George Will is particularly withering in his assessment of the Richard Clarke brouhaha:
Too much of the controversy about Clarke’s book — and testimony and interviews — concerns adjectives.
Combating terrorism was only “important” to the Bush administration (by the eighth day Clarke was calling the Bush administration “lackadaisical” about terrorism), whereas for the Clinton administration it was “urgent” — “no higher a priority.” Except when it wasn’t. When Clarke recommended “a series of rolling attacks” against al Qaeda’s “infrastructure in Afghanistan,” his recommendation was rejected. But Clarke says “to be fair” we should understand that the Clinton administration decided it had higher priorities — the Balkans, the Middle East peace process.
By the eighth day Clarke was telling Tim Russert that the difference is that Clinton did “something” whereas Bush did “nothing.” Nothing except, among other things, authorizing a quadrupling of spending for covert action against al Qaeda.
Clarke’s apology to the American people, delivered to the Sept. 11 commission, should be considered in the context of the book, the publication of which was timed to coincide with his testimony. When, presuming to speak for the government, he said “we tried hard,” he must have been using the royal plural, because the gravamen of his book is that only he was trying hard. Indeed, parts of Clarke’s memoir call to mind Finley Peter Dunne’s jest that Teddy Roosevelt’s memoir of the Cuban expedition should have been titled “Alone in Cuba.”
Dick Morris makes a strange if not implausible argument:
Superficially, Bush was on the defensive as Richard Clarke testified that he was not sufficiently focused on al Qaeda, had failed to respond appropriately to the 9/11 attacks and was preoccupied with Iraq. The daily tracking polls of Scott Rasmussen indicated that Kerry went from two points behind Bush when the flap started to three ahead at its peak. Rasmussen shows, however, that Kerry has since lost his lead and the race is now, again, even.
But what really happened was that the nation’s focus was further diverted from the economy onto the issue of terrorism. Kerry is not about to close the huge gap Bush has opened up on this issue. No matter what negatives emerge on Bush’s conduct in dealing with terrorism, it will still be the president’s issue. So as damaging as the Clarke testimony was – and as hurtful as his book is – all it does is ratify terrorism and the response to 9/11 as major issues in the election.
Of course, one would think that’s only true if the public continues to believe Bush would be better against terrorism than Kerry. My guess is that, ultimately, that will be the case. But Kerry is, in essence, getting tens of millions of dollars worth of free media help in making the opposite argument.