarke revelations? In character, the Veep has claimed that the author of "Against All Enemies," the former anti-terrorist czar... "may have had a grudge to bear since he probably wanted a more prominent position" and also claimed that Clarke was "Out of the loop."
    Maybe he has forgotten that the man was this administration's top official on counterterrorism prior to 9/11.

    Being that the thrust of his charges are accurate I suppose that in this highly charged presidential election year, the approach they take is character assassination. It won't work.
    Is that how this administration works?
    You bet.

    In support of that statement let me borrow a line from New York Times op-ed commentator Paul Krugman. Stating that it is risky to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration he points out that "When Gen Eric Shinseki told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a large occupation force, that was the end of his military career.
    When Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed that the 2003 State of the Union speech contained information known to be false, someone in the White House destroyed his wife's career by revealing she was a CIA operative.

    And we know know that Richard Foster, the Medicare system's chief actuary, was threatened with dismissal if he revealed to congress the likely cost of the administration's prescription drug plan".
    Of course Scott McClellan, the presidential press spokesman, claims that the book came out now because it's "more about politics and a book promotion than about policy." I think Mr. Clarke is a brave man, knowing how this administration likes to punish their critics.

    Mr. Bush proclaims himself to be "the war president," which would lead me to ask him (if only I had the opportunity), another question.

    "Why sir, in the early days after the September 11, 2001 attacks did the administration cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI?"

    And they claim that John Kerry would be weak on fighting terrorism!
  7. by   pickledpepperRN
    I do not admire Mr. Clarke for advising Presidents to attack with missiles as he stated he so often did.
    I did believe his apology was sincere.
    Cross Bush, Face Payback

    Published: March 27, 2004

    Filed at 2:02 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush is playing supercharged hardball in going after his own former anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke. It's a risky strategy that shows the single-mindedness of Bush and his re-election team in trying to deflect politically damaging criticism.

    Loyalty is a hallmark of Bush's administration, with the president and his top lieutenants quick to turn on those who stray from the fold.

    A week after a broadside that questioned Democratic rival John Kerry's commitment to U.S. troops and fitness to be president -- standard operating procedure for the general election campaign -- Bush's re-election machine unleashed a shock and awe campaign designed to discredit Clarke.

    Bush's leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks is the guiding theme of his re-election campaign, intended to suggest the nation is safer with him as president. Clarke's claim that Bush ignored the threat from Osama bin Laden and waged a pointless war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein directly challenges that argument.

    In his book "Against All Enemies," Clarke predicted retribution from a White House "adept at revenge."

    But Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, are essentially following the same game plan that the late Lee Atwater -- an early political mentor of Rove's -- used to get the first President Bush elected in 1988: define and undercut an opponent early with a fusillade of negative attacks.

    "This team is tough. You cross them and they go after you and raise questions about you and your credibility rather than what you have to say," said Thomas Mann, a scholar with the Brookings Institution.

    Others who have fallen out of favor over Iraq include former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. All voiced concerns about either the expense or number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. All were treated dismissively by the White House. All are gone, but their estimates proved accurate.

    Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV drew the administration's wrath by suggesting Bush exaggerated Saddam's nuclear capabilities. A federal grand jury is investigating whether a White House official illegally disclosed that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer to get back at him.

    On the domestic front, Paul O'Neill was fired as Treasury secretary in December 2002 after publicly questioning the need for additional Bush tax cuts -- another core campaign issue for Bush.

    Administration officials now are waging a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Richard Foster, a Medicare accountant who publicly said he was forbidden by his superiors from sharing with Congress a higher -- and more accurate -- cost estimate for the administration's Medicare program.

    John DiIulio quit as director of Bush's office of faith-based initiatives in 2002, telling Esquire magazine that "Mayberry Machiavellis" led by Rove were basing policy only on re-election concerns. He later apologized for making what he said were rude remarks.

    Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., stood on the Senate floor last week to urge Bush to stop the "character attacks" on Clarke, saying they recalled scorched-earth tactics that Bush and his allies used to defeat Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the GOP presidential primary in 2000, and Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia in the 2002 midterm elections.

    The risk for Bush in aggressively challenging a former member of his own administration is that it could backfire. Clarke's book instantly became a best seller, and the White House counterattack is helping to give the allegations even wider circulation.
    But administration defenders said it was important to rebut the charges quickly to ensure that they wouldn't linger unanswered.

    "I think the American people do not believe that the president of the United States is pursuing a folly in the war on terror," and it is important to drive that home, said Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

    Not every White House attempt at damage-control works. Last summer, White House officials tried to pin the blame on CIA Director George Tenet for not waving Bush off his State of the Union claim that Saddam was seeking uranium in Africa for nuclear weapons.

    Political analysts rushed to proclaim Tenet a goner, but those obituaries proved premature. CIA memos suddenly surfaced showing that Rice and her top advisers had, in fact, been given just such a warning by the CIA -- months before Bush's speech.
    Tenet, a politically wily Clinton administration holdover, remains on the job.