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Clarke: Watergate redux

By Lewis Z. Koch

Shed no tears about the bashing the embattled Bush administration is receiving from its former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.


Thanks to Clarke's kiss-and-tell insiders memoir, "Against All Enemies," the American public now has a clear picture of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Bush team, along with their massive failures to comprehend the menace from al Queda, both before and after 9/11 (Clinton and his administration comes in for a fair share of blame too.).

Clarke, however, has taken a page from the Watergate playbook, embracing a quest for power while at the same time proposing dubious initiatives.

The key question is: What did the President know and when did he know it?

The Bush administration has forgotten the lesson learned the hard way by President Richard Nixon, the same President who, on November 17th, 1973 told an audience of newspaper editors, "I am not a crook."

In 1972 Nixon appointed young John Dean as Counselor to the President. Dean (much like Clarke) desperately wanted to be a player in the White House. As relayed by J. Anthony Lukas, in perhaps the best book ever written about Watergate, "Nightmare," Nixon was determined to keep an "enemies list" of those people who were seeking to thwart his re-election.

He shared his twisted plans with his sycophant Dean. As Nixon put it to Dean, "They are asking for it and they are going to get it. We never used this power [the Internal Revenue Service] in the first four years as you know. We have never used it. We have never used the [FBI] bureau, and we have not used the Justice Department, but things are going to change now. And they [the federal bureaucrats] are going to do it now or go."

And Dean's response? "What an exciting prospect!"

But it was to be Dean's "exciting" and devastatingly accurate memory of Nixon and the White House felons-in-waiting, put forth in marathon testimony before impeachment hearings that spelled the end for Richard Nixon.

Dean calmly, coldly, proffered a word-for-word, phrase- by-phrase recitation of the Nixon/White House advisors/Cabinet officers misdeeds, high crimes and misdemeanors.

It made an end to Nixon's reign inevitable. When it was revealed that Nixon had been audio taping all his White House conversations, it turned out that yes, Dean had recalled it all correctly, crooked word for crooked word.

Three decades and six presidents later, we have Richard Clarke, instead of John Dean, testifying before the 9/11 Commission, providing an insider's ear and eye to the clumsy, Machiavellian missteps of the Bush administration and President Bush himself.

Clarke's tale sounds right. I believe it. Just as Dean's words sounded right. Verisimilitude rings true to the ear that way.

Clarke is also a fierce political infighter. Anyone who survives in White Houses under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II — becoming more powerful with each administration — is a bureaucrat who knows how to serve his own political and personal interests. (This is a guy who stuffed a .357 into his belt as he strode back in the White House after 9/11 — to what end, shoot it out with Condi? give his crotch greater heft?)

Clarke is also responsible for coining the doom-laden phase "Cyber Pearl Harbor," a hobgoblin cyberterrorism threat as realistic as the 1983 computer-cum-nuclear doomsday film War Games.

Alert to Clarke (now ensconced in the comfortable groves of academe at Harvard, counting his royalties) — Hey Richard, name one person who died from cyberterrorism?

It was also Clarke who initially (and eventually successfully) sought to weaken the Freedom of Information Act as it relates to corporations. Thanks to the Department of Homeland's enabling legislation, John Ashcroft's dark propensities and Clarke's hype-vocabulary, it's going to be tougher to chase corporate do-badders via their records.

The next time one tries to chase corporate corruption, Haliburton, for example, you'll get a response, something to the effect that "No, you can't have that information because of our cooperation with Homeland Security." Kinda makes Dick Cheney feel all warm and cosy all over.

It also makes one kinda want to tell Clarke where to shove his .357.

Do I believe Clarke about what happened in the White House?

Sure. Same as I believed John Dean.

That still doesn't make me want to sit next to either one of them at a dinner party.

Through Clarke's prism, we see President Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as she is briefed by Clarke on al Queda. "[H]er facial expression gave me [Clarke] the impression she had never heard the term before," or Lynn Cheney, who, on September 11th, in her Vice-President-husband's office offering her distinctly right wing "advice and opinion in the bunker."

Or George W. Bush himself "who failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda despite repeated warnings, and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insignificant steps after the attacks; and who launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."

In short Bush and lots of people around him, blew it. The whole nine yards of September 11th and its aftermath, including their attempted decimation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — all of it done in the name of combating terrorism.

The war in Iraq brings back Vietnam war memories of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" (Stateside, the credit for the damage to the Bill of Rights, belongs in large measure, to Bible-thumping, self-righteous Attorney General John Ashcroft. Questions on that? Check with Jose Padilla.)

The Bush administration has fired up all its guns against Clarke and why not — their re-election campaign is now in serious jeopardy. The Bush re-elect team was in the process of spending the next 90 days and millions of dollars to negatively "define" and thus seriously wound/damage/ Senator John Kerry.

And what winds up on the front page? Clarke's accusations and Bush powerhouses lamely offering the mantra of "not recalling." Add to that full days of fully televised 9/11 Commission hearings. Bummer.

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Lewis Z. Koch is an award-winning investigative reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]


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