The president's decision to send National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly, under oath, before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks is not likely to quell the furor sparked by former White House terrorism expert Richard Clarke's testimony before the panel last week. Clarke's testimony, which accused President Bush of ignoring the terrorist threat to this nation prior to the 9/11 attack, has so politicized and poisoned the commission's work, it is doubtful it can be salvaged. Thanks to Clarke, the commission has become just another forum for partisan bickering, score-settling and finger-pointing.
Clarke's motives may never be fully known. Certainly the desire to sell copies of his just-released book, "Against All Enemies," affected the tone of his testimony, which should go down as one of the most stunning displays of hubris in the history of Washington political melodrama. In a grandiose display of self-importance, Clarke opened his testimony by apologizing to the victims of the terrorist attacks. As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said later, "Mr. Clarke's theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility."
Clarke made clear that at least one of his motives for attacking President Bush was his vehement disagreement over the war in Iraq. In answer to a question about why he hadn't raised some of his concerns earlier he said, disingenuously, "In the 15 hours of (previous) testimony, no one asked me what I thought about the president's invasion of Iraq. And the reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq -- something I was not asked about by the commission, it's something I chose to write about a lot in the book -- by invading Iraq the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism."
Most of all, Clarke seemed motivated by a Messiah-complex. He had the familiar air of a man who believes he is smarter and better than all the fools under whom he's labored for decades -- and now, finally, the world was about to grant him the recognition he deserved.
But Richard Clarke isn't really the issue. His motives, the inconsistencies in what he has said and done, even his undeniable arrogance aren't the real problem, which lies with the commission itself. By inviting Clarke -- whose timing, if nothing else, was suspect -- to deliver his jeremiad in open session, the commission lost all pretense of serious inquiry.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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