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Richard Clarke takes to the pages of the New York Times to deliver a lesson that everyone should have learned after 2004. The controversial former counterterrorism chief reminds Americans that we cannot secure the nation through blame games, and that the time has long since passed for us to exercise hindsight and start looking forward:
For most Americans the history is clear and well told in the 9/11 commission report: Almost 3,000 people were killed. In the years before that terrible day, the Clinton administration prevented some attacks and tried to destroy Al Qaeda and its leadership, but was unable to do so, in part because the institutional bureaucracy did not believe the magnitude of the threat.
As for the Bush administration, it deferred action on Al Qaeda until after 9/11, and then took a number of steps in response, including invading Iraq, but was also unable to destroy Al Qaeda or its leaders.
In short, both administrations failed.
All the finger-pointing and hunting for scapegoats last week won’t rectify those failures, or help us avoid future ones. Fortunately, unlike too many of our political leaders and pundits, most Americans are far more concerned about what we are doing now in the name of fighting terrorism than about petty partisan bickering about the past.
Unfortunately, Clarke uses this argument briefly to open an attack on the Bush administration's decision to go into Iraq, which is another form of the same impulse he decries. The Iraq invasion happened three years ago. We now have to fight the terrorists in front of us, in Iraq and elsewhere, and we need to focus on that task. How do we best ensure the survival of the democratic government in Iraq and defeat the terrorists who want to destroy it? That should also be our focus.
He also attacks Bush for pushing too hard to get broader powers to fight terrorism. This seems a rather strange argument, considering the success we have had in preventing another major attack. Clarke also plays the canard of Congress refusing to provide Clinton with anti-terrorism tools he requested, which is a reference to the Aviation Security and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, a measure that had a lot more to do with domestic investigation of gunpowder than international terrorism. In fact, Congress earlier that year had passed the Terrorism Prevention Act, which really did provide counterterrorism tools to the federal government. At any rate, the powers granted to the executive since 9/11 have come from Congress, and Congress can rescind or adjust them if it feels that the executive is abusing them.
However, for the most part, Clarke has it correct. We need to look at the status quo and decide what steps we need to take in today's situation to make the nation and our assets abroad safer. We need to end the partisan bickering over what happened before 9/11 and resolve to do better in the future.Sphere It View blog reactions
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