Is Clarke just a bureaucratic narcissist?

The power Clarke accumulated under Clinton and lost under Bush was tied to a particular point of view: that al-Qaeda was a pressing threat to the US homeland. The decision to leave Clark in charge of counter-terrorism but to strip him of staff and make him report through Rice rather than directly to the President was a decision to downgrade the importance of the threat.

Dan Drezener says that Richard Clarke admires Bill Clinton because Clinton gave him power and despises George W. Bush because Bush took power away from him. Not an unreasonable reading, at first blush.

But note that the power Clarke accumulated under Clinton and lost under Bush was tied to a particular point of view: that al-Qaeda was a pressing threat to the US homeland. The decision to leave Clark in charge of counter-terrorism but to strip him of staff and make him report through Rice rather than directly to the President was a decision to downgrade the importance of the threat.

In a world dominated by uncertainty, having made a correct prediction is no proof of having had the right underlying model. Maybe the guy who was right when almost everyone else was wrong just drew to an inside straight. And of course every bureaucrat thinks his political masters would have been well-advised to take his expertise more seriously than they did.

Still, the past performance sheet has to count for something. Someone who got something important right when most other people didn’t deserves to be listened to. And those who didn’t listen to him before he was proven right by events can legitimately be asked whether their refusal to do so was a mistake.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com