Republicans should not press Majority Leader Bill Frist's implied threat, in his Senate speech Friday, that the differences between Clarke's sworn testimony to the Senate in 2002 and his sworn testimony to the Sept. 11 commission constitute perjury. Perjury being properly difficult to prove, Clarke, if charged, would be acquitted. Besides, it is time to stop trying to criminalize political differences, even those flavored, as in Clarke's case, by anger, malice, opportunism and meretriciousness.
And Republicans should stop saying that the one continuity from the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, through the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, to 9/11 is Clarke, so he must somehow be to blame. That argument is a cousin of Clarke's apology.
When he apologizes for his and the government's ``failure'' (he means its failure to listen to him, and his failure to make it listen), the implied principle is freighted with future acrimony. The principle is that when government efforts to protect public safety are proved to be imperfect, we should be able to identify measures that could have and -- this is not the same thing -- should have been taken.
That principle is especially dubious after the Madrid bombings. They were perpetrated without suicides, and using two ubiquitous items -- backpacks and cell phones. Donald Rumsfeld, providing adult supervision during the Clarke kerfuffle, keeps saying something we will have occasion to remember: More attacks are coming because we are still far from draining the social swamps where attackers breed.
Former Sen. Slade Gorton, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, asked Clarke whether there was ``the remotest chance'' that acceptance by the Bush administration of all the recommendations Clarke made four days after President Bush took office would have prevented Sept. 11. Clarke said: ``No.'' So what makes Clarke strident -- his self-description -- is his belief that the Iraq War was a tragic blunder, arising from the president's monomania about Saddam and draining resources from the war on terror.
Intelligent people can and do make that argument. However, by day eight Clarke's version of it was puerile: But for the Iraq War, Sept. 11 might have caused the Islamic masses to say ``maybe we've gone too far.''
In 1862, as his policy toward slavery evolved, Lincoln got from the Library of Congress ``A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin,'' in which Stowe provided documentation on which her novel had been based. It is unlikely that 10 years from now the president will be consulting Clarke's book, or Clarke.