Finally, a WMD
Richard Clarke's bombshell
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI
The revelations of March 21 by former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS's "60 Minutes" detonated a virtual weapon of mass destruction amid the foundations of neocon war policy. Clarke is not just some odd, mendicant war critic. Nor is he the kind of ex-administration figure, such as the much-smeared Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, whose account can be easily dismissed on grounds that he might not have possessed full information on American national-security strategy. (Ironically enough, Clarke fully corroborates O'Neill's charge that the Bush regime targeted Iraq from the beginning.)
No, Clarke is neither a random munchkin nor an out-of-the-looper. He was George W. Bush's top advisor on counterterrorism in 2001. He was obviously a central figure in the administration's thinking about terrorism. His revelations provide more confirmation that Iraq was the target of attack by the Bush neocon war party long before September 11, 2001, and that they were grasping for a pretext to publicly justify such an attack. Clarke brings out all that information in his new book, Against All Enemies.
Clarke says he was concerned about al Qaeda early in the administration, but no one else showed interest. In a Newsweek article posted on the MSNBC site, Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas write:
Clarke recounts how on Jan. 24, 2001, he recommended that the new president's national-security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, convene the president's top advisers to discuss the Qaeda threat. One week later, Bush did. But according to Clarke, the meeting had nothing to do with bin Laden. The topic was how to get rid of Saddam Hussein. "What does that tell you?" Clarke remarked to Newsweek. "They thought there was something more urgent. It was Iraq. They came in there with their agenda, and [al Qaeda] was not on it." ("Storm Warnings," slated for print publication in Newsweek's March 29 issue)
Clarke's contention that the administration downgraded al Qaeda as a threat is backed up, Isikoff and Thomas point out, by the fact that "at the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft downgraded terrorism as a priority, choosing to place more emphasis on drug trafficking and gun violence."
Instead of dealing with al Qaeda in the months prior to 9/11, the administration wanted to focus on Saddam Hussein. Neocon Paul Wolfowitz took the lead in emphasizing Saddam, even though Clarke constantly reported that there was absolutely no evidence that Iraq was sponsoring terrorism. Wolfowitz has been the brains behind Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and has been dubbed the "intellectual godfather of the Iraq war" by Time Magazine's Mark Thompson.
According to Newsweek's Isikoff and Thomas,
Clarke sharply whacks Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as the leader of the Get Saddam squad. When the White House finally did convene a top-level meeting to discuss terrorism, in April 2001, Wolfowitz rebuffed Clarke's effort to focus on al Qaeda. According to Clarke, Wolfowitz said, "Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?" The real threat, Wolfowitz insisted, was state-sponsored terrorism orchestrated by Saddam. In the meeting, says Clarke, Wolfowitz cited the writings of Laurie Mylroie, a controversial academic who had written a book advancing an elaborate conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Editor's note. How pleasant it is to see, at long last, System journalists accuse a System intellectual of confecting an "elaborate conspiracy theory"! Nicholas Strakon.
The Mylroie reference is very interesting. Mylroie is a neocon, and other neocons have picked up and trumpeted her Iraq-involvement thesis. While Saddam was still in power she claimed that al Qaeda was a front for Iraqi intelligence. And she emphasized Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction. Her book was originally published by the American Enterprise Institute, a leading neocon think tank. Regan Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, released the book in paperback. HarperCollins is owned by pro-neocon/pro-Zionist Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Fox News Channel, which, in turn, booked Mylroie as an Iraq expert during the build-up to the war. Fox News was the leading media cheerleader for the war, and Mylroie's commentary served the same war-propaganda purposes as Ahmed Chalabi's bogus intelligence. (See "Osama, Saddam, and the Bombs" by David Plotz, Slate, September 28, 2001.)
Clarke says that in July 2001 there was considerable communications traffic among al Qaeda operatives, which signaled that some major terrorist event might be coming up. Clarke wanted the Bush administration to focus on that danger, but Bush and his functionaries did not take any precautions.
After the attack occurred Rumsfeld was talking about attacking Iraq, even though there was no evidence that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
After September 11, the White House pressed Clarke to find evidence that Iraq was involved in the terrorism. Clarke could find none, but to him the implication was clear: he should come up with something.
In the build-up to the attack on Iraq, the administration deceptively continued to suggest that there was a link between 9/11 terrorism and Saddam, despite the fact that there was no evidence for it. The claimed connection was used for the propagandistic purpose of winning public support for the attack on Iraq. Wolfowitz congenitally unabashable, it seems once again adduced the purported connection in a phone call to the Washington Post regarding Clarke's statements. The Post's Barton Gellman writes: "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." ("Memoir Criticizes Bush 9/11 Response," March 22, 2004)
Clarke emphasizes that Bush's focus on Iraq actually served to increase the terrorist danger. Clarke writes that Bush "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."
The U.S. attack on Iraq only confirmed what Bin Laden and the Islamic extremists were saying about the United States and thus simply strengthened support for terrorism in the Muslim world. At the same time, with so many American troops and resources bogged down in Iraq, the United States has been less able to counter terrorism elsewhere. As Clarke stated in his "60 Minutes" interview: "... Frankly I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism."
Naturally the administration is out to discredit Clarke. Now, Clarke is not a Democrat, and his sentiments are not antiwar in principle. In fact he is a foreign-policy hawk and career government official who served five presidents, three of them Republicans. The Post's Gellman points out:
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.
Those considerations don't faze the Bushite smear-meisters, who have attacked every other official who has dared to reveal the deceptive inner workings of the administration. Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo writes:
The Republican attack machine is trying to paint Clarke as some kind of partisan Democrat an unlikely characterization of a 30-year career in government at the highest levels, starting out in the Reagan administration. What we are witnessing here is yet the latest episode in an extraordinary series of whistle-blowing accounts by government insiders: Ambassador Joe Wilson, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, and now Clarke, all patriotic Americans pointing to a dangerous vulnerability. ("Is Anybody in Charge?", Antiwar.com, March 22, 2004)
To Raimondo's list let us add Paul O'Neill and also Greg Thielmann, who was director of the strategic, proliferation, and military issues office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The Bush smear machine attacked O'Neill for saying that the pre-9/11 Bush administration was focused on Iraq, which Clarke has now confirmed. O'Neill was smeared for telling the obvious truth. And all the senior officials of the administration allowed that smear of one of their former associates to proceed without a peep!
What Clarke reports is not new. Its importance lies in the fact that it credibly and strongly corroborates information that has come to the fore already. It bolsters the argument that the neoconservatives who loom large in the Bush administration had been planning to attack Iraq for years and simply needed a pretext to gain the necessary public and congressional support. (See my article "The war on Iraq: Conceived in Israel," TLD, February 10, 2003.)
The Bush neocons tried to connect Iraq to the 9/11 terrorism in order to justify an attack but couldn't get it done, howevermuch they kept implying that Saddam was complicit. When they failed, they moved on to the WMD lies. Their strenuous searching for a justification for attacking Iraq indicates that their fallacious WMD claims were not the result of error. In the end they got exactly the results they wanted. The neocons promoted much of the most extreme WMD propaganda through their Office of Special Plans and their touting of the deceptive Ahmed Chalabi. In short, all of the "intelligence errors" enabled the neocon war party to mount the attack on Iraq that they had so ardently sought for so long.
Beyond illustrating the pre-9/11 goal of attacking Iraq, the refusal to consider the al Qaeda alerts might have precluded the 9/11 attacks from being prevented. I have not read Clarke's book, but that issue seems to call for more analysis. A full investigation may lead to the conclusion that the Bush administration's relative indifference to the al Qaeda threat facilitated the success of the 9/11 terrorist acts that ultimately set the stage for the attack on Iraq. (I am not, of course, referring to an Official Government Investigation. They are intended to cover up taboo truths, not reveal them.) One is entitled to wonder whether the administration's indifference, which in the end served to achieve a major policy goal, may have been deliberate rather than accidental; but much more evidence is needed.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration is averse to releasing any relevant information dealing with the pre-9/11 period. When one recalls that Mossad agents lived on the same street as chief 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta, and that Mossad agents gleefully took pictures of the burning Trade Towers from across the Hudson River, one moves into dark and dangerous territory indeed.
March 23, 2004
Further reading on my concluding observation.
Justin Raimondo has pulled together much information in a short book, The Terror Enigma: Israel and the September 11 Connection, and a brief synopsis can be found at Chronicles.
I have also written about the Israeli involvement. See "The Israeli spy ring and September 11," April 14, 2002; and "September 11 and the war in Palestine," April 23, 2002.
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