The Sorry Mr. Clarke
From the April 5, 2004 issue:
Richard Clarke's grandstanding did please its true intended audience--the New York Times.

by William Kristol
04/05/2004, Volume 009, Issue 29


"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."

--Richard Clarke, testifying before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, March 24, 2004

RICHARD CLARKE can apologize to anyone he likes.  He could have done so sooner.  And he could have done so privately.  The names of those killed on 9/11--and, for that matter, of those killed by al Qaeda in our African embassies, on the USS Cole, and on other occasions--have presumably been available to Clarke.   Would the families of those who died have appreciated a personal letter from Clarke asking for their understanding and forgiveness?  Perhaps a few would.  The vast majority no doubt would have thought such an apology utterly unnecessary and inappropriate.

Clarke, who worked tirelessly against al Qaeda during the 1990s, is not responsible for the deaths on 9/11.   Indeed, the families of those who died surely appreciate Clarke's great efforts, first to thwart al Qaeda, and then to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice.  Surely they know of Clarke's sympathy for their loss.   Surely the only apology that is owed--though it would presumably be rejected by the families--would be an apology from Osama bin Laden, just prior to his execution.

But Clarke's grandstanding did please its true intended audience.  The writers at the New York Times loved it.  After all, when Clarke apologized, they wrote, "it suddenly seemed that after the billions of words uttered about that terrible day, Mr. Clarke had found the ones that still needed saying."  Indeed, "the only problem with his apology was that so few of those failures really seemed to be his."  So presumably, according to the New York Times, everyone else in government who "failed" should also apologize. 

No.  In fact, what government officials owed the memory of those who died on 9/11--to ensure that they did not die in vain--was a greater determination to prosecute the war on terror than had been shown in the preceding eight months, and in the preceding eight years. 

Clarke and the New York Times are certainly free to argue that the Bush administration has not done a good job in fighting the war on terror.  They are free to argue that the war in Iraq was a mistake.  But neither Clarke nor the New York Times has even attempted to make the case that the Bush administration bears any true moral responsibility for failing to avert al Qaeda's attack on 9/11.  Shouldn't the New York Times trouble itself to make this case before it presumes to call for yet more inappropriate apologies? 

Was no one at the Times aware of the following exchange between Clarke and commission member Slade Gorton?

GORTON: Now, since my yellow light is on, at this point my final question will be this: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001, based on Delenda, based on Blue Sky, including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?

CLARKE: No. 

There have been occasions in the past when government officials properly took responsibility for actions under their direction that went terribly awry.  Janet Reno accepted responsibility for the deaths in Waco in 1993.  John Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs in 1961.  In those cases, apparently reckless U.S. government actions directly caused unnecessary deaths.  On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans.  It would be no more appropriate for President Bush to apologize today than it would have been for President Roosevelt to apologize for Pearl Harbor.  Richard Clarke's pseudo-apology has cheapened the public discourse.

--William Kristol

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