Clarke update

In no particular order:

1. The only sensible thing to do after what was obviously a major failure was to ask “What happened, and how can we keep it from happening again?” Anyone interested in the answer to that question ought to want to hear what Richard Clarke says, since he was about as central to our response to terrorism as anyone.

Instead, BushCo and its political, journalistic, and blogospheric allies are spending all their time attacking Clarke’s character, as if proving that he’s a bad person were enought to show that there is nothing to learn from his book. As Phil Carter pointed out about withholding information from the 9-11 Commission, that’s sort of … unpatriotic, isn’t it?

2. Sean-Paul Kelley at The Agonist points out that the anti-war folks who are lionizing Clarke now because he’s attacking Bush need to be a little bit careful. Clarke is not one of them, and doesn’t believe in what they believe in.

The role reversal is really astonishing, with someone who criticizes George W. Bush for having been insufficiently tough on terror being assaulted by the hawks and praised by the doves. Even those of us who are hawkish and anti-Bush aren’t entirely free from conflict here: I, for one, am not that hawkish.

But one doesn’t have to agree with everything Clarke believes in to profit from reading what he says.

3. Sean-Paul quotes the following from Clarke’s 9-11 Commission testimony of today:

I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11. To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask — once all the facts are out — for your understanding and for your forgiveness.

Oh, I forgot: Clarke is just a bitter, self-serving, arrogant bureaucrat who is promoting a book for the money. I guess someone else must have said that, then. My mistake.

4. Glenn Reynolds cites the fact that Condi Rice had mentioned bin Laden in various speeches as showing that Clarke was not only wrong, but “tasteless” and “dishonest” when he said that Rice appeared to have never heard of al-Qaeda when he first mentioned the group.

Clarke may in fact be wrong, but the evidence Glenn cites doesn’t show that he is wrong, let alone dishonest. He assumed that she knew who bin Laden was:

As I briefed Rice on al Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before, so I added,

“Most people think of it as Usam bin Laden’s group, but it’s much more than that. It’s a network of affiliated terrorist organizations with cells in fifty countries, including the U.S.”

5. The attacks on Clarke have been exceptional for their intensity, their vitriol level, and their transparent inaccuracy at several points. All of that has been noted.

But it’s also remarkable how poorly coordinated those attacks have been: the folks in the White House who want to discredit his message haven’t even been able to find a good, strong, simple lie and stick to it. It looks from where I sit like a last-minute panic response.

But why? We know that the White House has had the manuscript of the book since late fall. Why weren’t they ready with a smooth, coordinated response? And why didn’t they “poison the well” a little bit by blackening Clarke’s character before the 60 Minutes appearance?

Very puzzling.

6. Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom is reading the book and watching Clarke’s various TV appearances, blogging as he goes, giving us the high points. My favorites so far:

Clarke on Bush:

When he focused, he asked the kinds of questions that revealed a results-oriented mind, but he looked for the simple solution, the bumper-sticker description of the problem. Once he had that, he could put energy behind a drive to achieve his goal. The problem was that many of the important issues, like terrorism, like Iraq, were laced with important subtlety and nuance. These issues needed real analysis and Bush and his inner circle had no real interest in the complicated analyses; on the issues that they cared about, they already knew the answers, it was received wisdom.

And the money quote:

Any leader whom one can imagine as President on September 11 would have declared a “war on terrorism” and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary by invading. almost any President would have stepped up domestic security and preparedness measures. Exactly what did George Bush do after September 11 that any other President one can imagine wouldn’t have done after such attacks? In the end, what was unique abut George Bush’s reaction to terrorism was his selection as an object lesson for potential state sponsors of terrorism, not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq. It is hard to imagine another President making that choice.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: