These seem to me to be the obvious implications of Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission, and the White House’s response to it:
1. Bush & Co. have always made it clear that they believe intelligence-gathering and analysis should be secondary to, and in the service of, policies they’ve already decided on. It should not come as such a surprise that they treated the anti-terrorism analyses and programs they inherited from the Clinton administration as though they were arbitrary political creations.
2. A man doesn’t break a lifetime’s habits of honor and integrity just to promote one book, and it is contemptible of the Bush people to suggest that Richard Clarke is doing so. It does, however, let us know that that’s what they’d do if they had a book to promote—aside from the part about having a record for honor and integrity to start with.
3. Since the event itself occurred, it’s been a foregone conclusion that there would at some point have to be a public hearing on 9/11. Bush & Co., knowing they can’t avoid it altogether, have all along been trying to reduce the 9/11 commission to window-dressing, starting with its original wholly inadequate budget and schedule (to say nothing of originally appointing Henry Kissinger to run it).
Their reaction to testimony there has all been spin control. This has been most evident in the case of Richard Clarke—so far, the most clear, thoughtful, incisive, and well-informed person to testify before the commission—against whom they’ve mounted a large, centrally organized campaign meant to discredit him.
That is: they’re not interested in finding out what happened. And if they’re not interested now, and they weren’t overwhelmingly interested right after it happened—which they weren’t—then they can’t have been interested in the question during the intervening months and years; which means that the laxity and light-mindedness that characterized their security policies before 9/11 will have continued to undermine whatever efforts they’ve made since then.
(And no, they weren’t interested right after the attacks happened. It’s long been known that on the day itself, before the blood was dry on the rubble, they were already working to pin the blame on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. That wasn’t a response to events. They already wanted to go after Iraq and Saddam Hussein before the start of this administration.
As I said to Patrick when that story first came out, it has two possible implications. One was that they knew enough about the attacks beforehand, that afterward they weren’t worried that whomever-it-was might pose a greater threat than Saddam Hussein. The other had to be that they didn’t give a damn.)
Real security takes a long-term committed attention to the details. We’d know it by its effects if it were present in the administration’s efforts. The indicators all point the other way. We could recite a long, long list of them here. To pick a few at random: blowing up Chemical Ali’s house, rather than securing and searching it for records relating to presumed WMDs. Casually and needlessly alienating our potential allies and information sources. Not lifting a finger to increase the security of containerized shipping. Et cetera. Yadda. More. Very long list.
This means that if we’re lucky enough to still have people of Richard Clarke’s caliber working on our national security at that level, you should imagine them, several years in the future, testifying before yet another commission investigating yet another disaster, about the derelictions that are going on right now.
Is there anything about the current hearings that does interest the administration? From the evidence so far, they’re interested in controlling what you and I find out about what happened, and what the administration did and didn’t do about it. But they’re only concerned about that because we vote, and because Dubya’s perennially sensitive about the lustre of his reputation. Our actual safety doesn’t enter into the calculation.