Sept. 11, Lies and 'Mistakes'
By Charles Krauthammer March 26, 2004
It is only March, but the 2004 Chutzpah of the Year Award can be safely given out. It goes to Richard Clarke, now making himself famous by blaming the Bush administration for Sept. 11 -- after Clarke had spent eight years in charge of counterterrorism for a Clinton administration that did nothing.
The 1990s were al Qaeda's springtime:
Blissfully unmolested in Afghanistan, it trained, indoctrinated, armed
and, most fatally, planned. For the United States, this was a
catastrophic lapse, and in a March 2002 interview on PBS's "Frontline,"
Clarke admitted as much: "I believe that, had we destroyed the
terrorist camps in Afghanistan earlier, that the conveyor belt that was
producing terrorists, sending them out around the world would have been
destroyed." Instead, "now we have to hunt [them] down
What should we have done during
years? Clarke answered: "Blow up the camps and take out
sanctuary. Eliminate their safe haven, eliminate their
. . . That's . . . the one thing in retrospect I wish had happened."
It did not. And who was
president? Bill Clinton. Who was the Clinton
administration's top counterterrorism official? Clarke. He
that no one followed his advice. Why did he not speak out
then? And if
the issue was as critical to the nation as he now tells us, why didn't
he resign in protest?
Clinton had one justification after
another for going on the offensive: American blood spilled in the
World Trade Center attack, the embassy bombings of 1998, the undeniable
act of war in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Response: A
transparently useless, cruise missile attack on empty Afghan tents,
plus a (mistaken!) attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory.
As Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen testified, three times the CIA was ready with plans to assassinate Osama bin Laden. Every time, Clinton stood them down, because "we're not quite sure."
We're not quite sure -- a fitting
epitaph for the Clinton
anti-terrorism policy. They were also not quite sure about
Laden when Sudan offered him up on a silver platter in 1996. The
Clinton people turned Sudan down, citing legal reasons.
The "Frontline" interviewer asked
Clarke whether failing to blow up the
camps and take out the Afghan sanctuary was a "pretty basic mistake."
Clarke's answer is unbelievable:
"Well, I'm not prepared to call it a
mistake. It was a judgment made by people who had to take into
a lot of other issues. . . . There was the Middle East peace
going on. There was the war in Yugoslavia going on. People
rank had to judge what could be done in the counterterrorism world at a
time when they were also pursuing other national goals."
This is significant for two reasons. First, if the Clarke of 2002 was
telling the truth, then the Clarke of this week --
the one who told the
Sept. 11 commission under oath that "fighting terrorism, in general,
and fighting al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high
priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly [there was] no
higher priority" -- is a liar.
Second, he becomes not just
a perjurer but a partisan perjurer. He savages Bush for not having made
al Qaeda his top national security priority, but he refuses even to
call a "mistake" Clinton's staggering dereliction in putting Yasser
Arafat and Yugoslavia(!) above fighting al Qaeda.
Clarke gives Clinton a pass and instead concentrates his ire on Bush. For what? For not having preemptively attacked Afghanistan? On what grounds -- increased terrorist chatter in June and July 2001?
Look. George W. Bush did not
distinguish himself on terrorism in the
first eight months of his presidency. Whatever his failings,
they pale in comparison to those of his predecessor.
was in office eight years, not eight months. As Clarke
said in a 2002 National Security Council briefing, the Clinton
administration never made a plan for dealing with al Qaeda and never
left one behind for the Bush administration.
he pushed very hard for such critical anti-al-Qaeda measures as aid to
and cooperation with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan's Northern
Alliance. By his own
testimony, the Clinton administration then spent
more than two years -- October 1998 to December 2000, the very time the
Sept. 11 plot was hatched -- fruitlessly debating this and doing
Clarke is clearly an angry man, angry
that Condoleezza Rice demoted him, angry that he was denied a coveted
bureaucratic job by the Bush administration. Angry and unreliable. He
told the commission to disregard what he said in his 2002 briefing
because he was, in effect, spinning. "I've done it for several
presidents," he said. He's
still at it, spinning now for himself.