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April 6, 2004
Clinton Report: Its Conclusions and Mine

Perhaps the most striking feature of the December 2000 national-security report's conclusion is its banality. It starts out by mouthing platitudes about how the world holds the US in high regard, relying on us as a "catalyst of coalitions" -- as if forming coalitions alone have any merit without an indication as to whether they contribute to success, or mire us in paralysis of endless debate and resolution issuance. Nothing specific about terrorism or even missile defence or any other strategic policy discussed in the report makes it into the conclusion. Instead, it closes with a recommendation to remain engaged globally and a warning to avoid our isolationist impulses, for our own good as well as that of the world.

It makes an oddly bureaucratic, bland ending to what actually is an interesting and well-written report. The report represents Clinton foreign-policy objectives fairly well -- and that's why this report reveals Richard Clarke as a partisan hack in his testimony to the 9/11 panel. In the Clinton administration's own words, terrorism, while a concern, hardly occupied a central place in its national-security strategy, as Clarke described. Clarke talked about how the previous administration had a laser-like focus on al-Qaeda, and yet that name never appears in this report, and Afghanistan -- where Clarke knew AQ to have come under the protection of the Taliban -- gets less than 300 words' worth of mention in the document's 45,000 words. The most prominent national-security effort presented to Congress in this report was national missile defense, the same program that former Clinton national-security aides say distracted Bush and his team from Islamofascist terror. Even when Islamist terror and its state support was mentioned, specifically regarding Iran, the Clinton team recommended entering into a dialogue "without preconditions" in order to normalize relations between the two countries.

In historical context, this may be understandable, although terribly myopic in hindsight. There will be much to learn from a careful review of this document, made so obsolete by four airplanes on September 11th. But it does provide a clear rebuttal to Richard Clarke's book and his testimony that the current administration reversed a superior counterterrorism policy from the previous one.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 6, 2004 6:46 PM

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