Memoir Criticizes Bush 9/11 Response
Like former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who spoke out in January, Clarke said some of Bush's leading advisers arrived in office determined to make war on Iraq. Nearly all of them, he said, believed Clinton had been "overly obsessed with al Qaeda."
During Bush's first week in office, Clarke asked urgently for a Cabinet-level meeting on al Qaeda. He did not get it -- or permission to brief the president directly on the threat -- for nearly eight months. When deputies to the Cabinet officials took up the subject in April, Clarke writes, the meeting "did not go well."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Clarke wrote, scowled and asked, "why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden." When Clarke told him no foe but al Qaeda "poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States," Wolfowitz is said to have replied that Iraqi terrorism posed "at least as much" of a danger. FBI and CIA representatives backed Clarke in saying they had no such evidence.
"I could hardly believe," Clarke writes, that Wolfowitz pressed the "totally discredited" theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, "a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue."
Wolfowitz, in a telephone interview last night, cited statements by CIA Director George J. Tenet and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell affirming that Iraq once trained al Qaeda operatives in bomb making and document forgery.
"Given what George Tenet and Colin Powell have said publicly about Iraqi links to al Qaeda, I just find it hard to understand how Dick Clarke can be so dismissive of the possibility that there were links between them," Wolfowitz said.
Like Tenet, Clarke was a Clinton holdover who faced initial skepticism from Bush loyalists. But Rice asked him to keep the counterterrorism portfolio and discouraged him from leaving in February 2003.
In the first minutes after hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, Rice placed Clarke in her chair in the Situation Room and asked him to direct the government's crisis response. The next day, Clarke returned to find the subject changed to Iraq.
"I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq," he writes.
In discussions of military strikes, "Secretary Rumsfeld complained that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan" -- where al Qaeda was based under protection of the Taliban -- "and that we should consider bombing Iraq."
Clarke's disputes with the White House are notable in part because his muscular national security views allied him often over the years with most of the leading figures advising Bush on terrorism and Iraq. As an assistant secretary of state in 1991, Clarke worked closely with Wolfowitz and then-Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney to marshal the 32-nation coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Clarke sided with Wolfowitz -- against Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- in a losing argument to extend that war long enough to destroy Iraq's Republican Guard. Later, Clarke was principal author of the hawkish U.S. plan to rid Iraq of its nonconventional weapons under threat of further military force.
In his experience, Clarke writes, Bush's description by critics as "a dumb, lazy rich kid" is "somewhat off the mark." Bush has "a results-oriented mind, but he looked for the simple solution, the bumper sticker description of the problem."
"Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary [for al Qaeda] by invading," Clarke writes. "What was unique about George Bush's reaction" was the additional choice to invade "not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq." In so doing, he estranged allies, enraged potential friends in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and produced "more terrorists than we jail or shoot."
"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq,' " Clarke writes.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
This book is the first detailed look at the Bush administration's wartime performance by a key participant.
(Simon & Schuster Inc. Via AP)