Jewish World Review March 31, 2004 / 9 Nissan, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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It's Dick Clarke's American grandstand | We now know how Campaign 2004 will unfold: A Democrat will accuse President Bush of having started the Chicago fire, or poisoning Halloween candy or whatever. The news media will trumpet the charges, no matter how preposterous. When Bush aides deny the charges, and provide evidence refuting them, journalists will accuse Bush of making "personal attacks."

Exhibit A for this pattern is the sordid saga of Richard Clarke, arguably the least credible whistleblower in American history. The counterterrorism chief in the Clinton administration who was held over by Bush charged in testimony before the 9/11 commission that Bush wasn't much concerned about waging war on terror before Sept. 11, and then tried to bully Clarke into falsely fingering Iraq for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Clarke's testimony is refuted not only by every other national security official who was around Bush during the period in question, but by Clarke himself, in a background briefing he gave reporters on Aug. 4, 2002; in interviews he gave to author Richard Miniter, PBS and The New Yorker magazine; in an e-mail he sent to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Sept. 15, 2001, and even by what he wrote in his own book.

In his August 2002 briefing, Clarke told reporters (1) that the Clinton administration had no overall plan on al-Qaida to pass on to the Bush administration; (2) that just days after his inauguration, Bush said he wanted a new, more comprehensive anti-terror strategy; (3) that Bush ordered implementation of anti-terror measures that had been kicking around since 1998, and (4) that before Sept. 11, Bush had increased fivefold the funding for CIA covert action programs against al-Qaida.

In the Sept. 15, 2001, memo, Clarke reminded Rice that in July, the White House ordered a message (written by Clarke) sent to domestic agencies warning them to prepare for the possibility of a "spectacular al-Qaida attack." He listed a number of meetings in June and July in which the FBI, Secret Service, Customs, etc. were urged to take special measures to increase security.

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It's reasonable enough to argue that Bush could have done more to guard against terror, though it isn't clear what. What is incredible is to argue — as Clarke did before the 9/11 commission — that President Clinton was more concerned about al-Qaida than Bush was.

Clarke told the commission that Clinton "had no higher priority" than terrorism. But not even Clarke believes this. In his book, Clarke said that trying to obtain a Middle East peace agreement was more important to Clinton than retaliating for the attack on the USS Cole.

Commissioner James Thompson asked Clarke which was true: What he said in the August 2002 briefing, or what he said in his book. "Both," Clarke replied. But it's not possible to reconcile the two. It's difficult even to reconcile what Clarke said in his book with the embellishments he's made in television interviews, said Time magazine's Romesh Ratnesar.

Clarke has credibility problems which make those of Clinton and Nixon seem mild by comparison. But it's hard to find a hint of this in the "mainstream" media. In a lengthy "analysis" piece ("Insider Clarke Weathers his Critics"), Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman of the Baltimore Sun somehow fail to mention at all that what Clarke is saying now contradicts what he said before. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post ("Clarke Stays Cool as Partisanship Heats Up") does mention the August 2002 interview, but only to criticize the White House for permitting Fox News to make public a transcript of it.

The news media sometimes go to ludicrous lengths to blame Bush for the sins of his predecessor. A story on the MSNBC Web site March 24 took Bush to task for not having acted against al-Qaida in 1998, when Bush was governor of Texas. In a story that same day, the New York Daily News moved the attack on the USS Cole to "early 2001," during the Bush presidency, when in fact it happened on Oct. 12, 2000.

Americans already have plenty of reasons to distrust the "news" they are being given. They'll have plenty more before November.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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