Ignored Warnings?

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," March 22, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: With us from Arkansas, General Wesley Clark, the former Democratic presidential candidate.

General, thank you for coming.


CAVUTO: You know, there are a lot of people saying [former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke] had an axe to grind, that he has a book to sell, and that is all this is about. What do you say?

CLARK: Well, I don’t think that is what it is about. I did talk to him before he got out of the government. And I’ve talked to a lot of people at his level. I worked with him when I was on the joint staff about eight years ago.

He’s a very credible guy. He’s hard-nosed. He’s a career public servant. He’s not partisan at all. And I think he’s just worried about the direction of the country. And I share his concerns.

CAVUTO: But General, why is he relaying this worry now, timed to this book’s release.

CLARK: Well, I think he wanted to put it into a cogent framework. I can’t read his mind, I can’t defend everything that was in his mind, because you’d have to ask him those kinds of questions. But I would say this: that this is an important issue for the United States to face today.

We had a terrible attack on this country. And the question is, did the administration do everything it could have done before 9/11 to prevent that attack? And what Dick Clarke is saying is, no, it did not.

That is also my impression that I gathered from a lot of people, talking around Washington. And then what happened after 9/11? Did the administration focus on Al Qaeda and finish the job against Al Qaeda? No, they did not. They were distracted by Iraq, and they took us to a war in Iraq that many of us believe was an elective war.

CAVUTO: But general, if my memory serves me right, the administration did go after Al Qaeda first and foremost, did attack Afghanistan, did get rid of the Taliban government in a matter of weeks. So it seems like there is a lot of reconstruction of history and basic facts here.

Now, this guy was a counter-terrorism expert dating back to the prior administration. So he was there at the time of the Cole bombings, which a number of Americans lost their lives, about eight. He was also there at a time we had renewed millennium threats that Bob Kerrey, a Democratic member of this panel investigating 9/11, had said, there was no contemplation of any military action after the millennium plots and there should have been. So there seems to be a great deal of blame to go around.

CLARK: Well, Neil, you have covered a couple of points here. First, the administration did go after the Taliban and Afghanistan. But it did not have a success strategy to take out Al Qaeda.

And, in fact, instead of putting the American troops in that were required to finish the job against Usama bin Laden when he was boxed in, in the mountains of Tora Bora, we were already at that point. This country was already thinking about going into Iraq against Saddam Hussein.

So we limited our commitment in Afghanistan, and the result is that two years later Al Qaeda is still alive, its morphed a little bit. It is a little bit different now, and even perhaps more dangerous.

As far as the blame game is concerned, you know, what happens in the past is past. But we have a president who is running for reelection. And so his conduct in office, his performance of duty, to put it in my military terms, is certainly a legitimate matter of concern for the American people.

That is what this book is about. I think it is a very healthy discussion to have.

What could have been done before 9/11 and what was done after 9/11? And did we, in fact, have to fight in Iraq? What Dick Clarke is saying is, there was no connection between Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and the events of 9/11.

CAVUTO: But, General, you are not being fair here, General. You’re not being fair.

CLARK: The administration was told this at the time by its own experts, and yet publicly continued to make misleading statements that led the majority of the American public to believe somehow Saddam Hussein was connected with the events of 9/11.


CAVUTO: But General, here this is deal. Here’s a guy who doesn’t like this administration. He makes it very clear.

He is still itching, I think, because he was passed up for a position in the Homeland Security Department. Maybe he’s chafing because of that. Maybe he’s chafing because he was effectively demoted.

Maybe he just doesn’t like the new guys in. And that is clearly his right.

But here’s the danger, General. You said we can’t argue over things in the past, yet we are being very selective about what we’re going into the past. We’re not talking about the fact that the prior administration was there when the World Trade Center was hit for the first time, we’re not talking about the attacks on the USS Cole that occurred under its stewardship.

We’re being very selective and focused on a new administration that was just coming into power and just realizing the dimensions of his problem. Now, you are clearly right, there is enough blame to go around. I just find it interesting this particular blame is being focused at this particular time by this particular fellow, selling this particular book.

CLARK: I wouldn’t want to see this become a personal attack on Dick Clarke, Neil. Dick Clarke is an honorable public servant. He has tried to marshal the facts as he’s known them and put them out for the American people to read. And, yes, he wrote a book, and that is fair.

CAVUTO: But what is so honorable, General, about bringing this to the public’s attention now, just ahead of a testifying to this commission, just ahead of the release of a book? I just find it odd that Sept. 11 — we’re talking almost three years ago, and now comes this explosive comment that is coming in this book, that this guy wants to be a best-seller.

My hat off to him if he can pull it off. But let’s put things in perspective.

CLARK: What is so explosive about it? Let’s ask this: what is this perspective? What makes it explosive? Is it this facts? Is it what he says happened?

Then, let’s talk about the facts. Forget about Dick Clarke as a person. His motives aren’t the issue.

The real question here is the president of the United States and his leadership, and the way he has run the government. Now, if what Dick Clarke says is wrong, then challenge it. But I think the facts will show — and I hope they’ll come out the 9/11 Commission — that the administration was not fully focused on terrorism before 9/11. I think the facts will show the administration made an early decision...


CAVUTO: But General, you’ve got to be clear. You’re a military man, you’re a seasoned military pro, and a genuine American hero. Will you look at this and find it odd that this book’s release, castigating this president and saying nothing about the prior president, is at best odd, is at best disingenuous?

CLARK: No, I wouldn’t say that, because in the book there is stuff about this previous administration. I mean, Dick Clarke worked there. There is a lot of information.

But Neil, you are bringing this up now. Dick got out, he wrote the book. It took him a year to get the book published. I think the real issue here is, let’s deal with the facts. What did he allege and what is the response from the administration?

CAVUTO: All right. General, I just find it odd. But that’s me. General Wesley Clark, thank you very much.

CLARK: I think the American people want to know what happened.

CAVUTO: All right. And they should be given the whole perspective going back a few administrations, General. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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