Richard A. Clarke’s commentary on top government leaders, from his new book, “Against All Enemies.”
President Bush: Clarke blames Bush for doing a “terrible job” fighting terrorism. Says “the critique of him as a dumb, lazy rich kid was somewhat off the mark,” but that Bush looks for “the simple solution, the bumper-sticker description of the problem.”
President Clinton: Clarke says he was “beyond mad” over Clinton’s lack of discretion that led to his impeachment, but generally praises Clinton as a charismatic, sharp thinker who couldn’t get CIA, Pentagon and FBI to deal with terrorism issues. Says Clinton’s approval of missile attacks against Iraq over the assassination attempt during Bush’s father’s presidency deterred Saddam Hussein from future terrorism against America.
Vice President Dick Cheney: Clarke describes Cheney as quiet and calm but radically conservative. Says Cheney believes U.S. could handle Iraq alone and “everyone else is just more trouble than they are worth.” Blames Cheney for failing to speak out about the threat of al-Qaida during senior White House meetings.
CIA Director George Tenet: Clarke says Tenet “was as much concerned with the threat of al-Qaida as anyone in the government prior to September 11” but was struggling with internal rebuilding at the CIA. Tenet is quoted as saying in June 2001, “It’s my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one.” Says Tenet and Clarke jointly scrapped a doomed plan to capture bin Laden in 1996 at the heavily guarded Tarnak farm in Afghanistan. Clarke complains regularly about failures by CIA to insert spies effectively into Afghanistan and Somalia.
Human Rights Watch
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: Clarke says Rice, who effectively demoted Clarke after Bush’s election, has “a closer relationship with the second President Bush than any of her predecessors had with the presidents they reported to.” Says she “looked skeptical” when Clarke briefed her early in 2001 about al-Qaida threats.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Clarke accuses Rumsfeld of plotting to bomb Iraq one day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite any evidence of Iraqi involvement. Says Rumsfeld noted there weren’t any good bombing targets in Afghanistan but plenty of targets in Iraq. “At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the president did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq,” Clarke wrote.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz: Clarke quotes him as saying during an April 2001 meeting, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and telling Clarke, “You give bin Laden too much credit.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell: Clarke praises Powell for urging focus on al-Qaida, not Iraq, immediately after 2001 attacks. Credited for recognizing al-Qaida threat early in 2001.
Attorney General John Ashcroft: Clarke criticizes Ashcroft over his response to the 2001 attacks, especially over handling of alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant. “The attorney general, rather than bringing us together, managed to persuade much of the country that the needed reforms of the Patriot Act were actually the beginning of fascism.” Clarke says an unidentified staffer asked him after meeting with Ashcroft early in 2001, “He can’t really be that slow, can he?” Clarke’s response: “He did lose a Senate re-election to a dead man.”