Clarke: I thought Rumsfeld was joking about Bombing Iraq!
Long-time anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke, who served the US government for 30 years, has broken his silence about what he observed in the Bush White House in 2001, in a CBS 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. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We’ll never know. I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” ‘
After September 11, Clarke reports, ‘ “Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq. And we all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.’ “Initially, I thought when he said “There aren’t enough targets in– in Afghanistan” I thought he was joking. I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we’ve looked at this issue for years. For years we’ve looked and there’s just no connection.” ‘
Some of Clarke’s outrage is backed up by the account of former NSC member Daniel Benjamin. He points out that the CIA’s predator spyplane had Bin Laden in its sites in late 2000, but could not target him because the planes were then unarmed. They could easily have been armed quickly if the new Bush administration had made it a priority, but it dragged its feet (reportedly to the annoyance of Condi Rice):
‘ By January, there was a new administration. At the urging of the CIA, President Bush decided to arm the Predator with deadly Hellfire missiles, so the next time bin Laden was spotted, the United States could take a shot. But it didn’t happen before 9/11. Why? Daniel Benjamin, a member of President Clinton’s counter-terrorism team, charges the Bush administration moved too slowly getting armed Predators ready and did not send unarmed Predators back to look for bin Laden. “We tied an arm behind our back,” said Benjamin. “We lost the most promising new tool we had.” Part of the problem, everyone agrees, is bureaucratic infighting between the CIA and the Pentagon over who would pay and who would be blamed if something went wrong. After testing in June, the administration’s plan was to send the Predator to Afghanistan in September. President Bush had said he was tired of “swatting flies.” Did his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, ever say, “September isn’t good enough — we have got to get this back up there”? ‘
As a comment on Clarke’s experience. In fall of 2002 I taught my course on wars in the Middle East here at the University of Michigan. And I told the class that on September 12, Wolfowitz wanted to bomb Iraq in retaliation. The class laughed. I mean they burst out into giggles. I was taken aback. I was just telling the story as we knew it then. I hadn’t been going for a laugh. Out of the mouth of babes . . .