Jewish World Review March 26, 2004/ 4 Nissan, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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The public tantrum of a bureaucrat | Maybe it's true that "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," but William Congreve, the 17th-century playwright who thought he had seen everything, never met a Washington bureaucrat.

Richard A. Clarke, who was employed by a succession of presidents to offer advice on how to deal with international terrorism, has entertained Washington this week with his attempt to get even with George W. Bush for (a) not taking his advice, (b) not giving him a job with a more-important sounding title or (c) both.

Mr. Clarke's public tantrum follows close on a similar fit of foaming resentment by fellow author Paul O'Neill, the secretary of the Treasury who was summarily canned by President Bush. The president offered him nothing else but advice to get a job. Mr. O'Neill's tenure at Treasury was distinguished only by his outburst on leaving, when he described the president presiding over a typical Cabinet meeting as "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." The meaningless description offered a clue as to why Mr. O'Neill was dumped. A president is entitled to expect his Treasury chief to think and speak clearly enough to make change from a $10 bill.

Richard Clarke apparently brought a similarly focused intelligence to his job, and that he lasted so long testifies mostly to the reluctance at the top of the government to cashier bureaucrats who have nothing much to offer but goofiness and a familiar face.

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Mr. Clarke, in his testimony to the bipartisan committee investigating security and intelligence lapses leading to September 11, sharply scolded President Bush for not preventing the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, and for not doing what he should be doing to punish al Qaeda instead of misadventuring into Iraq. But it's clear that what really bugs Mr. Clarke is that the president does not share Mr. Clarke's estimation of the wit, the erudition and the wisdom of Richard Clarke.

Mr. Clarke is, in a word, a geek. There's nothing wrong with geekhood; geeks are crucial to making things work as technology becomes ever more complicated and ever more crucial to how we live our lives. But it's the single-mindedness necessary to being a geek that makes geeks vulnerable to tunnel vision.

"The retirement of Richard Clarke is appropriate to the reality of the war on terror," says George Smith, a senior fellow at Global, a defense and technology think tank in Washington. "Years ago, Clarke bet his national-security career on the idea that 'electronic war' was going to be the real war. He lost, because as al Qaeda and [the war in] Iraq have shown, the real action is still of the blood and guts kind."

As Bill Clinton's terror guru, Mr. Clarke preached the coming of the end of the world by cyberterror, foreseeing doom not by the spread of anthrax or smallpox virus among flesh and blood humans, but the spread of software viruses that would change the template, if not the face, of modern warfare. The old-fashioned violence of September 11, delivering death by fire and desolation, suddenly made the idea of stealing Saddam Hussein's e-mail or drowning his regime in spam seem silly, indeed. The endless flood of spam in behalf of Viagra, penis enlargement and breast enhancement can make you want to kill somebody, but spam is only potted scam, after all.

Mr. Clarke tried to persuade President Reagan to subvert Moammar Gadhafi by dispatching SR-71 Blackbirds to smother Libya in sonic booms, accompanied by sailing a fleet of rafts across the Mediterranean to wash upon the shores of Tripoli to frighten Gadhafi into thinking invasion was imminent. All he left out of this cockamamie scenario was a broadcast of the Marines Hymn (" ... from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli ... "). The scheme was quietly buried, but Mr. Clarke, alas for later presidents and national security, survived.

The New Republic reported that it was Mr. Clarke's idea to retaliate for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by targeting Osama bin Laden's deserted training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that was making not chemicals for warfare, but aspirin. In the days that followed, Bill Clinton could have used the aspirin.

Mr. Clarke, the cheri du jour of the elite media, complains that George W. didn't listen to him. With his record of accomplishment in a succession of administrations, the scandal is not that he wasn't listened to but that somebody persuaded George W. to keep him in the White House. Since taking care of bureaucrats has become the first purpose of government, maybe the president did owe him something. Somebody should have sent him over to the motor pool to detail the president's limousine.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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