Monday, March 22, 2004

TRASHING CLARKE. The reductive bullet point that's been attached to former White House anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke's critique of the Bush White House is that he's blaming George W. Bush for 9/11. The conservatives particularly like this ("Behind the Effort to Blame Bush for September 11," reads the subhead of a Wall Street Journal editorial today) because the notion is ridiculous, and thus easily swatted aside.

The truth is that even though the terrorist attacks could have been anticipated as one of many possible scenarios involving Al Qaeda, the chances of stopping those particular attacks on that particular day were minimal.

Thus, what's really disturbing about Clarke's brief - laid out in an interview with 60 Minutes last night - is not that Bush could have stopped it. Rather, it is that Bush and his administration dropped the intense focus that the Clinton White House had given Al Qaeda, and that, as soon as the attacks occurred, the Bushies immediately pressed for evidence of a non-existent link with Iraq.

Here is a particularly revealing passage from 60 Minutes:

"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."

The right, of course, is already trying to discredit Clarke as a partisan warrior - never mind the fact that he worked not just for Clinton but also for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, until recently, George W. Then, too, Clarke is out pushing a new book, which I guess we're supposed to take as some sign of moral turpitude.

But as Josh Marshall notes today, what's really interesting about this is how at odds Clarke's account is with that of national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Given Rice's dubious reputation for veracity, I'd say Clarke ought to be taken very seriously.

A NEW BOSTON BLOG. The Boston Herald has started something called the "Road to Boston Blog." Written (so far) by political reporter David Guarino, the blog began with a "soft launch" Friday. This is the first official Herald blog - business reporter Jay Fitzgerald and columnist Cosmo Macero have been blogging for a while, but they do it on their own websites.

The Boston Globe is taking a different approach, with op-ed columnists writing Web-only pieces once a month.

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