Richard A. Clarke is a "terrorism expert" who doesn't consider Saddam Hussein a terrorist. Clarke's much-touted 60 Minutes interview last night aimed to expose George Bush's obtuseness. But it succeeded more in exposing his own. He came across as a "terrorism expert" more worried about provoking the terrorists than catching them.
In a Time magazine column that appeared last week after the Madrid bombings, Clarke gave himself away as a softheaded liberal who seeks to understand the terrorists. "So, in addition to placing more cameras on our subway platforms, maybe we should be asking why the terrorists hate us," he writes. "If we do not focus on the reasons for terrorism as well as the terrorists, the body searches we accept at airports may be only the beginning of life in the new fortress America."
Clarke was a favored figure in the Clinton administration. "My name is on the table next to Madeleine Albright and Bill Cohen," he proudly told the press in the 1990s. But press stories now are more eager to describe him as an ex-Bush aide than Clinton holdover.
As even 60 Minutes had to acknowledge, Clarke is team-teaching a course at Harvard with a John Kerry adviser. Clarke is only an ex-Bush aide in the most accidental sense. Like David Stockman, Paul O'Neill, etc., Clarke is proof that whenever a Republican administration extends an olive branch to an establishment liberal he just grabs it and starts beating Republicans with it once he gets the chance.
Clarke has long been a controversial figure, collecting enemies over the years through cocksure bullying and arrogant administration. "In 1992, he was accused by the State Department's Inspector General of looking the other way as Israel transferred American military technology to China," reports a New York Times profile from 1999. The Times reported that Clarke began his government service in the State Department, a job he got through Leslie Gelb, a former New York Times columnist.
Clarke still views the world like a State Department official. His comment that "maybe we should be asking why the terrorists hate us" typifies the striped-pants State Department liberalism. Which, by the way, John Kerry ably described in Sunday's Washington Post. Kerry's father was a State Department diplomat. Kerry said that he absorbed from his father's experience "the benefit of learning how to look at other countries and their problems and their hopes and challenges through their eyes…"
Clarke's own liberalism contributed to America's lack of preparedness. In the 60 Minutes interview, he said that Bush's invasion of Iraq has provoked the terrorists and proven bin Laden's propaganda right. This is a rich claim coming from Clinton's terrorism czar: Why doesn't Clinton's clumsy strike on bin Laden, which turned Osama into a hero in the Arab world, count as a provocation?)
Despite all his tough talk, Clarke makes a point in his new book, which his 60 Minutes appearance was designed to launch (Against All Enemies goes on sale today), of belittling John Ashcroft for the Patriot Act. "The attorney general, rather than bringing us together, managed to persuade much of the country that the needed reforms of the Patriot Act were actually the beginning of fascism." Clarke dismisses Ashcroft as man who lost "a Senate re-election to a dead man."
60 Minutes, other than noting that Clarke is teaching a Harvard course with a John Kerry adviser, didn't challenge the liberal biases driving Clarke's critique of Bush. Lesley Stahl's eyes bulged with excitement as Clarke declared no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.
No connection? Even the Los Angeles Times, while trying to minimize the connection, has reported that "U.S. intelligence officials agree that there was a contact between Hussein's agents and Al Qaeda members as far back as a decade ago and that operatives with ties to Al Qaeda had at times found safe haven in Iraq." Nor was Clarke asked about the Bush administration memo, publicized by the Weekly Standard, which laid out evidence that Osama bin Laden received bomb training from the Iraqi Intelligence Service's principal technical expert, that Al Qaeda agents met with Hussein's officials to set up terrorist camps, received money and weapons from them, and continued meeting with them after 9/11.
Hussein harbored terrorists, wrote checks to terrorists, cheered the 9/11 terrorist attacks (as his newspapers showed the day after the 9/11 attacks). Yet Clarke didn't consider Hussein a terrorist worthy of Bush's attention. Clarke is right in a sense: America was ill-prepared for 9/11, and softheaded terrorism experts like him explain why.
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