First we had It Takes a Village. Then there was Living History. Now we have Against All Enemies. Like the first, it was not written by Hillary Clinton and, like the second, it is revisionist history at its worst.
Mr. Clarke — former White House terrorism “czar” during the era of al-Qaeda’s first round of attacks on America — is doing his best to sink President Bush. If you listened to Clarke’s testimony to the 9-11 Commission this week, you would have heard that Mr. Bush came into office and — with the Wolfowitz snarling at the White House door — ignored al-Qaeda and everything the smartest people (meaning Clarke) were saying. According to Clarke, by deposing Saddam Mr. Bush only made the world a more dangerous place. Clarke wants us to believe that if only Mr. Bush had chosen him instead of Condi Rice for National Security Advisor, if only Mr. Bush had done what Clarke had said instantly, and every time, maybe — just maybe — we would have been spared the 9-11 attacks. Nonsense.
Clarke was in the White House for eight years, all through the Clinton administration’s failures and now wants the world to ignore that track record. His major accomplishment was a completely useless strategy on cyber-terrorism.
All you need to know about Clarke is that the release of his new Bush-bashing book Against All Enemies happened the day before his melodramatic testimony. I’m sure it was a coincidence that the book release was accelerated by a month — as Tim Russert noted on Meet the Press — to appear in bookstores in time for his testimony.
Clarke began by apologizing to the families of 9-11 victims for his failure to stop the attacks. All he lacked was the trembling lower lip. He grandstanded, putting himself in the place of the government of the United States, of which he wants the world to believe he should have been in charge. His arguments are not only partisan but dishonest. He famously briefed reporters in August 2002 about the efforts of the Bush administration to fight terrorism and said, at length, that the Bush administration was working hard to change and improve anti-terrorist actions, including quintupling the covert action budget for the CIA. Now he says that he disagreed with what he said then. On Meet the Press, he said that he had to do that or resign, and chose to spin because — he implied — he, Clarke the omniscient, was just too important to the anti-terror effort to leave it in the hands of others. Read the soon-to-be unclassified Clarke testimony of two years ago — and the already-available 9-11 Commission staff report for the details.
Clarke will sell a lot of books as a result of this publicity exercise. He will be hired by some network as a terrorism “expert” and be in our faces through the election. That alone makes it important to understand what he is saying, and why it is so terribly wrong.
THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARGE Clarke makes — and the one that is blatantly partisan — is that by deciding to topple Saddam, Mr. Bush made the world a more dangerous place. He said on Meet the Press that America is more hated now in the Arab world than it was before, and that by removing Saddam, we have made it harder to gain the trust of the Arab world. He also said that the war in Iraq weakened the war against terrorism by angering the Arab world and by taking needed resources away from the war against al-Qaeda. That’s his principal position, and it is the most demonstrably wrong one he took, which is saying quite a lot.
If Clarke is to be believed, why would 9-11 have happened? If our diplomacy and foreign aid were successful, why would terrorists have killed thousands of American that day? Had we stayed out of Iraq, and left the job of persuading the Arab nations to help fight terrorism to the diplomats, our Clinton-era posture in the Middle East would have remained unchanged and unsuccessful. The principal development in the Middle East in the Iraq campaign is the demonstration to the despots and religious thugocracies there that we will act decisively to stop their involvement in terrorism. Though most of those nations — particularly Iran — still don’t believe we will do to them what we did to Saddam, there is a signal of a change in their thinking. Does anyone seriously believe that Muammar Qaddafi would have surrendered his nuclear weapons program if he was unconcerned about being next on Uncle Sam’s list?
Clarke still doesn’t understand that we cannot give a rat’s behind about what the average man on the street in Damascus or Teheran thinks of us if we want to end the terrorism those nations produce. We cannot say it often enough: terrorism doesn’t result from poverty, it isn’t aimed at us because we don’t sing “Kumbaya” in Arabic often enough. Terrorism is driven by ideology and fueled by a poisonous interpretation of religion. It’s much more important to recognize that radical Islam — terrorist Islam — is being spread by a propaganda line we should well remember.
Those who preach it — whether it’s the Saudi Wahabbism, the Iranian edition, or one of the others — insist that terrorist Islam will succeed inevitably, and its seizure of power in any nation is irreversible. It is, they say, the will of God. More than thirty years ago, a guy named Leonid Brezhnev said the same thing about communism, and the Clarkes of that era bought it. At least until Lech Walesa and some very brave Poles proved the Brezhnev Doctrine, as it became known, to be utterly false. By overthrowing communism and establishing democracy, Walesa and his people drove a stake through the heart of communism. If there is a central strategy in our war against terror, it must be this: those who propagandize the inevitability and irreversibility of radical Islam must be proven wrong just as the Brezhnevites of the 1970s were, and in the same way.
If we are to succeed in the long-term war against Islamic terror, we must succeed in the same way, and to the same degree that the Poles did. We have so far toppled two regimes. But in neither in Afghanistan nor in Iraq did we topple a radical Islamist regime in an Arab country. The first time we do this, and manage to get the people of that nation to establish basic freedoms, we will have created a new Poland in the Arab world. By doing so, and only by doing so, can we finally defeat the Brezhnevite Islamists and bring the era of global terrorism to an end.
TAS Contributing editor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on radio and television.