March 28, 2004

David versus Goliath (I) (Condoleezza Rice versus Richard Clarke)

Here’s something new: The National Security Adviser as a prohibitive underdog in a battle with a disgruntled former underling. Welcome to the bizarre world of Condi Rice and Dick Clarke, who was Mr. Tough Guy at the NSC during the Clinton years. The conventional wisdom is that Clarke has blown Team Bush out of the water with the explosive allegation that the president was hell-bent on waging war with Iraq, and ignored all sorts of dire, Cassandra-like warnings about Al Qaeda before, during, and until shortly after September 11, 2001. The press is drooling over the prospect of the president’s losing his strongest political playing card, his handling of the war — and that media support has transformed Clarke into the Goliath of this story. Fittingly, he’s also fixing for a big fall. Polls indicate the president remains strong on national security, and John Kerry remains weak. Moreover, Clarke’s case is beginning to dissolve like cotton candy in a full spittoon.

David Brooks squeezed off a good shot the other day in the New York Times. Follow his recommendation and spend some time reading through the staff reports of the 9-11 commisson. Meanwhile, Don Lambro in the Washington Times has summarized some of the commission’s conclusions about the Clinton administration’s lackluster pursuit of the bad guys. (The same administration Dick Clarke now praises as tough on terror).

George Shultz provides a nice complement. He has decided to play the role of grown-up by encouraging Wall Street Journal readers to keep their eye on the ball — which is to say, we should spend less time looking over our shoulders and more time trying once and for all to eradicate the evil ones.

Mark Steyn, not surprisingly, has a light-but-lethal take on Clarke, while Bill Kristol properly eviscerates Clarke for the grotesque and smarmy apology that led off his 9-11 commission testimony last week. Kristol’s not alone. Some families of victims published a letter in Sunday’s New York Post, making it clear they are not amused, either by Clarke’s grandstanding, or by the fact that he could reap a tidy profit of 1-million bucks in the bargain. Don Imus issued a challenge to Clarke, offering to pay the disgruntled security worker 100-thousand a year, plus lavish benefits, if Clarke would donate all the proceeds to victims’ families. Don’t hold your breath. (Yes, I credit other radio hosts, on air and off, when I make use of their clever suggestions.)

Here’s my general take on the key questions of the controversy:

Should Condi testify publicly? No: She’s right to argue that White House precedent doesn’t permit her going before a congressional committee, submitting herself to the predictable grandstanding — and being asked questions that, if answered, could compromise national security and if not answered would let opponents accuse her and the president of covering up. NewsMax makes the point that Bill Clinton and Al Gore have agreed to testify under precisely the same terms as Rice: privately, and unsworn. Good for them.

Should the White House release all of Dick Clarke’s communications during his tenure in the Bush White House? Absolutely not: That also would compromise the longstanding belief that internal communications at the White House should remain confidential. One reason the White House gave permission for Clarke to publish his book was that so many of its assertions are laughable, and he presents himself as a cross between Walter Mitty and Alexander Haig. The only difference was that Haig was in charge of a White House, while Clarke was in charge of … well, Clarke’s staff. It’s worth noting that Clarke did lead an often distinguished career at the White House, and that he has provided helpful off-camera testimony not only to the 9-11 commission, but also to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. It would be appropriate to declassify some of that testimony to enable Americans to figure out whether Clarke is a backstabbing, two-faced, raging bureaucrat, or whether he has been consistent over the years in addressing not only the War on Terror, but characterizing various administrations’ handling of that war.

What next? Let much of this idiocy drop. The real question, as Shultz notes, is to focus on building the moral and political consensus necessary to continue the war on terror to a successful end. A number of Democrats lately have placed political bets that it’s better to second-guess the war in Iraq than to line up behind the president. Jay Rockefeller is the latest. In so doing, he not only has managed to insult the American public — check out the line: “Americans don’t know history, geography, ethnicity. The administration had no idea of what they were getting into in Iraq. We are not internationalists. We border on being isolationists. We don’t know anything about the Middle East.”

Note what he’s saying: He complains that it’s tough to win a war. He doesn’t like the fact that our “allies” wrinkle their noses at American idealism and success — but are more than happy to wrap their arms around us when we fail. Rockefeller also alleges, contrary to just about everyone else, that 95 percent of the bad guys in Iraq are locals and only 5 percent are foreign jihadis. I’d love to see where that estimate came from. Terry McAuliffe?

Rockefeller’s argument is a recipe not only for defeatism, but also self-censure. His position — and those of many Democrats — seem sickeningly analogous to the Vietnam-era complaints that we were an immoral nation, prosecuting an immoral war against the popular communist leaders of a new country. Those critics, including John F. Kerry, were refuted definitively after the war, when tens of thousands of Vietnamese risked their lives by taking to the seas in search of freedom.

The anti-American cant of the Vietnam era splintered us as a nation; robbed us of our self-identity and self-confidence, and laid the framework for the Carter administration, which decided to roll over while the Soviet Union established proxy states in Asia, Africa and Central America. It’s not a stretch to say that the Vietnam protests set the cause of global liberty back by at least a decade. During that time, millions died in wars or repressions conducted by communists.
David Gelernter provides a wonderful antidote to this cant. Read his piece in the Weekly Standard. He makes for the moral case for smashing genocidal maniacs, especially those joined at the hip with the Terror Network. If you have no time this week to read any other piece about the war, read this one. As an essayist, Gelernter has no peer.

David versus Goliath (II)

Hats off to Robert Cox of The National Debate.

Cox is a guy running a small website out of New York, and months ago, he decided to take on a big challenge — hound-dogging The New York Times for of offenses against good journalism. He took special aim at fabrications and fake-facts spread by the Gray Lady’s opinion columnists — howlers that had transformed the paper’s effective motto from “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to “All the News That’s Fit to Spin.”

Cox made his point by printing something that previously had never appeared in the paper — corrections for op-ed miscues. Now, it was an obvious parody, beginning with the date — Feb. 30 — but Serious Personages at the paper took a dim view of the send-up. The paper’s lawyers sent Cox a cease-and-desist letter and threatened to shut down his website. Rather than caving to the heavy-handed threat, Cox hired an attorney, stood his ground, and won — in part because others in the blogosphere came to his aid, and partly  because he had the law on his side.

Now, Cox can claim another victory. Daniel Okrent, the Times’ Public Editor, announced this Sunday that the Gray Lady henceforth would print opinion-column corrections — and carry them in the columns by the offending columnists. Gail Collins, the paper’s editorial-page editor, also has fashioned a rough corrections policy for her pundits.

As a former and future columnist, this makes me happy. I always published corrections of my miscues, and on rare occasions when I really stuck it to someone unfairly, I would print a column-length apology/retraction. This business isn’t rocket science — but the Times had become so smug, and so blind to bias, that it never occurred to anyone that opinion columns might need a little policing. The problem got particularly bad after news reporters began to pick up doctored statistics and doctored quotes from the paper’s opinion brigade. This trend inspired Cox to craft his original parody.

In any event, kudos to Robert.