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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

 
Potent



Former U.S. counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke hugs and greets family members of victims of the September 11 attacks following testimony before a national commission investigating the attacks on Capitol Hill March 24, 2004. Clarke, a senior adviser to Bush and the three previous administrations, has accused Bush of paying insufficient attention to the al-Qaeda threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and afterward focusing on Iraq (news - web sites) at the expense of efforts to crush the network. REUTERS/Win McNamee. Via Catch.com



From Billmon:

If you watched Clarke today, you now have a pretty good idea of why the administration and the VRWC wind machine are so terrified of him. If anything, he was even more effective than he was on 60 Minutes. From his opening statement (a simple, but eloquent, apology for failing to stop the 9/11 attacks) to his final answer to the final question, he was absolutely calm, completely lucid and utterly authoritative.

Clarke simply rolled over his only aggressive challenger -- former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson -- reducing him to not much more than a greasy spot on the pavement. Thompson (who should have known better) made the strategic blunder of nailing his inquisitorial flag to a transcript ofa background briefing that Clarke gave in the summer of 2002, which was leaked to Fox News by the White House and released just hours before he testified.

In that briefing, Clarke supposedly lauded the administration's conduct of the war against terrorism in words which were not exactly consistent with the picture painted in his new book.

But the ploy backfired on Big Jim after Clarke refused to play the role of evasive double talker (Kerry could learn a lot from him.) He didn't back down an inch. The briefing, Clarke replied, was simply an exercise in spin doctoring -- "maximizing the positives and minimizing the negatives" -- as he had been instructed to do by his political superiors. It was also no different, he said, from simliar background briefings he had conducted for previous presidents. Clarke managed to make it very clear he didn't just mean Clinton. And every member of the commission, and every reporter in the room, knew exactly what he meant.

Thompson decided he didn't want to go there.

[...]

John Lehman, Reagan's former Tailhook, I mean, Navy Secretary, was a much more subtle. If Big Jiim went after Clarke with a sledge hammer, Lehman tried a straight razor -- first him lathering up with praise (he called Clarke the "Rosetta Stone" of understanding 9/11) and then trying to slice open his jugular by implying that Clarke's book was at odds with his private testimony before the commission.

But Clarke ducked the blade with ease, simply noting that much of his criticism of the Bush administration's counter-terrorism record related to its obsession with Iraq -- something the commission had not even asked him about in private session.

Fred Fielding took a crack next, and tried impeaching Clarke for his testimony before the sham congressional 9/11 investigation. But Clarke again fell back on the Bush administration's usual standard of official conduct in such situations: He didn't lie to the congressional panel, he said, he just used his supply of candor judiciously. Fielding was left muttering about the "integrity" that public officials should show in their jobs -- this from Richard Nixon's Watergate lawyer!

[...]

But I don't think the base is their big problem now -- it's the middle, the mainstream, even (or especially) the mainstream media, which has been forced by today's testimony to award Clarke the legitimacy it has denied to other administration critics, even Paul O'Neill. Now they'll expect the White House to give them the steak, not just the sizzle. They're going to demand more serious answers. So far, though the administration has shown no sign it thinks it can hold its own in that kind of debate.




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