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The Courageous Mr. Clarke
by Vincent Fiore
01 April 2004

Richard Clarke has managed to do something in one week that he could not do in a lifetime in government; that is, be effective.


Surely a sign of our times, the national media and by extension the 9/11 Commission have come to recognize the apology of bomb thrower Richard Clarke as the seminal moment of the hearings.

We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter because we failed, and I failed you.” In an atmosphere that took on the sole purpose of “blamesmenship,” Clarke found it in himself to have a self serving moment of regret that he, “Clarke the Courageous,” sounded the warning on terrorism for some years now, yet no one would listen. According to the courageous one, somebody has to be responsible for 9/11, so why not Bush? But the occurrence of events belies the severity of Bush’s supposed indifference to terrorism pre 9/11. Anyone, meaning anybody capable of “connecting the dots,” can see the folly of Mr. Clarke’s charges.

A quick look back shows the immense hole in Clarke’s perception of events, leaving one to conclude that the former Clinton/Bush terrorism Czar is either woefully mistaken, serially incompetent, or plainly -- as I see it -- for sale.

As President Clinton’s counterterrorism coordinator, Clarke, was in charge during:

- The 1993 WTC bombing killed 6 and injured over 1000.

- The 1995 Oklahoma city bombing which killed 168 and injured over 400.

- The 1995 bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that killed 5 American military advisors.

- The 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 and injured 500.

- The 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, which killed over 260 and injured over 5500. (12 of the dead were Americans)

-  The October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors and injuring 40.

The above illustrates Clarke’s own record of failure with regard to terrorism. If one were to ask just how effective Clarke had been those past eight-plus years as terrorist Czar, can it not be measured against al-Qaeda’s successive and successful attacks as time crept on, finally culminating on September 11? As the media is so fond of saying, “It happened on his watch.” This would also include domestic terrorism, as in the case of Oklahoma. Just because it is a domestic attack, does not make it any less terrifying and senseless.

Clarke failed both Presidents Clinton and Bush. Policy is set by the president, and corresponding events may change or shape these policies. This is where a president’s cabinet officers and top officials can make a meaningful difference. In 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell did just that. He convinced President Bush to go to the U.N. and attempt to navigate the diplomatic world body with regard to Iraq. Bush had heard misgivings within his administration as to why he should not seek U.N. approval, or even disapproval. This would be the shadowy “NeoConservative” wing of the White House, the much referred to Rumsfeld/Rice/Wolfowitz cabal. To Bush’s credit, he took Powell’s advice, recommendations that he (Powell) labored to be seen as policy.

Powell succeeded with Bush where Clarke did not with the Clinton administration. Clarke’s few shining moments, such as the 1999 Los Angeles airport bombing plot, cannot be looked upon as making him unapproachable in regard to his own failures and whatever administrations he served. Clarke, as it turns out, is the common thread that runs through both the Clinton/Bush administrations. His apology should be for his own actions specifically, or inaction, as his eight-plus years of being in charge of counterterrorism attests to.

Clarke could have resigned under protest to bring events to light if he felt that little importance was paid to terrorism. Or he could have leaked out an “anonymous” story to an always accommodating media to roil the political waters a bit. Instead, when denied the number 2 spot in the newly created Department of Homeland Security by National Security Advisor Condi Rice, he decided to resign on good terms, it was thought, and get down to the serious business of revenge. As you thumb through the pages of Clarke’s memoir Against All Enemies, keep that in mind.

As the bureaucratic fan dance that is the 9/11 commission wraps up, what has been accomplished? So far, not a heck of a lot. For all its trumpeted bipartisanship, the well was poisoned with Clarke’s venomous book. Giving him 2 ½ hours to promote himself before the American people is just another indication that partisan politics rules the process, September 11 be damned.

At the end of the day, Clarke’s book weights heavily upon his own opinions. There is no serious factual evidence that he points to with regard to the Bush administration's actions pre-9/11, and his own words have begun to haunt him. There is, to borrow another euphemism of the media’s, “no smoking gun.” There is only the tarnished, bitter writings of a profiteering man who has managed to do something in one week that he could not do in a lifetime in government; that is, be effective.

The lesson of September 11 is one that should look forward, and not look back in order only to access blame. President Clinton had 96 months in office, and never would I say he purposely turned his back on terrorism. President Bush had only 8 months in office, almost to the day when the south Tower was struck, and never would I say he was disinterested in terrorism. The point is this: It is the terrorists who are to blame for 9/11 and all the previous loss of life, not American Presidents. Even Mr. Clarke, whom I did not spare in this space, is really not to blame.

To me, the seminal moment of these 9/11 hearings was when committee member Slade Gorton, former Republican senator from Washington state, asked Clarke what would have happened if Bush had immediately adopted his plan to militarily target al-Qaida. "Is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9-11?" Clarke’s answer was an unambiguous “No.”

One wishes that Clarke’s book could have been as clear and precise. And we should further wish that this political season’s fishing expedition would cease its cacophonous cry of “blame someone” and get down to the serious business of killing terrorists before they kill us.

Vincent Fiore contributes commentary for several web sites on a weekly basis, and occasionally has commentary posted on NewsMax.com. Your comments are always welcomed.

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