THE SPINE JULY 18, 2009
Richard A Clarke came from inside--high-inside--American intelligence. And he was against the Iraq war. It was enough to make him a liberal hero. But in his testimony to (and around) the 9/11 commission he was also critical, devastatingly so, about how the White House under both President Clinton and President Bush had been so pre-occupied with other matters that they'd left the war against terrorism which we needed direly more or less neglected. We know that Clinton barely functioned as president in his second term, and we all know why. We also know that those around him were so anxious to bestow on the leaders of al Qaeda as full a measure of the Bill of Rights as the inner circle could imagine.
Sandy Berger, George Tenet, Mme. Albright, Janet Reno, the others, what a weak lot. And, as one Democratic member of the 9/11 commission concluded, the Clintonites treated defeating al Qaeda and Islamic terror as a matter of criminal procedure. They wanted terrorists brought in alive. They worried about whether they'd be able to persuade a jury to convict. They palsied over ancillary damage. They thought they'd be able to do some kind of trade deal. On and on, they worried.
Clarke was appalled by all of this then. And he is appalled by it know.
"Most Americans might not think it was a big secret," he writes in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, "that CIA agents were trying to kill al Qaeda members, but in the weird world of Washington intelligence, it was." Or so many people in the administration and in Congress are trying to pretend it was.
We are now back in the days of Senator Frank Church which means 1975 when he tried and roughly succeeded in making national security a gentleman's business.
Yes, there is a "delicate balance between the rule of law and running an effective intelligence agency," Clarke writes. But, as of now, that balance does not exist.
It is puzzling that some people object to U.S. personnel killing terrorists with sniper rifles or car bombs, but have little apparent problem with CIA and Department of Defense personnel tracking down specific terrorist leaders with Predator drones and killing those leaders with the unmanned aircraft's Hellfire missiles.
Clarke goes on to say that the terrorist groups "see little difference in how we kill their leaders." He attributes what success we've had in AfPak precisely to these operations.
A little realism, please.