It Turned Out His Only Enemy Was Time

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I've been holding off on saying anything on Richard Clarke, simply because there was a whole lot of delight in his criticisms of the Bush Administration from the left half of the blogosphere and a whole lot of criticism from the right half of the blogosphere, with hardly any acknowledgement from the major media of any of the latter. I wasn't willing to say anything until people who knew better could comment, preferring to let the investigation proceed before making any judgments on it. The blogs were saying things, and it seemed like two stories, with never the twain meeting.

Well, a major media outlet (Time Magazine) has finally published someone's recognition of the claims the righty bloggers have been making. Richard Clarke's own past recorded statements disprove enough of his claims now that he's just simply not a reliable source for anything at this point. So much for the left half of this story.

Thanks to One Hand Clapping for the link.

5 Comments

I dunno. After reading the article, I don't come away from it with the sense that Clarke has discreditied himself. It simply feels like he is telling the same basic story in different ways, depending on the point that he is trying to make. (Though Time does its best to make that look like he is discrediting himself.)

I find it odd that you would jump on Clarke for doing this while defending the 4 gospels of presenting the same story in different ways.

(Incidentally, I do find it odd that the Left has embraced Clarke so wholeheartedly. He is no friend to the Left and does not as far as I can tell want to help them in any way. I find no evidence of partisanship at all in him in the sense that he wants to help Dems and hurt Repubs...he seems to simply hate Bush and his Administration. And if his charges are true, then he may have good reason for such hatred.)

(That being said, I think that the focus needs not to be on Clarke's "credibility" or "reliablilty", but on his charges. If his charges are off base, they need to be refuted not by discrediting the accuser, but by showing that the charges themselves are not true. Even Time, while "rais[ing] questions about whether Clarke's eagerness...[has]clouded his memory of the facts" also admits that "the discrepancies do not, on their own, discredit Clarke's larger arguments")

I have to say that I didn't read this as carefully as I should have. I thought it was a mainstream confirmation of what some sources commonly referred to as conservative have been saying. See the Fox News evaluation based on a 2002 transcript of Clarke. Given that this wasn't about that but about something else, some of what I said doesn't quite fit it. Still, I think it's saying something right, and it does make me question the conclusions Clarke wants us to draw.

It's not that there's an explicit contradiction between the two accounts, but his current descriptions seem to be exactly the sort of thing the BBC was at one point claiming (but later took back) about the Bush and Blair administrations regarding their claims about their intelligence on the threat level of Iraq. If the ways of describing the situation are exaggerations beyond what they know to be the truth, particularly ones designed to bring an evaluative response, then the charge of "sexing it up" is a real complaint.

Describing "please update and resubmit" as "wrong answer" is at least as bad as that. Adding to it "I don't think he sees memos that he wouldn't like the answer", which a court of law will normally consider inadmissible testimony, adds to my suspicion. It's speculation. It's one thing to say he doesn't know if it reached him. It's quite another to suggest that his staff prevent him from seeing what he doesn't want to see.

He seems to be deliberately suppressing information he's admitted to knowing (and using when it's convenient for other points). If he wants to make Bush seem to have been uninterested in al Qaeda, he brings out the fact that he didn't have a cabinet meeting exclusively on the subject for a long time, but that ignores any meeting when it was part but only part of the agenda and any specific instructions on the matter like those he elsewhere describes. It's not that the factual components are wrong, but how he's now spinning it isn't consistent with earlier facts he reported. He made it sound as if Bush wasn't concerned about al Qaeda, and that's why he didn't have any meetings on it alone.

The main point is that in the book it seems much more objective and can be used equally against the Clinton Administration, something the 9-11 commission seem willing to acknowledge, judging by the reports I've read. He now seems to be trying to focus all his criticism against the Bush Administration, something extremely unlikely to be productive given that most of the action took place during Clinton's time, most of the chances to do something about it happened during his time, most of the reasons for acting during his time have been questioned during the 9-11 hearings, and the Bush reasons for not acting more than they were seem to be similar enough to the Clinton ones. See this timeline for some perspective on this.

As for his general arguments, I said I don't know what to say about them. I'm waiting for the 9-11 panel to evaluate them. What I've seen so far suggests that their criticisms apply to both administrations and that if these criticism are any good at all then the justification for attacking Iraq is much stronger than opponents of the war have been allowing. I'm not sure what else to say until I see how the questioning goes.

There are lots of people criticizing Clarke's claims on other grounds. Poliblogger has some independent criticisms. There are many others that I don't have time to find at the moment and certainly haven't had time to evaluate. I'm sure a quick search of Instapundit will reveal many of these, but I haven't had the chance to look at him recently to compare the two sides.

I think this does undermine Clarke somewhat, and you know what an anti-Bushi I am. But, overall, the most obvious foibles are exaggeration, and we're left in the position of having to decide between:
1. He's a disgruntled lying opportunist who wants to make lots of money by selling books.
2. He believes he has warranted grievances and seeks to air them b/c he is a patriot, but is sometimes slightly inconsistent and exaggerates [but the bulk of what he says is largely true].

-I tend to favor the latter, given his 25-30 years of public service, both to Republicans and Democratic presidents [I'm not sure these are mutually exclusive and most likely aren't a comprehensive mapping of all the possibilities]. One interesting thing recently is Bill Frist's wanting to release the interview documents of Clarke's where supposedly he gives a more glowing impression of Bush's track record on terrorism. Frist says, that, if Clarke has been shown to be lying, it is no defense that he did it out of loyalty to the administration. This is kind of odd, since, if Clarke was caught lying, it would be the lie that Bush had a good track record. This doesn't seem the kind of lie that Frist would want to catch him on, instead he should supposedly catch him on lying at the 9/11 hearings.

Ture, Clarke's criticisms apply pretty much equally to both the Clinton and Bush adminsitrations. I hold them both to be responsible in some way for not doing enough to prevent 9/11. Interestingly, the only one in the 9/11 panel to accept any blame for 9/11 was Clarke. Both Administrations did their best to claim blamelessness.

Note: to say that Clinton is as culpable as Bush in no way dimishes the culpability of Bush.

It might diminish the culpability of Bush in some way simply because Clinton's policies set a standard. Often in a change of power, certain things get continued and never get questioned sufficiently. For instance, an administration implemented a racist policy is more to blame than the next one that continues it without questioning it, even if the second one is to blame for continuing it. The first initiated it, and that's worse.

In this case the policies were questioned to some degree, so I wouldn't say there's a real excuse here, but it might be enough to say that the culpability of Bush's people is not as much as those who first initiated that level of non-engagement in the previous administration.

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