March 28, 2004

Why Clarke Annoys

Mark Steyn zeroes in on exactly what it is about Richard Clarke that bugs me.

No, it's not because he's criticizing pre-911 anti-terrorism failures. That's what he's supposed to do. Obviously there's plenty of blame to go around. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton Administrations did a particularly bang-up job, although I'm willing to give both of them a pass for mistakes made before that dreadful date for the same reason I don't blame FDR or Herbert Hoover for Pearl Harbor.

It's this kind of nonsense that's makes it hard for me to take the guy seriously.

The media were very taken by this passage from his book, in which he alerts Mr Bush's incoming National Security Adviser to the terrorist threat: "As I briefed Rice on al-Qa'eda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard of the term before, so I added, 'Most people think of it as Osama bin Laden's group, but it's much more than that. It's a network of affiliated terrorist organisations with cells in over 50 countries, including the US.' "
Now, when I heard that Clarke had said that, every BS-detector in my head went off. Turns out my instincts were sound.
Mr Clarke would seem to be channelling Leslie Nielsen's deadpan doctor in Airplane!: "Stewardess, we need to get this passenger to a hospital."

"A hospital? What is it?"

"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now."

As it turns out, Clarke's ability to read "facial expressions" is not as reliable as one might wish in a "counter-terrorism expert". In October the previous year, Dr Rice gave an interview to WJR Radio in Detroit in which she discoursed authoritatively on al-Qa'eda and bin Laden - and without ever having met Richard Clarke!

Clarke similarly said Bush's "facial expression" ordered him to connect Iraq with Al Qaeda even if there was no connection.

I'm sure Bush had a serious look on his face when he asked Clarke to figure out if Saddam had anything to do with 911. I suspected Saddam might have had a hand in it, and I know plenty of other people who did, too.

Looks like Saddam was out of the loop. And so what? Changing his regime wasn't an act of revenge or retaliation any more than smacking down Adolf Hitler was to punish him for Pearl Harbor.

If Clarke has something substantive to say, we ought hear him out. If he would like to propose a different anti-terror strategy, that would be great - at a separate place and time. Not at the commission that wants to know what went wrong before 911. His "facial expression" testiomony isn't going anywhere and looks a lot like baseless character assasination. (There's a lot of that going around these days on more side than one.) And using his witness chair to gripe about overthrowing Saddam all but guarantees a polarized reaction to his testimony.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 28, 2004 4:36 PM
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