Richard Clarke Calls B.S. On Cheney And Rice

Richard Clarke calls B.S. on Cheney and Rice’s mendacity and incompetence, in a Washington Post editorial. It is long overdue, and utterly devastating.

Rice and Cheney have, for at least six weeks now, been spreading the most pernicious sort of post-hoc defense of their actions from waterboarding to invading Iraq. They’ve been claiming repeatedly that not only did the trauma of 9/11 require them to take every available measure to prevent further attacks on America, but Cheney has hinted and Rice has flat-out insisted to a group of Stanford students recently that “unless you were there, in a position of responsibility, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas we faced in trying to protect Americans.” In other words: if you weren’t there, you have no business second-guessing our decisions. This is a powerful argument for two very compelling reasons: first, because no one denys that the pressure upon our country’s leadership in the wake of 9/11 was enormous, and second, because very few people were actually there to participate in – or even witness – the administration’s response to 9/11 from the inside.

But these charges are disingenuous and designed to deflect justifiable criticism away from the Bush administration by setting the barrier to legitimate criticism so high that almost no one qualified – in their estimation – to even possess an opinion worthy of consideration. And that’s why Richard Clarke’s op-ed this morning is so salutary as an antidote to the continued Bush/Rice spin: because he was there, and because not only has his story (we must focus more on Al Qaeda) remained consistent from before 9/11 until now, it has also been proven correct over time. By contrast, Dick Cheney, in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute recently, informed Americans that “9/11 caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for a while,” inadvertently (though tellingly) admitting that for the first seven months of the Bush Administration, no one – neither Cheney nor anyone else in a position to make decisions and allocate resources – bothered to take a serious FIRST look at threats that had been gathering for a while.

During those months, the Bush administration received a detailed, specially-prepared briefing from Clarke himself, outlining and stressing that Al Qaeda would be the most significant threat to America – and the one on which they’d spend the most time and energy. Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and (one presumes) others up the chain of command, also received multiple follow-up memos stressing again the importance of a specialized strategy against Al Qaeda, alonng with requests for “principals-level meetings” by Clarke and others. In response, the Bush team (Rice) downgraded Clarke’s position within the administration, giving him less power and authority to conduct national security operations, and even more-restricted access to cabinet-level movers and shakers, especially Rice herself, and of course, Bush and Cheney. And then there is the famous August 6, 2001 PDB (President’s Daily Brief), a customized, up-to-the-minute intel report which is hand-delivered to the President each morning. On August 6, 2001, that brief was literally entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike In U.S.”

Those facts – both the ignoring by the Bushies of Clarke’s repeated, urgent warnings about Al Qaeda, as well as their demotion of him and their subsequent ignoring of their own intel stating much the same thing as Clarke, serves to dramatically underscore Cheney’s unintentional admission that the administration hadn’t really taken the threat of Al Qaeda seriously until AFTER 9/11, when it was too late. And unfortunately, when they realized how badly they’d miscalculated and screwed up by concentrating on things like missile defense (the long-storied “Star Wars” program) and drafting potential plans for an Iraq invasion instead of heeding the flashing-red warning lights regarding Al Qaeda, beginning with 9/12 the Bushies began overreacting. They authorized the harshest measures possible without asking whether they were the most effective or useful, and they led our country down a path of lawlessness and ignominy, the depths of which we may still not yet have fully fathomed.

But one thing is for certain; Richard Clarke’s op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post goes a good way toward dispelling the confection that Cheney and his remaining supporters are attempting to spin about why they did what they did in the wake of 9/11 – everything from waterboarding to the invasion of Iraq. Clarke was right about Al Qaeda, and his timely counter to Cheney/Rice’s insidious insinuation that “if you weren’t there, you couldn’t possibly know what we faced” is exactly what Americans should focus on as an antidote to leftover Bush administration mendacity.