Jewish World Review March 23, 2004 / 1 Nissan, 5764
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
Taking down Bush
For months, Democratic partisans have made one thing perfectly clear: While they hoped to run for, and win, the White House based on domestic issues, to defeat George W. Bush they are going to have to diminish public confidence in the President's wartime leadership. Nothing would appear better suited to advance this agenda than the highly publicized defection this weekend of one of Mr. Bush's former senior national security staffers, Richard Clarke.
At this writing it is not entirely clear whether Mr. Clarke is a witting tool of the Democrats' Bush take-down agenda, or whether he has simply written his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in such a way that it lends itself to the effort to discredit President Bush's stewardship as Commander-in-Chief. Whichever may be the case, it would seem unwise to cast Richard Clarke in the role of poster-boy for the national security critique of the Bush presidency.
For one thing, Mr. Clarke's central argument - namely, that Bush was obsessed with Iraq and indifferent to al Qaeda from the get-go of his Administration - is highly debatable. Not surprisingly, a number of those who had worked with Clarke when he served as this President's National Counterterrorism Coordinator challenge his facts.
For example, in an op-ed article in Monday's Washington Post, Clarke's boss at the National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice, wrote that a paper devising "a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda which was expected to take years" was developed in the Spring and Summer of 2001. It was designed
to "marshal...all elements of national power to take down the network, not just respond to individual attacks with law enforcement measures....This became the first major foreign-policy strategy document of the Bush administration not Iraq, not the ABM Treaty, but eliminating al Qaeda."
Unfortunately, although this strategy was deemed ready for the President's approval at the time of the 9/11 attacks, it had yet to be addressed by him. Still, it is wrong to suggest that the threat from al-Qaeda was being ignored by the Bush team.
To their credit, even some prominent Democrats have taken exception to one part or another of the Clarke thesis. For instance, in response to Clarke's contention that Bush shifted focus prematurely to Saddam Hussein after the acts of terror on September 11, 2001, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut told Fox News Sunday: "The charge, if I hear it correctly, that Dick Clarke has made, that the Bush administration was more focused on Iraq in the days after September 11th, than on September 11th and getting back at the terrorists, I see no basis for it."
Meanwhile over on ABC's This Week, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, disputed Clarke's claim that the war in Iraq "strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide." Sen. Biden declared, "I think it's unfair to blame the President for the spread of terror and the diffuseness of it. Even if he had followed the advice of me and many other people, I still think the same thing would have happened."
More troubling still is Dick Clarke's confidence back in 2001 (and, apparently, today), as quoted in the Washington Post on Monday, that "no foe but al Qaeda 'poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States.'" So, too, is his ill-concealed contempt for those who were concerned before and after 9/11 about links between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and a
weapon of mass destruction-equipped state-sponsor of terror like Saddam Hussein.
Even CIA Director George Tenet - who was, like Mr. Clarke, a Bill Clinton appointee retained by Bush 43 - has recognized that there were myriad connections between bin Laden operatives and the Iraqi dictator's senior intelligence and military personnel. As the Weekly Standard noted in its March 22nd edition:
"In [an unclassified October 7, 2002 letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee],Tenet wrote of 'senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.' He wrote of 'solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.' The same 'credible reporting' reveals that 'Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.' Most striking, Tenet reported that 'Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action.'"
Last year, the Department of Defense augmented this assessment by submitting to the congressional intelligence panels some 50-pages filled with various reported sightings and other information concerning meetings between these two avowed enemies of the United States. Further light was recently shed on the duration and extent of this cooperation when a top-secret 1993 document was found in Iraqi intelligence files calling "the Saudi Osama bin Laden" one of the service's "collaborators."
Democrats should resist the temptation to exploit Richard Clarke as a means of attacking President Bush for one other reason: Doing so will only further encourage retaliatory attacks aimed at discrediting a man who has rendered valuable service over a long time to his country. Unfortunately, such attacks have been invited by the tone and contents of Mr. Clarke's book and the comments he has made to promote it - all of which seem to be a striking departure from his usual, professional comportment.
Although I have not always agreed with Dick's judgment or policy prescriptions, and most especially those he is currently espousing, I very much hope that the debate can focus on the true substance of the War on Terror, and not on this retired civil servant and his seemingly skewed views thereof.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2004, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.