April 02, 2004

In-House Note

A quick note to my regular readers who may be somewhat perturbed that this blog seems to have become something of a non-stop Clarke-o-rama.

Please be assured I'll be turning to other matters soon.

The Clarke story really got to me, I guess, because I didn't want to see 9/11 get politicized.

Having lived through 9/11 in NYC, I vividly recall the massive fellow-feeling that descended on the city and nation.

It's now, sadly, been lost is a sea of recriminations.

And Clarke's book, along with the fact that we are in an election year, are likely the biggest reasons.

I believe, quite fervently, that everyone was massively taken by surprise by the events of 9/11.

That was part of the evil genius of the attack.

Who can forget the massive incredulity we collectively felt as the Towers actually crumbled around us?

No one imagined an attack of such devastating magnitude and epoch-shaping scope.

Including Richard Clarke.

In his book, he writes, re: the first chance he had to actually collect his thoughts on the day of 9/11:

"..I caught my breath for the first time that day:

-This was the "Big al Qaeda Attack" we had warned was coming and it was bigger than almost anything we had imagined, short of a nuclear weapon. With the towers collapsed, the death toll could be anywhere from 10,000 to maybe as high as 50,000. No one knew. And it wasn't over. I kept hearing in my mind Marlon Brando's whispered words from Apocalypse Now, "The horror, the horror...."

--Now we would bomb the camps, probably invade Afghanistan. Of course, now Bin Laden would not be at the camps. Indeed, by now the camps were probably as empty as the White House. We would begin a long fight against al-Qaeda, with no holds barred. But it was too late. They had proven the superpower was vulnerable, that they were smarter, they had killed thousands.

--The recriminations would flow like water from a fire hose. There was no time for thinking like that. Not now. We had to move fast. Other attacks were probably in the works and had to be stopped. The country was in shock. The government had largely fled Washington. The nation needed reassurance. We needed to find our dead."

[emphasis added]

Note that Clarke basically admits, short of a nuke, that he hadn't conceived of an attack of this scope himself.

That's not to say, of course, that more robust anti-terror action by both Administrations (though one was in power for eight years and the other a mere eight months) might have harmed al-Qaeda's operational capacity (or exposed the 9/11 cell members) so that, just perhaps, we might have been spared the horrors of 9/11.

But I doubt it. We, none of us, fully comprehended the nature of the threat.

A clinical examination of that possibility (that 9/11 may have been avoided) might be called for, going forward, by a judicious top-rank historian (doubtless many historians will broach the topic in the years ahead). But we, meaning the American public generally, didn't deserve Clarke's highly partisan 'blame game' tome.

That much, at least, I'm pretty sure about.

Note too, by the way, the bit quoted above from Against All Enemies about how the "recriminations would flow like water from a fire hose."


I must confess, I certainly didn't feel that emotion on the day of 9/11 or for a long time after.

And so it's worth noting, even as he raced about the White House grounds at one of the epicenters of national crisis management (Rudy Guliani and the FDNY manning the epicenter down at Ground Zero)--that this thought even crossed his mind.

Perhaps, as a bureaucrat entrusted with leading counter-terrorist efforts, one might have had a passing thought about recriminations coming down the pike.

But on that day? With all the meta-events unfolding so dramatically around him?

I would have thought there was a lot else to think about other than recriminations.

Finally, though, I'm saddened a highly talented bureaucrat would, because of somewhat delusional pretenses that his account is so especially critical towards setting the historical record straight (whether because of disatisfaction stemming from the allegedly AWOL-on-al-Q-front first eight first months of Bush's Administration or the war in Iraq), ascribe blame, in highly partisan fashion, regarding 9/11.

So the above by way of explanation on why there's been so much Clarke-blogging over at B.D.

And coming soon, a final review or two of Clarke's book that I think will be well worth reading.

And then, I promise, on to new topics!

Posted by Gregory at April 2, 2004 10:54 AM
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