FauxPolitik

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Richard Clarke: After listening to some of his testimony, and reading some of the heavy breathing in the opinion pages, I'm ambivalent about the man. He's smart on the issues of terrorism, although he appears to have revised some of his opinions with the benefit of hindsight; he sounds like a guy who's been beating the drum on Al Qaida for years, in two administrations, with nobody listening until too late.

Of course, the guy bleeds self-promotion, bitterness, and false sincerity. For instance, am I the only one who found his apology to the 9/11 families disgusting? There's a place and time for that, and bully for him if he wants to be "the only one with the guts," etc. But it was self-congratulatory moral grandstanding, pure and simple, to do it in the hearing room.

Clarke makes a great "gotcha" witness for the Democrats, despite the inconsistencies in his story. I don't agree with, say, Reynolds, who believes Clarke is committing public self-immolation (though I agree that his opinion of a president's anti-terrorism efforts seems to vary in proportion to the amount of stroking he got). The media sue isn't playing it that way. To me he sounds, essentially, like a bureaucrat angry because he had it right and nobody listened. (I've known the type.) Of course, he also had a lot of things wrong, which he conveniently leaves out of his self-serving testimony and book.

By the way, a lot of folks are characterizing Clarke's run in with Jim Thompson as a victory for Clarke. I guess it's a draw, given Thompson's own heavy-handed indignation, but I don't buy the "I was just spinning for the Bush administration" excuse. If Clarke wants to admit that, in hindsight, his previous statements amounted to political spin and he's sorry for it, that's one thing. Instead he painted himself as having done the right thing back then, and doing the right thing now. That's the most damning thing so far -- evidence that Clarke, in his own mind anyway, is never wrong.

In the end, he will likely come out looking like something of a wannabe whistleblower, a self-promoting hack, and a bit of a jerk. But he's a jerk who thought al Qaeda was a threat to domestic targets -- whether he was right-right, or just broken-clock right.

I think it's a wash.

More: Do you think 9/11 could have been prevented? Clarke does. I'm not so sure I agree. I think all the agencies could have done better, but the crux of the biscuit lies in the "unknown unknowns," as Rumsfeld famously said. The terrorists, to succeed, need only get lucky once in a while; in defending America, we need to be lucky every single time. There's no way to do that, I think, short of making America a police state with draconian immigration laws. Even then, there are limits to intelligence. That is why terrorism is the weapon of choice for those out of power. At any rate, while there is a non-zero chance that we somehow could have foiled the 9/11 plot, I think pursuing that question, at least to the degree the panel is doing so, is wasted time.

Later: No, I'm not the only one bothered by Clarke's self-serving apology. Jeff Jarvis can't stomach it, either.

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