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 account a lot of other issues. ... There was the Middle East peace process going on. There was the war in Yugoslavia going on. People above my 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 9/11 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 pre-emptively 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, however, they pale in comparison to those of his predecessor.
Clinton was in office eight years, not eight months. As Clarke himself 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.
Clarke says 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 9/11 plot was hatched -- fruitlessly debating this and doing absolutely nothing.
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, doing it now for himself.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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