What we'll never know is how Clarke could say this. He probably assumed his 2002 background briefing would never pop up again. But not only did he reveal in this earlier briefing that there was "no plan on Al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration," he also said that the Clinton Al Qaeda strategy had failed to evolve since 1998, leaving "on the table" such vital questions as Pakistan policy and aid for the Northern Alliance. As a result, he said in 2002, "the Bush administration decided then, you know, mid-January (2001), to do two things.
One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings ... (and) initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided." By the end of the summer, Bush officials -- who, Clarke reminded the media, "didn't get into office until late March, early April" -- had "developed implementation details" and, even more important, changed the Clinton strategy of "rollback" to "a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda." As Clarke put it then, "President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve the problem."
I was watching this week's hearing very carefully, but while Clarke might have reddened a shade or two when finally asked to square his two different versions of events, I can't be sure. He should have. At the very least, he should not have maintained under oath that his indictment of the Bush administration in his book and recent interviews are "consistent" with his past statements. According to 9/11 commissioner Fred F. Fielding, the new Clarke also contradicts classified testimony the old Clarke gave to an earlier joint congressional inquiry.
Only one of Clarke's accounts can be true, but which one? This is an important question, one the media must try to answer. If they don't, then they are the ones who should blush.
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