It seems one of the least plausible criticisms of a president who's often portrayed as one of the world's greatest warmongers since Caesar Augustus -- that George Bush has been too weak on the War on Terror. But with the release of former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's new book, "Against All Enemies," Bush critics have, to use a favorite Clarke phrase, "gone to battle stations" to try to make the charge stick.
Clarke's book reads like a typical just-out-of-government memoir, a genre usually premised on the idea that if only the author's advice had been heeded, the world would be better off. Clarke adds a dash of tendentious partisanship in insisting that President Clinton was an anti-terror stalwart even though he rejected Clarke's most important ideas, and that Bush was too soft even though he took Clarke's ideas a step further.
A Clarke complaint about the period prior to 9/11 is that he was ignored when he wanted to get the message to Bush about the danger of al-Qaida. But Bush was getting the message elsewhere. As Clarke admits, CIA Director George Tenet was fully aware of the al-Qaida threat. Unlike Clinton, Bush received a morning briefing in person from the CIA director every day.
The question was what to do about the threat. According to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Clarke suggested a "laundry-list of ideas, many of which had been rejected in the Clinton administration since 1998." The Bush administration implemented a few of these ideas, such as increasing anti-terror activities to Uzbekistan. But Bush wanted more. Clarke himself reports that Bush expressed frustration with "swatting flies," and wanted to eliminate al-Qaida altogether. A long-term strategy to do that was forged and passed on to the president prior to Sept. 11.
This took much further Clarke's proposal for merely hitting al-Qaida training camps, which the Clinton administration wasn't willing to do even after the October 2000 al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole. Clarke writes: "Once again I proposed bombing all of the al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, without tying the operation to getting bin Laden or even for retaliating for the Cole. There was no support for bombing." (Some Clinton partisans have claimed that the Clinton team handed an anti-al-Qaida war plan over to the Bush administration during the transition that was ignored. It is worth noting that this false claim appears nowhere in Clarke's book.)
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