The Clark pitch

John O'Sullivan:


"Al-Qaida's attacks are treated as natural catastrophes such as an earthquake. They simply happen. If they succeed in destroying our homes, then the fault belongs to us for not installing anti-earthquake technology. Thus former anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke is widely praised for apologizing for the failure to prevent 9/11. Yet 9/11 was an act committed by radical Islamist terrorists who deliberately sought out the weak links in our defenses. Clarke had sought valiantly to prevent it -- that was the theme of his testimony -- but he admitted that his proposals would not have succeeded. So the net effect of his apology was to shift the blame from al-Qaida to others in government who might have been negligent in averting the terrorist threat. And the fickle finger of suspicion pointed to -- President Bush and everyone in his national security team except Clarke.


"If Osama is not the enemy, who is? Like Clarke, many in the media would like to pin the blame for 9/11 on the Bush administration. Democrats are tempted to go along with this theory. Yet this charge was never going to stick -- for a very simple reason. Bush had been in office only eight months when al-Qaida struck, whereas President Clinton had been in office for eight years during which the USS Cole and the World Trade Center were bombed. It strains credulity to suggest that Bush should have worked up a plan to destroy al-Qaida in less than a year when Clinton had failed to produce one in almost a decade.

"There was a ingenious but brief attempt to suggest that Clinton had handed Bush 'a plan' to do just that, which Bush had then cast aside negligently. If that had been so, it would have shown Clinton in a worse light than Bush -- postponing courageous action until the very moment when his successor arrived to risk the consequences. To be fair to Clinton, however, it was not true. There was no U.S. plan to attack al-Qaida in safe havens such as Afghanistan -- merely a set of lesser anti-terrorist policies that the Bush administration had then faithfully followed.

"This became clear as the week went on and the fine print in Clarke's testimony exonerated the Bush administration from advance culpability for Sept. 11. The attack then switched to Bush's post-9/11 supposed obsession with Iraq that diverted him from fighting al-Qaida. Clarke's little vignette -- in which Bush darkly suggested that he might try finding out if Iraq had a hand in 9/11 -- was held to be damning. How short memories are! The United States invaded Afghanistan, overturned the Taliban regime, killed or captured large numbers of terrorists, and sent bin Laden on his underground travels only two years ago. Iraq came later.

"How can we explain this eager suspicion of Bush against the evidence -- this drive to blame hidden enemies at home rather than declared ones abroad for the Pearl Harbors of our day? Since Pearl Harbor many Americans, especially the cultural elites and the left, have overcome patriotism. They like to think of themselves as citizens of the world above petty national prejudices. But in practice they are merely inverted patriots who tend to take the opposite side in any foreign quarrel.

"They cannot, of course, take bin Laden's side over 9/11. Their alienation does not bite quite so deep. So they react in two other ways. They side with France and Germany over how to handle the war on terror. And they seek reasons to blame America for attacks upon itself. Their ire is especially excited by a U.S. administration that strikes a patriotic note like the Bush administration. But they are a greater danger to the Democrats. For if the Democrats go along with the inverted patriots in their ranks, they will discover in November just how small is the number of voters they represent."


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