Hell hath no fury ...

Posted: Mar 29, 2004 12:00 AM

After hours of reading testimony and listening to the political talk shows, I believe former counterterrorism "czar" Richard Clarke served our country dutifully and responsibly and perhaps even nobly - as well fighting terrorism for more than 20 years in the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II administrations. By all accounts, he was tenacious and at times even ferocious, it seems, in his single-minded dedication to rooting out terrorists and stopping them before they could strike Americans. For that service, Clarke is to be commended.

It is, however, completely inexplicable and totally indefensible in a time of war - and make no mistake, we are in a time of war - for anyone so intimately involved in the last four administrations to take steps to undermine a president, be he a Democrat or Republican. I am profoundly concerned. Clarke's accusations that the Bush administration did not take terrorism as a serious enough threat prior to 9-11 could undermine the president's ability to carry on the war on terrorism if sufficient doubt is cast in the mind of the American public.

Clarke complains that the invasion of Iraq, which he contends was not a significant state sponsor of terrorism or in any significant way a contributor to terrorism, has been a costly and unnecessary diversion. Clarke testified to the 9-11 Commission not only that he believes the Iraq war misdirected our efforts and attention away from the larger war on terrorism, but also that he believes the war in Iraq has fostered more terrorism and left America more vulnerable. Whether he is correct about that only history will tell, but everyone agrees that failure is not an option now. What is clear is that Clarke's conviction against the war in Iraq is clouding his judgment about the war on terrorism and this administration's conduct of that war, and worse, it is politicizing the 9-11 Commission's deliberations.

By casting doubt in the American public's mind about Bush's pre-9-11 actions and policies, Clarke is creating his own huge diversion. I find it unfathomable and inexcusable that someone as intimately involved in counterterrorism efforts as Clarke would fault the Bush administration where terrorism is concerned, given the inertia and ineptitude he experienced firsthand in the eight years of the Clinton administration.

In Clarke's own words, "There was no plan on al-Qaida that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration." So how could anyone in good faith possibly lay responsibility for al-Qaida's attack on America at the doorstep of the Bush administration seven months after the inauguration? The administration had begun from day one to put together a comprehensive anti-terror plan, and there is no doubt that al-Qaida managed to strike before the plan could be completed and implemented. But Clarke himself admits that even had the Bush administration not concentrated on formulating a comprehensive plan but instead adopted every one of the ad-hoc, stopgap recommendations Clarke was urging on the president, it wouldn't have stopped al-Qaida's 9-11 attack.

Nine-11 Commissioner and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton asked Clarke directly: "Assuming that all (your recommendations) had been adopted, say, on Jan. 26, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9-11?" Clarke's answer was emphatically, "No!"

Did this and previous administrations make mistakes in their handling of the terrorist threat prior to 9-11? Of course. They, like every administration before them, were made up of fallible human beings, and it didn't help that this administration had to devise and implement a new anti-terrorism plan on its own and on the run because its predecessor had failed to do so. The question is, were mistakes made by the Bush administration in any way responsible for 9-11?

Even the administration's chief tormentor admits not. If ever there was a time for the "no-harm-no-foul" rule, now is that time.

So why is Clarke blowing the whistle on the Bush administration for infractions even he admits were not responsible for the attack? Some people have suggested he is motivated by "sour grapes" at best or greed at worst. Other people suggest that he is motivated by vengeance for having been demoted by the Bush administration and kept from the inner circles of power in which he had become accustomed to moving.

Who knows? All of the punditry is speculation, but somehow neither of these two explanations accounts for the intensity and ferocity of Clarke's attack on Bush. His attacks have all the hallmarks of deep-seated political disagreements. Do I think Clarke is a closet leftist hell-bent on undermining this administration?

No, but what I do suspect is that he believes the invasion of Iraq was such an enormous mistake that he has convinced himself the ends justify the means and that he really is embarked on undermining and ultimately removing the president this coming November.

Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.