Monday, March 22, 2004

Clarke's Bar: Unfortunately I missed Richard Clarke's appearance on 60 Minutes last night. But I've read the coverage in the newspapers and blogs. He gives an interesting interpretation of what has been going on in the Bush administration. But it really doesn't bother me.

From what I understand of the accusations, Bush was set on taking out Saddam Hussein from day one and was looking for any reason to invade. And when 9/11 happened, Bush immediately tried to find a connection, any connection, between the attacks and Iraq.

In addition, Clarke is accusing Bush of ignoring warnings from Clinton and other developing threats that Al Qaeda was going to be a major problem for the United States and needed to be confronted immediately.

Interesting stuff, but it seems overblown to me. It's been well known that Bush had been itching to invade Iraq. Whether Clarke is exaggerating this to paint Bush as obsessive is open to interpretation. The question is why Bush wanted to bring down Saddam Hussein so badly.

The cynics will immediately cry out about "daddy's war" or "oil" or mumble something about "Halliburton". I still don't buy any of that. I think Bush is justified in wanting to go take out Saddam, because at the time the dictator was stonewalling the United Nations inspectors and ignoring the cease-fire agreements after the invasion of Kuwait, and intelligence agencies were certain (with both Bush and Clinton in office) that Iraq was continuing to develop WMD.

While Bush may have had strong ambitions to go into Iraq, he never campaigned on it and never even mentioned it during his first months of office. It appears that he was looking to finish the job, but he wasn't manufacturing any excuses.

Then when 9/11 happened, it was clear that we were dealing with Middle Eastern terrorists. Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Middle Eastern terrorists. Bush badly wanted to kill two birds with one stone by linking Iraq to 9/11.

After extensive searching, no link was found. So we found the tie to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, concentrated our efforts on the zealot Taliban regime in Afghanistan that was offering protection, and we destroyed that sponsor of terrorism. The search for a link to Iraq did not interfere with the operation in Afghanistan and didn't prevent us from doing what we needed to do. The results speak for themselves: Bush's concern over Iraq was not hurting the War on Terrorism.

Eventually the Taliban was overthrown and a democracy was being built in Afghanistan. The terrorists were on the run as we hunted them down. Because this is a global War on Terrorism, we don't have the luxury of making sure everything is pristine in one hotspot before we move on our next military action. The War on Terrorism required engagement on a massive scale, with the goal of not only ending the states that support terrorism, but also transforming the culture in the Middle East that breeds terrorism.

Iraq was that next step. Yes, it was already on Bush's things-to-do list, but that's only because the dangers there were present before he took office. The War on Terrorism made it all the more crucial that we take out unstable dictators that support terrorists, and Saddam Hussein was an obvious choice. I've laid out the rationale for invading Iraq numerous times, feel free to scroll through the archives to see my reasoning.

That brings us to the second accusation by Clarke, that Bush was warned about Al Qaeda and did nothing. People have said that Clinton had briefed Bush about Osama Bin Laden and designated the terrorist leader as the number-one priority. While I'm sure Clinton stressed that Bin Laden was a very dangerous man, I don't think anybody realized how far the attacks by Al Qaeda were going to escalate.

If Clinton did pronounce Osama Bin Laden as public enemy number one during the transition, then Clinton has a lot of explaining to do.

Since 9/11, conservatives have accused Clinton of not recognizing the significance of Al Qaeda's numerous terrorist attacks (1993 World Trade Center bombing, attack on the U.S. embassies, USS Cole). Clinton even refused several offers by the Sudanese government to arrest Bin Laden and bring him to justice. And there were other opportunities that Clinton missed.

I've always defended Clinton by saying that, while the terrorist incidents were tragic, there was never any national outrage. Each terrorist attack was seen as an instance of fanatical suicide nutcases perpetrating a crime. So we used law enforcement and intelligence to track down their co-conspirators and bring them to trial. We didn't know until 9/11 that the terrorists were so determined and would become so deadly.

So I give both Clinton and Bush a pass for not recognizing the dangers. I believe our intelligence community should have figured out what was going on, but mistakes were made, and now we're going to make sure those mistakes never happen again.

Surely Richard Clarke's accusations will intensify the partisan bickering. More people may even lose confidence in Bush. But the world has changed since 9/11, and we need to learn from what we did wrong and move forward.


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