2004 March 23 Tuesday
Clarke Right About Bush On Al Qaeda?

Richard Clarke, a former US National Security Council senior figure under Reagan, Bush II, Clinton, and George W. Bush, has written a new and highly controversial book entitled on Amazon Against All Enemies : Inside the White House's War on Terror--What Really Happened (and seemingly everywhere else in including in Amazon's art work for the book entitled Against All Enemies: Inside America's War On Terror). This book offer's an insider's very critical account of counterterrorism policy under a succession of US Presidents and offers an especially critical view of the current Bush Administrations handling of the threat of terrorism both before and after the 9/11 attacks by focusing on Iraq rather than on Al Qaeda.

Clarke then tells Stahl of being pressured by Mr. Bush.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."

Clarke sees Administration moves against Al Qaeda as insufficient even after 9/11.

"The president, he said, 'failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks.' The rapid shift of focus to Saddam Hussein, Clarke writes, 'launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide.' "

I agree that the post-9/11 response has been insufficient. US troops were pulled out of Afghanistan to get ready for the invasion of Iraq. How can that be justified given that there were (and still are) Al Qaeda people including senior Al Qaeda leaders operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? Now after the Iraq invasion the US military is gearing up for more operations in Afghanistan and the US obviously must be behind recent Pakistani attacks on Arabs and other foreign groups on the Pakistan-Afghanistan. All that could have been done sooner if Bush hadn't distracted his Administration with Iraq.

The claim that the Bush Administration was not actively seeking to make major moves against Al Qaeda pre-9/11 is especially interesting. Recall back in May 2002 there were press reports claiming that the Bush Administration had developed a National Security Presidential Directive in the summer of 2001 to overthrow the Taliban and attack Al-Qaeda worldwide which reached Condoleezza Rice's desk just a few days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

WASHINGTON, May 16 — President Bush was expected to sign detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11 but did not have the chance before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. and foreign sources told NBC News.

THE DOCUMENT, a formal National Security Presidential Directive, amounted to a “game plan to remove al-Qaida from the face of the Earth,” one of the sources told NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski.

I can't find an article that reports on when Bush decided to order a plan to overthrow the Taliban but my memory is that another report I read from around May 2002 had White House or other top sources saying that Bush ordered the development of that plan in May or June 2001. If anyone can find a URL about this from a credible source please post it in the comments.

In an interview that puts a rather different spin on that May 2002 report Richard Clarke says that plan to attack Al Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban actually began to be developed under the Clinton Administration and received very little attention from the Bush Administration.

JB: Condoleezza Rice wrote today in response to your book - that the Bush administration did have a strategy for eliminating al-Qaida and that the administration worked on it in the spring and summer of 2001? Is that true?

RC: We developed that strategy in the last several months of the Clinton administration and it was basically an update on that strategy. We briefed Condi on that strategy. The point is that it was done before they came to office and she never held a meeting on it. It was done before she asked for it.

If that plan had been in the works for so long then why didn't the plan reach Rice's desk until a few days before 9/11?

Clarke says that when he tried to talk about Al-Qaeda terrorism Paul Wolfowitz tried to talk about what he believed was Iraqi support for terrorism.

April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al-Qaida. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that's interesting because there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn't been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn't believe the CIA and FBI, that they've been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I've been doing this for 8 years and I don't know about any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993. When I said let's start talking about Bin Laden, he said Bin Laden couldn't possibly have attacked the World Trade Centre in '93. One little terrorist group like that couldn't possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq.

Clarke can not easily be dismissed as a Democratic Party partisan.

Most acquaintances do not regard him as a partisan. Clarke was viewed as a hawk and "true believer" by many within the Clinton administration, and Clarke himself says he is an independent who is registered as a Republican.

"You can't accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy," said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA official who worked with Clarke in the Reagan years. "He's very abrasive and aggressive and pushes his point of view very hard."

Clarke didn't mesh well with the tribal Bushies.

And in February 2003, two months after the White House blocked his selection as deputy secretary of the new Homeland Security Department, he submitted his resignation.

Bush invited Clarke to his office for a goodbye chat. Associates said senior White House officials thought he didn't fit into its low-key, consensus-oriented style. "The administration is very tribal, very-close knit, and Dick was not part of their crowd," Simon said.

Back in February 2002 Bob Woodward and Dan Balz reported that on September 17, 2001 George W. Bush was already convinced that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

As for Saddam Hussein, his father's nemesis, the president ended a debate that had gone on for six days. "I believe Iraq was involved, but I'm not going to strike them now," he said, adding, "I don't have the evidence at this point."

So then did Bush decide to push the idea of a WMD threat to justify an attack on Iraq when intelligence investigations couldn't find credible evidence of an Iraqi involvement in 9/11?

One claim of Clarke, that Bush wanted him to focus on finding a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, seems quite plausible given that Woodward shows Bush as a strong believer in the idea of Iraq involvement in the days immediately after 9/11. It is also plausible given Bush Administration rhetoric connecting the attack on Iraq with the response to terrorism.

For more on Clarke, Bush, Iraq and Al Qaeda see See Steve Sailer's right hand column blog which unfortunately doesn't include permalinks for those posts at this point. If you come to this post of mine weeks or months later then check out Steve's March 2004 monthly archive for the material I'm referring to.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 March 23 02:49 AM  Terrorists Western Response


Comments
ziel said at March 23, 2004 1:48 PM:

This, from CNN, would put into question Clarke's non-partisanship:

Clarke answered Cheney's question Tuesday. During the Clinton administration, he said, al Qaeda was responsible for the deaths of "fewer than 50 Americans," and Clinton responded with military action, covert CIA action and by supporting United Nations sanctions.

"They stopped al Qaeda in Bosnia," Clarke said, "They stopped al Qaeda from blowing up embassies around the world." (Clarke transcript)

"Contrast that with Ronald Reagan, where 300 [U.S. soldiers] were killed in [a bombing attack in Beirut,] Lebanon, and there was no retaliation," Clarke said. "Contrast that with the first Bush administration where 260 Americans were killed [in the bombing of] Pan Am [Flight] 103, and there was no retaliation."

Ray said at March 23, 2004 5:14 PM:

Regarding our current activities in Pakistan/Afghanistan: the barrier to us performing the operations we're undertaking now, say, a year or so ago, was purely political. The Pakistanis weren't letting us do it. Since then, three things have changed on the Pakistani domestic scene. First, there were multiple assassination attempts on Musharraf by bin Laden's people in the summer of 2003. Second, Libya has come clean about its nuclear weapons program, which led straight back to the Pakistani program. Suffice to say that the leverage we gained over the Pakistani government for staying our wrath over their role in selling nuclear materiel far and wide is likely to be considerable.

Of these two events, the relation between the first and the Iraqi invasion is unclear; they're probably only lightly correlated. The same could not be said of the second. One could say that troops on the Afghan-Pakistani front were diverted to another front in the war against Al Qaeda, because no real progress was possible due to political considerations. On the other hand, an indirect result of the Iraqi invasion was a political breakthrough with the Pakistanis that made the current operations possible. So the cost on the Afghan front of any "distraction" is probably small. This analysis does not, of course, take into account the cost to our enemy, political and manpowerwise, of their fight in defense of Saddam Hussein.

Randall Parker said at March 23, 2004 7:34 PM:

Ray, Are you sure about the reasons for the change in Pakistani attitudes? A year ago the Pakistanis were letting in large numbers of FBI agents in who, in turn were hiring former Pakistani law enforcement and intelligence agents to work for them hunting down Al Qaeda. This doesn't strike me as the sort of move that indicates a reluctance on Musharraf's part to support us.

You could be right. But I'd really like to see more indicators that this line of argument is correct.

As for the effects of the Libyan revelations: I've read that the CIA was already making a great deal of progress in unravelling A.Q. Khan's nuclear technology smuggling activities but Muammar Khadafy/Qaddafi/Gaddafi decided to cry Uncle (Sam). So how much of the change in Pakistani position was due to the CIA's success in showing the Pakistanis what they discovered and how much was due to events in Libya? Also, how many of the revelations that gave the US government more leverage over Pakistan (assuming this is really the case) were due to Iran's partial opening and providing of information about where it got its nuclear technology? Then how much of Iran's change in position was due to the Iraq invasion versus the carrot and stick game the US and Europe have been playing with the mullahs?

I do not know the answer to these questions. I do ask myself these questions as I read various reports and I think these are the important questions to ask.

Ray said at March 25, 2004 10:21 AM:

I freely admit I don't have a whole lot of direct information, just a sequence of events and a whole lot of coincidences that don't add up. Our giving the Pakistanis a pass on nuclear proliferation. That I haven't heard news of a large crackdown inside Pakistan proper following the assassination attempts. Also, we've never seen the Pakistanis perform this type of operation, requiring large numbers of troops on the ground, violation of tribal autonomy, and coordination with American forces inside their territory before. A year ago we were hearing a lot of loud, public insistence that Americans stay on the Afghan side of the border. That theme has retreated into the background now, a reasonable indicator that Pakistani attitudes had shifted. I suppose more research on this is a good idea *sheepish grin*. I was spouting more an impression than a terribly well-informed opinion.

The cooperation we were getting then was, reasonable help inside Pakistan's urban/civilized regions from local police forces and the like (a great example being the KSM arrest), but the big institutions like the army and the intelligence services weren't doing much besides putting up a cordon on the border which (to my knowledge) didn't interdict much of anything.

I'm not sure to what degree CIA had unraveled the Pakistani-run proliferation network before Libya started talking. The main support I have here is that Pakistan admitted the existence of the network *after* client Libya was caught red-handed. It could just have been a delayed reaction to ongoing diplomatic efforts warning them that we weren't going to take it anymore.

walter said at March 27, 2004 1:08 PM:

Ziel,

I fail to see how criticizing an administration one worked for and praising the actions of another are partisan. It is sad if this is the society we have now where all defensible arguments are thrown out as "partisan" when they are directed at a figure one may admire. Especially when the person in question is a Republican criticisinzg another Republican. Unless you can come up with some facts that show Clarke was wrong about his statments, spare me the partisan sliming.

BTW, Clarke did not make the claim that "fewer than 50 Americans," he said others in the administration made that claim. Here is the actual quote:

"The problem is that when you make that recommendation before they happen, when you recommend an air defense system for Washington before there has been a 9/11, people tend to think you're nuts. And I got a lot of that. You know, when the Clinton administration ended, 35 Americans had died at hands of Al Qaida over the course of eight years. And a lot of people said, behind my back and some of them to my face, why are you so obsessed with this organization? It's only killed eight Americans over the course -- 35 Americans over the course of eight years. Why are you making such a big deal over this organization? "

Not quite the same as yours.

M.Robinson said at July 21, 2005 6:39 AM:

The Pakistani's are helping the USA for their own reasons, as the USA is helping the Pakistani's for theirs. The difficulty arises is when Pakistan has to find al-qaeda operatives operating along a 1500 mile border(with afghanistan) mostly mountainous with a few helicopters. Since the imposition of military sanctions under the Pressler amendment(Pressler currently works for an Indian company/think tank), the Pakistani's have been losing out to drug smugglers and infiltrators.
Now in its hour of need the US government went to the Pakistani's, and yet it still has not supplied helicopters(requested to buy) required for anti infiltration operations.
Its time that the US sold this vital equipment for better coordination and capture of al-qaeda operatives.
If you think about the amounts spent to keep mexicans out of US, even then they still get in, and a country like Pakistan with limited resources is trying to police a 1500 mile border , not exactly easy without necessary equipment.


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