Clarke on MTP

Matthew Yglesias ofer rather differing assessments of the Richard Clarke performance on yesterday’s Meet the Press. Steven thinks Clarke came across as self-important, bitter, and uneven. Matt thinks Clarke “kicked ass,” was delightful, and focused. Having worked in the publishing business, I can tell you which set of reviews are going on the paperback edition.

My impression from watching the show was that the whole thing was rather odd. For one thing, Russert was as subdued as I’ve ever seen him. He asked nothing but the most predictable questions and then let Clarke answer them at length without interruption or serious follow-up. While I actually prefered that to the usual “gotcha” style, it did make Clarke come across as more reasonable, since he wasn’t having to answer anything he wouldn’t obviously have thoroughly prepared for. Secondarily, while I agree that Clarke’s criticisms of Bush policy vis-a-vis Clinton policy seemed rather strange, there really wasn’t much of substance to the “charges” given all the build-up. And, of course, the idea that every one of the classified briefings on terrorism are going to be de-classified and released in order to vindicate his claims is rather clever, since it makes him appear to have nothing to hide while he knows damned well that it’s not going to happen.

The performance further reinforced in my mind the idea that, had Clarke been given the promotion he desired, he’d still be happily writing more press releases about how great the Bush policies are. This is rather telling along those lines:

I thought Pat Buchanan, a conservative Republican, former White House aide, put it pretty well last night when he was asked the same question. He said, “When you’re in the White House, you may disagree with policy.” But when you’re asked to defend that policy, you defend it, if you’re a special assistant to the president, as Pat Buchanan was and as I was. I had a choice. I could have done what I was asked to do and defend them when they were being criticized for not having done enough before September 11 or I could have resigned. Why didn’t I resign? Because I believed it was very, very important for the United States to develop a plan to secure its cyberspace from terrorism. And the president had asked me to do that. I did it. I didn’t get it done until February of 2003. Here it is: The National Plan to Secure Cyberspace, which the president thanked me for effusively. I wouldn’t have been able to do this–important document if I had quit on the date that you suggest. And so there’s no inconsistency. I said the things that I was told to say. They’re true. We did consider these things but no decisions were taken. And that’s the point. It was an important issue for them but not an urgent issue. They had a hundred meetings before they got around to having one on terrorism.

So….the policies were really, really endangering the country but he had to write a really, really important pamphlet on an issue where he wasn’t particularly expert, so he had to wait. When he finally leaves the administration, he has to wait another year because he has a very important tell-all book to write and he has to wait until it hits the stands. Hmm.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Terrorism, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I don’t see how, James, given what we now know of his political affiliations and leanings… the ones he dind’t bother to tell he committee about… like for example, who he voted for in the last election… a topic shich came up, by the way, during the inteview you cite.

  2. Dodd says:

    The substance of the pullquote seems to me to amount to this: ‘What I said before was true and what I’m saying now is also true. For all the hype and bluster, what my “expose” really comes down to is a semantic argument between “important” and “urgent.” Oh, and I don’t think invading Iraq was a good idea.’

    Stunning stuff that, to bring DC to a grinding halt over for over a week.

  3. I TiVoed MTP last night.

    1. For those who haven’t been following the war on terrorism and the politics very closely, Clarke came across as a pro.
    2. For anti-war folks, Clarke was right on.
    3. To anyone who loves politics, Clarke came across as a guy who’s advice was ignored, is being ignored and always will be ignored. This is because he’s so focused on his view of the world, he doesn’t really understand strategy or know much about the real world. He’s been institutionalized for 30 years, for crying out loud.
    4. Tim showed his bias by not probing the question of how taking on Iraq slowed the war on terrorism and the search for al-Qaeda. Clarke is selling the idea that the U.S. could fight only a single-front war. In fact, we’re fighting on several fronts every day—from the WOT, to Iraq, N. Korea, Kosovo, Iran, the Middle East, Africa, you name it. I guess Clarke can only deal with one topic at a time and has never mastered multi-tasking.