Terror and Betrayal
Clear the front page - members of the Bush administration
wanted to know about any Iraqi involvement in the terrorist attacks
on Washington and New York after September 11. The White House
cared nothing about finding the real terrorists who took 3,000
lives, and the administration has to date done a lousy job of
fighting terrorism. So says former Bush administration
counterterrorism official and newly minted celebrity Richard
Well, front pages have been cleared, and news headlines written.
Mr. Clarke himself will be a star of the show at the congressional
hearings this week of the September 11 commission, in an election
year to boot. His timing and sensationalism are impeccable from a
marketing standpoint. If his new book - "Against All Enemies"-
sells a lot of copies, it will be to the detriment of the
administration he served. Not exactly a new phenomenon in
Washington, but it is still unconscionable.
Mr. Clarke resigned from the White House 13 months ago, apparently
because he was demoted to coordinator for cyberterrorism efforts
from as more responsible and high-profile position on the National
Security Council. As a result, he clearly harbors a deeply personal
resentment against National Security Adviser Condoleezza
"Frankly," Mr. Clarke stated in his now famous interview on "60
Minutes" on Sunday, "I find it outrageous that the president is
running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great
things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for
months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.
Maybe. We'll never know." He went on to say, "I think he's done a
terrible job on the war against terrorism."
The charge is ludicrous. No president has done more to fight
terrorism, including going to war, than Mr. Bush. In fact, it is a
wonder that Mr. Clarke has chosen this line of argument because it
leaves his own position so vulnerable. There is bountiful evidence
that the president who chose to ignore terrorist attacks was not
George W. Bush, but Bill Clinton, whom Mr. Clarke served as eight
years as national coordinator for counterterrorism.
As will be recalled, the White House actually did not lose any
time concluding that immediate responsibility for the attacks
rested with Osama bin Laden. Barely days after September 11,
AttorneyGeneralJohn Ashcroft announced the identity of many of the
suicideattackers, mostly of Saudi Arabian origin, pointing the
finger at the al Qaeda network.
And barely a month later, American planes took off for Afghanistan
to root out the Taliban government that had been providing aid and
comfort for al Qaeda, including bin Laden. How could this be the
action of a White House obsessed with Saddam Hussein?
Contrast this with the reactions of the Clinton White House. As
terrorist attacks escalated throughout the 1990s - from the first
Trade Center Bombing, to the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, to the attack on the USS Cole in the harbor in
To his credit, Mr. Clarke argued passionately for military
retaliation against al Qaeda after the assault on the USS Cole, but
he wasn't heard. After all, historically, attacks on American
vessels have drawn the country into war: the Spanish American War,
World War I, World War II. After the USS Cole? Nothing.
" 'What's it going to take to get them to hit al Qaeda in
Afghanistan?' " Mr. Clarke railed in frustration after a meeting
with the Clinton defense team," according to "Losing bin Laden: How
Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror," by Richard
Miniter. " 'Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon?' "
Now, the Bush administration may have been delayed in its
anti-terrorism efforts by a few factors. First of all, Democratic
candidate Al Gore refused to concede the election, which held up
crucial cabinet appointments. Later, Democrats, who controlled the
Senate, dragged their feet in getting Bush appointees
Still, according to Mr. Miniter, on Sept. 4, 2001, a retaliatory
strike against al Qaeda in Afghanistan was approved by the national
security adviser. She asked for a meeting to present the plan to
the president - a meeting that was set for September 11, 2001, at 3
pm. But by then, the terrorists had struck New York and
So, by all means let us hear the story, the whole story. And let
us never forget that in Mr. Clarke's self-serving account, we are
also looking at a book-marketing director's dream.
First appeared in The Washington Times