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Saturday, March 27, 2004

How does Clarke really help Kerry?

Even though, as I mentioned earlier, Clarke has clearly shown his political allegiance to the Democratic Party, I am not sure how arguing that Bush was not hawkish enough on terror before 9-11 helps Kerry, who just recently (after 9-11 - when he should know better) said that Bush is too militaristic in dealing with terror and we should concieve of it as "primarily an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation." This, of course, is conveniently forgetful of Kerry's past anti-intelligence agenda, but let's lay that aside for now.

The only thing I can think of is that Kerry really thinks voters are too stupid to understand that he is the opposite of the solution to Clarke's critique of Bush, and that the Kerry campaign hopes that voters will just think that if Clarke says Bush is bad, Kerry must be better.

There's something else odd about Clarke's book that is not getting much press in the mainstream media. This article on Slate reports that:

(On Page 127, Clarke notes that it's possible that al-Qaida operatives in the Philippines "taught Terry Nichols how to blow up the Oklahoma Federal Building." Intelligence places Nichols there on the same days as Ramzi Yousef, and "we do know that Nichols's bombs did not work before his Philippines stay and were deadly when he returned.")

Normally, connections between Oklahoma City and al Qaeda are written off as either crazy right-wing conspiracy theories or racist attempts to blame dark people for the terrorism of home-grown white folk. As JustOneMinute notes (link via Instapundit), this new information is actually pretty devastating to the Clinton approach to terrorism:

This ties in to the theory that Clinton quashed investigations into a foreign connection to Terry Nichols. The objective - blame Oklahoma City on right-wing wackos for political purposes. The subtle message - the people who voted for Newt and listen to Rush blew up this building.

And over on National Review Online, Deroy Murdock is making the case that Clarke doesn't even believe his own spin about the lack of a connection between Iraq and global terrorism.

So, what should we make of all this? Clarke probably isn't as much a partisan as an opportunist. He might have been a "registered Republican" in 2000, but he clearly sees the books that can be sold and the job possibilities that might be opened up by spinning his inside account (which is itself of dubious ethical standing) as a damning critique of Bush's policies. David Brooks makes a similar point in this New York Times column:

It should be said that Clarke used to be capable of the sort of balanced analysis contained in [the interim 9/11 commission] reports. Indeed, he was a major source for them. But that was the old Richard Clarke. That was the Richard Clarke who could weigh the pros and cons of the Clinton and Bush terror strategies. That was the Clarke who expressed frustration at the glacial pace of the pre-9/11 antiterror policy process, but who also, in 2001, sent out e-mail praising the White House for alerting agencies to a possible attack, and who praised the Bush team for "vigorously" pursuing the Clinton strategy while deciding to quintuple the C.I.A.'s anti-Qaeda budget.

But that wonky Richard Clarke doesn't become a prime-time media sensation or sell hundreds of thousands of books. Because in this country, we speak only one language when it comes to public affairs, the language of partisan warfare. So out goes Mr. Wonk. Clarke turns himself into an anti-Bush attack machine, and we get a case study of how serious bipartisan concern gets turned into a week of civil war.

So, Clarke's contributions to only Democrat candidates which I noted below are part of the story, but not the whole story. I think his partisanship is more of a symptom of his opportunism. He was forced out of the Bush national security team, and he knows he won't have power unless the Dems take over (and he might get some nice fat royalty checks while he's at it).

But even the new Clarke is not able to entirely expunge the old wonky Clarke from his system, and as a result he's making some points that should harm the Kerry campaign. We'll see if the mainstream media catches any of them, though.

Many of you no doubt suspect that this Clarke stuff was a planned attack on Bush by the Kerry campaign. An attack, yes, but I give the Kerry folks more credit than to assume they would have done this bad of a job of planning this.

UPDATE: Hindrocket on Power Line has an answer to the rhetorical question I posed in the title of this post. To put it in Carville-speak: it's the media, stupid. Here's part of what he says:

I don't agree with the optimistic theory that the Democrats made a mistake by launching such a patently misguided attack. The reality is that the vast majority of people don't read blogs, don't listen to talk radio, and get their news mostly in one-minute snippets of television. Studies have indicated that a large majority of people who read newspaper headlines never read the article. So the Democrats have gotten what they wanted out of Clarke--headlines attacking Bush.

So, in a sense, it just doesn't matter if Clarke's allegations are crazy, contradictory, or actually supportive of Bush in comparison to Kerry. What matters (or at least, what Kerry hopes will matter) is the general impression created by the media coverage that Clarke is "proving" that Bush is bad on national security. Sad, but I'm not sure it's not true.


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