Saturday, March 27, 2004

# Posted 1:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEFORE THE SHOE DROPS: In this morning's installment of the Clarke saga, the WaPo highlights Bill Frist's charges that Richard Clarke's recent statements contradict his July 2002 testimony before Congress' joint intelligence committee. Since Clarke was under oath both times, any contradictions that emerge would prove extremely damaging. Whether such contradictions will emerge is an open question. Democrats who have read the July 2002 transcript say that none exist. But the public should be able to judge for itself soon enough, given both sides interest in having the transcript released.

In the meantime, I'd like to address something that has been said by a number of Clarke's defenders. Regarding contradictions between Clarke's recent statements an August 2002 briefing he gave for the press, Dan Drezner says that
I'm not terribly persuaded that this should weaken Clarke's credibility. As anyone who's worked in government should know, what's said in an official capacity will read differently than what's said when one is allowed to be candid. Clarke was acting as a dutiful bureaucrat in 2002, and not as an independent agent.
Since Dan isn't exactly a friend of either Clarke or his Democratic partisans, the fact that Dan is sticking up for Clarke on this particular point has added significance. Conceptually, I think that Dan is right to point out the obligations of an appointed official to defend his administration. Yet as Rich Lowry has pointed out, there is a difference between interpreting facts in a positive light and simply making them up from whole cloth. In the August 2002 briefing, Clarke mentions the following facts:
1) The Clinton administration did not have a specific plan for confronting Al Qaeda that it handed over to the Bush administraiton.

2) The Bush Administraiton decided in January 2001 to continue the implementation of the Clinton Administration's anti-terror policies.

3) In the spring of 2001, the Bush Administraiton decided in principle to support a five-fold increase in CIA funding for anti-Al Qaeda actions.
According to Lowry, none of these points made it into Clarke's book. Why not? It is hard to argue that these points were just a matter of spin, since they consist of facts, not interpretations. It is not as if Clarke simply said "The Bush administration worked extremely hard in its first months in office to stop Al Qaeda." That sort of statement is essentially meaningless and it would be hard to fault Clarke from backing away from it after leaving office. But what Clarke gave the press were facts.

Or were they? There is some room for interpretation regarding such terms as "specific plan", "continue the implementation of" and "decided in principle". (These are my paraphrasings, not Clarke's original words.) But if we have to pick apart Clarke's words in this counterintuitive manner, then is is rather hard to treat him as a credible witness, let alone a heroic whistleblower.

Even so, the question remains: Why didn't Clarke make any mention of the fact that he once defend Bush's anti-terror policies? If Clarke meant his statements on the administration's behalf as a form of hollow praise, why doesn't he say that? In the final analysis, I don't think Clarke intended to deceive anyone. IMHO, he comes across as quite sincere. If anything, he seems to have deceived himself.
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