The second criticism is that Bush was too interested in going after Iraq. That's hardly a new criticism, which may be why Clarke has arrogantly proclaimed himself a mind reader.I agree with Jonah. However, I think conservatives are making a mistake to discount the impact of Clarke's testimony and book. They play into the criticisms that others have been making and whatever the contradictions in what Clarke said previously and now, most people out there aren't paying that close attention. All they know are the headlines. And those aren't good. They all stress that Clarke is criticizing Bush on his war on terror. And Kerry and the Democrats will be backing all this up with ads and speeches so that it won't go away.
Clarke doesn't merely claim that in the days after 9/11 Bush wouldn't automatically take Clarke's word for it that Iraq wasn't involved in the attacks. He doesn't merely report that Bush had the effrontery of asking the Clinton holdover to "look again" at Iraq. No, Clarke has to insinuate that Bush somehow, kind of, sort of, wink-wink, wanted Clarke to frame Iraq.
In a meeting, the details of which the White House disputes, Clarke says the president acted in an "intimidating" way when Clarke objected to the suggestion that anyone other than al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.
"Now, he never said, 'make it up,'" Clarke told 60 Minutes, "but the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this.'"
Now, I do believe that the meeting took place. And I believe that Bush was probably overly dismissive of Clarke's insistence that al Qaeda was responsible (though Clarke does sound like he was a pain). Maybe that was a mistake on Bush's part. But, after all, in a relatively short period of time, Bush agreed with Clarke's recommendation to hit Afghanistan, not Iraq.
I also think it is outrageous and slanderous for Clarke to assume and assert that when the commander-in-chief asks an aide ? never mind one he doesn't know well and who served in the previous administration ? to do something that aide thinks is ill-advised, the most plausible interpretation is that the president was trying to falsely pin the blame on another country to start a war. That is a huge, implausible and dangerous leap.
But that's where we are today. For a whole bunch of reasons ? the Florida recount, Howard Dean's influence on the Democratic party, the failure to find WMDs, etc. ? the foreign-policy debate is no longer a debate over facts, it's a debate over motives.
One side simply believes, as a matter of theology, that Bush couldn't possibly have had sincere motives for war. It had to be a "lie," in the words of Ted Kennedy, "made up in Texas."
The other side, my side, finds such an analysis so irrational, so hateful and so profoundly dangerous to America that it becomes difficult not to wonder if such people hate George Bush more than they fear terrorists or love America.
I think Bush has made some serious mistakes in the war on terror, just as FDR and Churchill probably did in World War II. But Bush's critics, including Clarke, aren't offering finely tuned complaints; they're saying the instrument is not only poorly tuned, it's stolen, the owner is corrupt and stupid, the music is all wrong and the orchestra is evil.
Or maybe I'm just a worry wart.