Friday, March 26, 2004
# Posted 2:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Exhibit A consists of the WaPo's two front-page stories on Clarke from Thursday morning. The first is by Dan Eggen & Walter Pincus, the second by Dana Milbank. Milbank's news analysis essay casts Clark as an selfless public servant whose eloquence enables him to silence those Republicans desperate to demonstrate that he is a hypocrite or a liar. The Eggen & Pincus article presents Clarke as a prophetic whistleblower and does nothing to question his credibility.
Now, if Clarke were so persuasive, why did Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry, and Romesh Ratnesar (of Time) have such an easy time coming up with compromising material?
One reason is that the Bush administration has been remarkably forthcoming with once-classified material that helps discredit Clarke. Above all, the contents of Clarke's August 2002 background briefing for the press suggest that he only became so critical of the President after leaving office. As Rich Lowry sums up,
Clarke said, "I think the overall point is, there was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration." His book seems to confirm that, but nowhere puts it so starkly.Kevin Drum has already admitted the contents of the briefing are pretty damning, although he is reserving judgment until he finishes reading Clarke's book. However, even if the Bush administration had held back the August 2002 transcript, there are plenty of other public statements Clarke made that come across as pretty damning. As Charles Krauthammer recounts, PBS asked Clarke in March 2002 whether
...failing to blow up the [Al Qaeda] camps and take out the Afghan sanctuary was a "pretty basic mistake."Now if all this material was out there, why did the WaPo ignore it completely? (As Greg Djerejian points out, the editors of the NYT haven't exactly been critical of Clarke either.)
Now, at the same time that it has been lionizing Clarke, it has been tearing apart the administration. In a front page story today, Mike Allen describes how the White House has launched an unprecedented effort at character assassination. Allen devotes two short paragraphs to the August 2002 briefing and gives only the slightest hint of how much it does to undermine Clarke's reputation. If your only source of news were the WaPo, you'd come away from Allen's article thinking that the only motive behind the administration's attack on Clarke was a partisan desire to cover up evidence of its own incompetence.
Now, this isn't to say that the White House has done a terribly good job of character assassination. In fact, the rampant contradictions embedded in its effort to discredit Clarke deserve a major share of the blame for the bad press it has gotten on this issue. Consider the following (from the WaPo, of course):
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage contradicted Rice's claim that the White House had a strategy before 9/11 for military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban; the CIA contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist threats; and Rice's assertion this week that Bush told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side" appeared to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.If that's not enough to convince you that Condi Rice is evil, just take a look at the photo published alongside the WaPo article. Moreover, adding insult to injury, Matt Yglesias says that Condi isn't even qualified to be National Security Adviser. Maybe that's why the WaPo has begun to report that Condi will be gone by the end of the year. (Condi may not be qualified, but I don't agree with Matt's argument about why.)
Now, getting back to the point, does all this mean that we shouldn't listen to anything Clarke has to say? I don't know. On Tuesday, I wrote that
I didn't mean to suggest that what Clarke said was false or that it doesn't cast doubt on the competence of the Bush administration...I'm going to stick by the latter half of that statement since the administration's response was utterly incompetent. They're lucky that the conservative punditocracy saved their (ahem) posterior. But as for the first half, even if Clarke didn't tell any outright lies, his accusations seem to have been profoundly misleading.
Looking back at my original post on the subject, I seem to have been far more focused on what Clarke said about Bush's response to September 11th rather than his lack of preparation for it. In that respect, I think his comments do reflect poorly on the administration. But that's beside the point because I missed the real story: that Clarke was rewriting the history of what happened before September 11th. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
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