Posted 11:43pm April 4
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Former White House counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has been in the middle of an election year political fire-storm, testifying before a Congressional Committee on the attacks of Sept. 11 2001 that the Bush administration did little to prevent those attacks and that the war in Iraq is hurting the war on terrorism.
“Though I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way,” Clarke told the panel.
Secretary of State Colin Powell denied that charge in testimony to the committee on Monday, saying the Bush administration saw terrorism as a major threat even before they took office.
Clarke claims that he and CIA Director George Tenet continually urged members of the administration to speed up their formation of a terrorist policy. Clarke said Tenet would warn of possible al Qaeda attacks nearly every day, but the administration treated terrorism as any other issue.
Furthermore, Clarke said the administration put too much emphasis on Iraq.
Clarke said during an interview with Larry King that the war in Iraq has resulted in military assets being moved from operations in Afghanistan and the rest of the world, including the use of Arabic language speaking soldiers and unmanned surveillance aircraft. He said the war in Iraq has also inflamed many extremists in the Arab world.
In his book, “Bush at War,” Bob Woodward wrote that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, at the first cabinet meeting following the September 11th attacks, suggested attacking Iraq as a response.
Clarke, who was hired during the Reagan Administration, quit his job after thirty years in the White House as a terrorism advisor. Clarke was scheduled to appear before the committee and concurrently had a book documenting his experiences readying for publication.
He appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes ahead of his testimony and book publication.
“I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe, we’ll never know,” he said on the show.
The White House began a coordinated media blitz focused on undermining Clarke’s arguments and credibility. Notably, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appeared on many morning shows and Vice President Dick Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. They echoed many of the same sentiments, accusing Clarke of being out of the loop on many decisions and suggesting he had alternative motives for making his accusations. Clarke has been attacked by the White House and accused of trying to drum up sales for his book. Clarke said he did not have control over when the book would be published, and that it, and its related appearance on 60 Minutes were in no way coordinated with his testimony.
Clarke’s book “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror,” went on sale Monday and is already in its third printing. The book is number one on Amazon.com.
Some Republicans have accused Clarke of trying to discredit the President and obtain a job in a potential John Kerry administration. Clarke said, under oath, that he would accept no such position if John Kerry won the upcoming November election.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has been under increasing pressure to publicly testify before the commission because Clarke has contradicted some of her previous private testimony to the commission.
She went on 60 Minutes to say that she shouldn’t testify because it would threaten the principle of executive privilege. Typically, members of the president’s advisory staff do not testify under oath to Congressional commissions.
However, the Bush administration bowed to political pressure and reversed course. They will allow Rice to testify before the commission publicly, citing the “unique circumstances” of the attacks. They extracted a promise from the commission that no other staff members would be asked to publicly testify.
Thomas Kean, the commission’s chairman and a former New Jersey governor said that was “not something we planned to do anyway.”
Although Clarke’s accusations have dominated news coverage of the White House over the past several days, Bush’s numbers have shown improvement against Kerry. In a Time/CNN poll, 51 percent supported Bush and 47 percent supported Kerry.
Three weeks ago, 52 percent supported Kerry and 44 percent supported Bush.
The change in the numbers has been attributed to attack ads on John Kerry and a greater number of conservative voters responding to pollsters.
49 percent of respondents said they agree with the claim that the war in Iraq has detracted from the war on terror, while 46 percent said they didn’t.
According to The Associated Press, Bush’s capitulation over the question of Rice testifying is one of many reversals his administration has done regarding the commission in the face of public and media dissatisfaction. An AP article states that Bush initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission, opposed then supported a two-month extension of the commission timeframe and relaxed the limit of one hour for his private interview time with the commission.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll recently found that a majority of respondents thought the administration was trying to hide something from the commission, while two-thirds of respondents said they doubted anything could have been done to prevent the attacks.