Frum on Clarke

David Frum makes a series of points that have mostly been made on OTB and elsewhere on around the blogosphere, but their collection into a single package is useful.

I do think it was rather petulant of Richard Clarke to complain on “Meet the Press†that the administration is out to “destroy†him. Clarke hurls a series of terrible accusations at the administration and its senior staff — and is then outraged when they reply that Clarke is wrong? Or when they point out that what he says today contradicts what he has said in the past? Or that he might possibly have other motives than those he acknowledges? Or when they note that he seems strangely tolerant of far worse mistakes by the previous administration?

(Steven Taylor said this a couple days ago.)

This administration came into office to discover that al Qaeda had been allowed to grow into a full-blown menace. It lost six precious weeks to the Florida recount — and then weeks after Inauguration Day to the go-slow confirmation procedures of a 50-50 Senate. As late as the summer of 2001, pitifully few of Bush’s own people had taken their jobs at State, Defense, and the NSC. Then it was hit by 9/11. And now, now the same people who allowed al Qaeda to grow up, who delayed the staffing of the administration, who did nothing when it was their turn to act, who said nothing when they could have spoken in advance of the attack — these same people accuse George Bush of doing too little?

(Noted here Saturday.)

Hat tip: Steve Bainbridge

Update: To clarify, my point in citing Frum here isn’t so much that Clinton didn’t do anything, but that it’s peculiar that Clarke seems obsessed by what Bush didn’t do in a far shorter period without the direct provocations that occurred under Clinton. I’ve said several times that I don’t think we could have launched a war to remove the Taliban prior to 9/11. With the exception of terrorism specialists, virtually none of the national security policy community–including myself as a peripheral member–thought terrorism was THE top priority pre-9/11.

The crux of Clarke’s argument seems to be that the Clinton team was focused like a “laser” on terrorism whereas Bush and Co. were totally oblivious to it because they were obsessed with Iraq. There’s scant evidence for either of these points. Clinton occasionally talked tough on terrorism and even declared war on it. But aside from a token military strike, the action was mainly a traditional law enforcement counter-terrorism policy. It’s less clear what the Bush policy was before 9/11 since there were no attacks to which he could have responded.

FILED UNDER: 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. chubby checker says:

    So Clarke “…might possibly have other motives than those he acknowledges?” Yes, he might. But what would those motives be? Sinister, hidden ones? Possibly. But why is he screaming to un-classify *all* of his records? Does he have so many [hidden] [sinister] motives, that even reading them will pervert/brainwash you? Or has he got (unlike, apparently, some other people) nothing to hide?
    i wonder, i truly do.

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    This business about the odious Clintonites allowing al-Qaeda to grow into a “full-blown menace” is really tiresome.

    Question: what do you think we should have done in 1998? Do you think the James Joyner of 1998 would have approved this action? How about the rest of the country?

    You do remember what Republicans were primarily obsessed with in 1998, don’t you? A show trial of some kind, I believe.

  3. fubar says:

    Clinton is responsible for the evil dogs that live in the forest behind my house. Let’s not forget that.

  4. Boyd says:

    Kevin, it’s not so much what should have been done in 1998, because realistically speaking, not much could have been done. The point is that there’s not so much difference between 1998 and the summer of 2001. Those screaming to crucify the Bush administration for inaction in 2002 have nothing to say about the same lack of action by the Clinton administration in 1998.

    It’s the intellectual dishonesty that gets frustrating.

    And my questions to you still remain: why do you not acknowledge the shortcomings of Richard Clarke’s contradictory statements? Many of us more conservative types acknowledge that the Bush administration seems to be making a pigs ear of the whole issue, and fail to address the facts of the matter (including their own shortcomings during 2001). How about you guys? Care to admit that the vast majority of the venom liberals are spewing is largely fact-free?

  5. Boyd says:

    Typo: that should have been “inaction in 2001.”

  6. Paul says:

    Boyd you are dreaming if you expect honesty from that crowd.

  7. Boyd says:

    Oh, I dunno, Paul. It seems to me that Kevin, at least, hasn’t shown me any evidence of intellectual dishonesty. Although, of course, he’s quite misguided… 😉

    But if you’re talking about the group represented by the majority of Kevin’s commenters, then yes, I’ll agree.

    On the other end of the scale, the conservatives who shriek “Kevin LIES! Kevin ALWAYS LIES!” are marginalizing themselves through their over-the-top behavior.