March 31, 2004

The Partisan Agenda Of Against All Enemies

The very first lines of the preface to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" bear repeating:

"From inside the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon for thirty years, I disdained those who departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it. It seemed somehow inappropriate to expose, as Bismark put it, 'the making of sausage.'

So why the book? And why shouldn't people disdain Clarke per his own criteria?

Because, per Clarke's conceit, History (the capital H kind) demanded his tale be published:

"Nonetheless, there are some conversations that must be recalled because the citizenry and history have a justifiable need to know."

Very convenient. But misleading.

Rather, a primary reason the book was penned was likely simply in pursuit of aggressively partisan ends (rather than some noble dispensation of historical verities, as Clarke would have it).

Ironically, however, Clarke's account isn't hurting Bush's poll numbers--as Americans are smelling out Clarke's barely concealed partisan agenda (and significant biases).

Am I being unfair to Dick Clarke?

Here's a sampler from the book.

Lynne Cheney is a "right-wing idealogue" (p.18) and Dick Cheney is a "radical conservative[s]" with "almost extreme beliefs." (p.19)

Laurie Mylroie's account of the '93 WTC bombing "gathered a small cult following" consisting of people like Paul Wolfowitz and "cabalist" James Woolsey. (p.95)

"Republicans in the Senate, such as Orrin Hatch," are held culpable for opposing legislation that sought to expand use of the organized crime wiretap provisions to terrorist suspects. (p.99) (Trust me, it wasn't just Republican types who opposed the legislation).

But Clarke is just getting warmed up.

FBI Director Louis Freeh, who, er, Clarke isn't a big fan of:

"His back channels to Republicans in the Congress and to supporters in the media made it impossible for the President to dismiss him without running the risk of making him a martyr of the Republican right..." (p. 117)

Ah yes, that fearsome Republican right wing conspiracy! (Freeh is a particular target of Clarke's. Later, Clarke even ominously informs us Freeh is alleged to be a member of Opus Dei).

On John Ashcroft, Clarke approvingly quotes someone saying this about the Attorney General:

"He can't really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can't get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?" (p. 256)

Clarke's response: "...he did lose a Senate relection to a dead man."

Indeed, few senior members of the Bush Administration are spared.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld is painted in dark, Nixonian colors:

"There are probably days when Donald Rumsfeld thinks lots of Americans in America are enemies...but that should not give him the authority to lock them up without recourse." (p. 257)

Clarke could have made a sober point here (he was discoursing on the Jose Padilla arrest--intelligent people can disagree on the merits).

Instead, as so often in his book, his naked partisanship overcomes his judiciousness.

Contrast all this with his defense of Bill Clinton:

"I was angrier, almost incredulous, that the bitterness of Clinton's enemies knew no bounds, that they intended to hurt not just Clinton but the country by turning the President's personal problem into a global, public circus for their own political ends." (To hell with any violation of Paula Jones' civil rights!)

Or this gem:

"Ironically, Clinton was blamed for a 'Wag the Dog' strategy in 1998 dealing with the real threat from al-Qaeda but no one labeled Bush's 2003 war on Iraq as a 'Wag the Dog' move even though the 'crisis' was manufactured and Bush political advisor Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war.' (p. 242)

Talk about spin! Paul Begala (even evil Karl Rove) would blush at this one!

There's more, of course.

The war in Iraq was simply "gin[ned] up."

The view of Bush as a "dumb, lazy rich kid" was only "somewhat off the mark." (Which part was on the mark, the reader is left to wonder?)

Clarke approvingly quotes a journalist as describing the Bushies as "more vindictive than the Mafia."

Amidst all of this partisan vitriole, Clarke depicts Bill Clinton as a quasi-angelic figure, oozing empathy--when, that is, not mastering intricate policy details, perusing Gabriel Garcia Marquez' galleys (the man devoured Latin American magical realism, even before its publication, we are breathlessly informed) or not (ever so precociously) prosecuting the real War on Terror with resolute aplomb.

Clarke dutifully trots out several Clinton anecdotes that favorably showcase his empathy--particularly after terrorist incidents.

"He's so kind," a "grieving mother" is quoted as describing Clinton after the TWA 800 disaster.

Maybe, but Bush has comforted grieving families too.

Just don't look to Clarke to fill you in on the details.

Meanwhile, Al Gore comes off as a robust, Theodore Roosevelt type.

Amidst a debate regarding the merits of "snatch" operations, then White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler was advising Clinton such operations ran afoul of international law.

Enter Teddy Roosevelt (sorry, I mean Al Gore):

"That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass." (p.144)

One almost pictures Al Gore, amidst all the Rough Riders, rushing San Juan Hill!

Later, Leon Fuerth, Gore's National Security Advisor, is described thusly: "Feurth understood security and terrorism issues as well as anyone I knew." (p.97)

Question.

Is it just me, or do you think Clarke was bummed out about the Florida recount results?

Listen, Clarke is a smart, talented and highly experienced bureaucrat who is passionate about America, its security, the pursuit of our national interest generally.

His views therefore merit real and protracted attention.

In that vein, I'll be analyzing some of the policy points made in his book in a follow-on post soon.

But you can't divorce his policy analysis (about how best to prosecute the war on terror) from the unfortunate revisionistic tendency (Bush=Bad; Clinton=Good) he falls prey to so often given his rapacious partisanship.

And that's probably why his book (and the accompanying media feeding frenzy) isn't likely to materially hurt Bush politically.

Put simply, the American people are too smart to be spun this transparently and brazenly.

Finally, like Clarke, most Americans will likely end up disdaining someone who "departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it."

Put differently, and returning to Clarke's Bismarkian allusions, one shouldn't air the sausage-making so.

It ends up smelling pretty putrid.

[Note: Any emphasis above mine]

Posted by Gregory at March 31, 2004 07:25 AM
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