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Clarke's resignation letter

I have little to add to all the good analysis of the frantic attempts by an administration in meltdown to discredit Richard Clarke, but I did notice one tiny thing that I haven't seen mentioned before. One of the points the White House made to discredit Clarke on Wednesday was the simple fact that his letter of resignation included the phrase, "I will always remember the courage, determination, calm, and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th." Evidently, this proves him a liar, either in the letter or in his subsequent criticism of Bush.

This reminded me of a passage in Paul O'Neill's The Price of Loyalty. On page 315, O'Neill drafts his letter of resignation: "'I hereby resign the office of Secretary of the Treasury.' One sentence."

His communications director, Michelle Davis, says, "You can't do that." And proceeds to write, O'Neill says, a letter about "what an honor it has been to serve this president... a great team," etc. "Four paragraphs of this stuff. It made me gag," O'Neill said. In the end, they compromised on a shorter letter that said it was a privilege to serve and noted an accomplishment, much like Clarke's letter.

The point being, even when you've been fired, even when the president doesn't have the grace to fire you from the second-ranking cabinet position himself but sends Dick Cheney to do the job, it just isn't an option to write a letter of resignation that doesn't praise the president.

Now it's been said many times, and it's true, that all the monkey dung being flung around the White House not only fails to discredit Clarke, but shows a fundamental worry that Bush's one and only claim to presidential stature is built on a hollow foundation. That's all true, and this certainly hasn't been a good week for the president. But I can't help but feel that the White House has achieved something: they have taken away the shock effect of Clarke's revelations. They drew it into the Clinton/Bush debate about who was more negligent, and into the debate about Clarke's own motives (even though there really is no debate), and in the end, it's just one more confusing pseudo-scandal.

Think about it this way: What if we had learned in November 2001 everything we know now: that the administration had been ignoring and suppressing warnings about terrorism from the very beginning, pushing it aside in favor of other foreign policy issues, and that even after Sept. 11, the president was trying to use it as an excuse to attack Iraq, a country that no one for one second thought was involved.

I don't think we would have even been able to believe it. Even those of us who hate Bush personally, have no trust at all in the people around him or his policies, probably could not have dealt with the thought that the president had not done the best he could to prevent such an attack before September 11, and was dealing with it seriously afterwards. Even when Time came out with basically the same story Clarke is telling, in August 2002, I don't think the press and public was ready to take the idea seriously, since it disappeared almost without notice. (The article is worth reading now; Clarke was obviously a key source, and it shows how much of what seems new this week was actually out there more than 18 months ago. Link above is to an archived copy at someone else's site, the Time version isn't free.) But since then, we've become so inured to the Bush administration's incompetence that the worst thing you could possibly find out sort of ceases to have shock value.

Maybe. The other possibility is that all this information is just too much to take in in a single week, and that it really will slowly bring down the entire edifice.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 26, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Unbelievable. The left truly has hit bottom if it is so blinded by idiological rage that it is willing to believe that this president would willingly sacrifice the lives of 3000 americans for some unspecified political gain.

It's really sad to me. With the tone of the rhetoric being leveled at President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and the rest, with the lefts willingness to paint even the mildest of conservatives as some new form of Hitler, with the schools in the hands of the unions who block any meaningful attempt to require that students have the ability to think for themselves, and with the media's constant portrayal of conservatives as the aggressors in every political debate, I really dont see how any moderate voice could be heard in America.

I'm not yet willing to concede defeat but it certainly appears you people are holding a lot of the cards right now. Trotsky would be pleased.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 27, 2004 12:34:38 AM

"The left". "The right". It's easy to sound righteous when you condemn an entire range of opinions by referring to the few, most outrageous statements. But it doesn't have much to do with the world. There are a few on both sides using the Hitler analogy against some on the other. Sure, someone thinks Bush knew or even planned 9/11. That's not "the left" any more than those who thought Clinton was a murderer and drug-dealer who was selling the US out to some UN-world-government represented "the right." Not to mention how silly it is to talk about "the media." And then after that, "Trotsky would be pleased." "Hitler" is outrageous but "Trotsky" is OK?

Posted by: Phillip | Mar 27, 2004 4:57:32 AM

Barnabas,
Only the fringe left think Bush knew about the impending 9/11 attacks and did nothing. What the mainstream left believes is not that Bush was criminally culpable for the attacks but criminally negligent. Blinkered by ideological fixations on Iraq and state sponsored terrorism, the Bush administration completely mishandled events in the spring and summer of 2001. They knew something was up. John Ashcroft had already created a media stir that summer by only flying on government planes shunning commercial flights. What was that about? Considering recent 9/11 commission testimony we know that the administration had been warned of "Hiroshima" (al-Qaeda's intercepted words) scale attacks and possible use of aircraft as missles (Condi's denials not withstanding) all in the context of an unprecedented spike in "chatter" among the terrorists. And yet what was the administation's response? Increased airport security (no, but they sure protected their own)? Any "shaking of the trees" to dislodge data from intelligence agencies? Any rethinking of their defense policy? Any effort to locate known al-Qaeda operatives in the US? Seemingly, the only response was Bush's withdrawal to Crawford for a month's long vacation--the longest in presidential history. The Bush administration has to face accountability for presiding over the worst foreign attack on American soil since the early days of the Republic and its subsequent failure to hold not a single person or agency accountable. Clarke is the first administration official to express any sort of remorse for failures. His testimony has the clear ring of truth to it, but most strikingly in comparison to the Bush administration's responses, his apology has the ring of humility and humanity.

Posted by: fastback | Mar 27, 2004 9:49:02 AM

From this very article:

"the administration had been ignoring and suppressing warnings about terrorism from the very beginning, pushing it aside in favor of other foreign policy issues".

Ok so the Decembrist isn't THE Left but he, by his own admission is ON the left. Perhaps I should have said: "Many on the Left.....".

Discussion of how accurately the media (by which I'm referring to the press) portrays an issue is far from "silly". It is the Press's duty to present people with all the facts so that they may decide. The very reason we have an established "Freedom of the Press" is so that they can report the truth without fear of retribution. If you can't see that Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings are planted firmly on the Left then you are blind. There is an undeniable bias on the majority of editorial boards for television and print news.

Trotsky wasn't a genocidal maniac. I could see you being mad about Stalin or Lenin but Trotsky was a pussy cat. He favored an incremental move from capitalism to socialism or a "Permanent Revolution", though he did eventually join Lenin in the Bolsheviks. So as I said, Trotsky would be pleased.

Posted by: Barnabas Sackett | Mar 27, 2004 10:18:12 AM

Barnabas:

How do you get from "the administration had been ignoring and suppressing warnings about terrorism from the very beginning, pushing it aside in favor of other foreign policy issues".

to

"The left truly has hit bottom if it is so blinded by idiological rage that it is willing to believe that this president would willingly sacrifice the lives of 3000 americans for some unspecified political gain."

Few are saying "willingly"; many more are saying "incompetently", "clumsily", and "stupidly".

Anyway, your political bent is pretty clear - but try to use some integrity in your arguments.

BTW, It is the Press's duty to present people with all the facts so that they may decide is naive. We have a privately-owned free press - which means they can say whatever they please (within some very minor legal limitations) - facts often have little to do with it. The marketplace of competing ideas is where the public determines the "truth".

Of which the blogosphere is an active part.

Posted by: peBird | Mar 27, 2004 5:41:40 PM

Tratsky was more a Kzin (or if you prefer a tiger) than a pussy cat. Who do you think organized the Red Army?

Posted by: Eli Rabett | Mar 27, 2004 9:39:05 PM

Barnabas:

David Brooks, the conservative columnist at the New York Times, wrote this yesterday:

"Warren Bass, Michael Hurley and Alexis Albion are not exactly household names. But they are a few of the authors of the outstanding interim reports released by the 9/11 commission this week. In clear, substantive and credible prose, these staff reports describe the errors successive administrations made leading up to the terror attacks."

So, here's an excerpt from "Staff Statement 8", one of those substantive and credible pieces (note -- that link is to an Adobe Acrobat file):

"The policy streams converged at a meeting of the Principals Committee, the Administration’s first such meeting on al Qaeda issues, on September 4 (2001). Before this meeting, Clarke wrote to Rice summarizing many of his frustrations. He urged policymakers to imagine a day after a terrorist attack, with hundreds of Americans dead at home and abroad, and ask themselves what they could have done earlier. He criticized the military for what he called its unwillingness to retaliate for the U.S.S. Cole attack or strike Afghan camps. He accused senior CIA officials of trying to block the Predator program. He warned that unless adequate funding was found for the planned effort, the directive would be a hollow shell. He feared, apparently referring to President Bush’s earlier comment, that Washington might be left with a modest effort to swat flies, relying on foreign governments while waiting for the big attack."

That's not from any news media source, but primary material from the 9-11 Commission itself.

It certainly sounds like the Administration ignored and downplayed the threat.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien | Mar 28, 2004 5:46:06 AM

Oh, and a bit further up in that report:

"On July 2 (2001), the FBI issued a national threat advisory. Rice recalls asking Clarke on July 5 to bring additional law enforcement and domestic agencies into the CSG threat discussions. That afternoon, officials from a number of these agencies met at the White House, following up with alerts of their own, including FBI and FAA warnings. The next day, the CIA told CSG participants that al Qaeda members “believe the upcoming attack will be a ‘spectacular,’
qualitatively different from anything they have done to date.”

Do you remember all those public notices on the airwaves in July 2001 that there was a credible "spectacular" threat to the country from al Qaeda?

No... Me neither.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien | Mar 28, 2004 5:53:08 AM

"I don't think we would have even been able to believe it. Even those of us who hate Bush personally, have no trust at all in the people around him or his policies, probably could not have dealt with the thought that the president had not done the best he could to prevent such an attack before September 11, and was dealing with it seriously afterwards. Even when Time came out with basically the same story Clarke is telling, in August 2002, I don't think the press and public was ready to take the idea seriously, since it disappeared almost without notice. (The article is worth reading now; Clarke was obviously a key source, and it shows how much of what seems new this week was actually out there more than 18 months ago. Link above is to an archived copy at someone else's site, the Time version isn't free.) But since then, we've become so inured to the Bush administration's incompetence that the worst thing you could possibly find out sort of ceases to have shock value."

Many of us did know much of this, or could connect the dots, to use a now outmoded phrase of Cheney's on the matter. It wasn't a matter of hating Bush personally - I don't hate Bush personally, since Bush, by himself, would not be able to inflict the kind of damage that the Executive Branch over which he presides has. He isn't some malevolent genius, he's a self-centered guy along for the ride.

The difference is that many, many, many people simply could not believe that the nation really had changed, and that the amorality of the corporate animal really was in charge. Perhaps it is a generational gap - but this idea that Bush would not risk the security of the US for private political gain never held any currency. Of course he would risk someone else's well being for his own - that is how one gets ahead in this world, by playing with other people's money - and sticking to your business plan.

If something bad happens, then "well no one could have forseen that", to quote a line that I have received from all too many high ranking executives whose companies were in trouble.

- - -

What has changed, I think, is that there is now a long train of failures, by the executive branch, to manage events and the economy in a manner clearly designed for the public good. The tax cut package, and its effects, plus the follow on tax cut package, have, I think, much to do with this. Most people associated with government and worldly in the ways of Washington DC were willing to accept the first one. "They won the election afterall, this is the program they wanted to put in place."

But the second one, even in the face that the first one did not work, reeked of something. Even Reagan realized he had to compromise with Tip when the "across the board" tax cuts didn't have their intended effect. Even Nixon knew that he had to come to terms with a Congress that wanted different spending priorities.

It is this obvious indifference to what anyone else thinks, and obvious indifference to the effects of decisions, that makes the idea that they were warned before September 11th to move to a higher footing of readiness - and did not - credible. It is this that makes their Iraq obsession overwhelming the task of defeating AlQaeda credible. Anyone who was watching could tell this. The attempt to link Iraq to the anthrax attempt was a dead give away. "Bentonite in the spores shows it was Iraq." Exactly how does an industrial clay found in Wyoming that is used in oil drilling and kitty litter, show Iraq was involved? This and a dozen other signs of "turning the corner" were available.

They were available to people such as General Wesley Clark - who in the summer of 2002 was arguing that the decision to go to Iraq was "70%" a done deal and that the process was "cock-eyed". They were available to people like Scott Ritter, and Former Ambassador Gallucci - both of whom, while disagreeing with the methods of the other, agreed that Iraq was a red herring. These are serious people, who had been at the nexus of power, and were not, and are not, prone to hasty decisions based on an insufficiency of evidence.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry | Mar 28, 2004 8:17:00 AM

>Barnabas:
>How do you get from "the administration had been ignoring and suppressing warnings about terrorism from the very beginning, pushing it aside in favor of other foreign policy issues"

He takes a hard right off the map.

Let us face a fact. For a long time in American politics, many people simply averaged the positions of the left and the right, and decided accordingly as "moderates" or "independents". This method has not worked for public discourse. Partially because it has given inordinate air time to extremes, and partially because the Republican Party has explicitly understood this procedure - and found ways to manipulate it. If the public is going to cluster around the average of the extremes - then simply demonize the other extreme, and mainstream your own. Instead of the average of A and Z being M - the average of K and Z is about R or so.

We need to get back, in the US, to a dicussion dominated by the broad center, which sees itself, not as people fleeing from extremists that annoy them - let's face it, animal rights activists aren't a big political force - and instead setting the direction on policies whicha are in the general best interests. In the unifying moment of 911 we had an extraordinary chance to work through many of the crucial binds that were preventing the American economy and society from moving forward . Instead, people chose to follow the leader blindly.

This instinct - to herd behind leadership, and assume that ipso facto, those in charge know what to do - has been over and over again demonstrated to be folly, not wisdom. And the idea that citizens are consumers of politics who average the available offerings, tilting slightly this way or that to get what they want, is equally, bankrupt.

Fortunately, there is a growing sense that participation in power is truly the raod to freedom, and that a participatory Democracy is essential to the successful conclusion of the struggle which we now find ourselves in.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry | Mar 28, 2004 8:24:54 AM

"The other possibility is that all this information is just too much to take in in a single week, and that it really will slowly bring down the entire edifice."

People who are seriously plugged into political affairs often do not understand how long it takes for new information to have a major effect on the public consciousness. The only exceptions are events (usually crises and wars) so big that they create screaming headlines everywhere for days and push everything else off the TV news; and, in a few cases, extremely energetic campaign pushes in an election season (e.g. Truman v. Dewey, or Bush I's late surge in 1992 that was just a little too late to get him reelected).

Everything else is cumulative and slow-acting. On political blogs, especially in the comments sections, I often hear some version of the lament: "The clowns in the administration have done [insert list of outrages here] and they're still polling near 50 percent. Obviously the people are just irremediably stupid and we can't win." (The writer then announces plans to flee the country or form an armed resistance.) But if you look at those same poll numbers over time, the pattern is pretty clear: it just takes a long, long, long time to come down from something like the boost the administration got in September 2001, and the only significant gains since then were temporary ones from the Iraq invasion and the capture of Saddam Hussein. A new revelation about the administration's mendacity or incompetence is not going to make the numbers fall to the basement immediately, unless it turns into a scandal of Watergate proportions.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin | Mar 28, 2004 9:39:30 AM

What I find interesting in all this is the notion that somehow resignation in protest is so unacceptable here in the US.

Imagine what would happen if cabinet members had done what Robin Cook and Clare Short did in the UK?

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