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    Clarke s book will quickly be forgotten George Will March 30, 2004 WASHINGTON -- ``So,´´ Lincoln supposedly said to the White House visitor, ``you´re the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2004
      Clarke's book will quickly be forgotten
      George Will
      March 30, 2004
      WASHINGTON -- ``So,´´ Lincoln supposedly said to the White House
      visitor, ``you´re the little woman who wrote the book that made this
      great war.´´ Harriet Beecher Stowe´s ``Uncle Tom´s Cabin,''
      published in 1852, quickly sold 300,000 copies -- equivalent to 3
      million today -- and remains the only book to become an American
      history-shaping political event.
      When the dust settles from the eight days that shook the world of
      Washington -- spanning Richard Clarke's appearance two Sundays ago on
      ``60 Minutes´´ to his appearance last Sunday on ``Meet the
      Press´´ -- no one will say of his ``Against All Enemies´´ what
      Longfellow said of Stowe´s novel: ``Never was there such a literary
      coup de main as this.'' Too much of the controversy about Clarke's book
      -- and testimony and interviews -- concerns adjectives.
      Combating terrorism was only ``important´´ to the Bush
      administration (by the eighth day Clarke was calling the Bush
      administration ``lackadaisical´´ about terrorism), whereas for the
      Clinton administration it was ``urgent´´ -- ``no higher a
      priority.´´ Except when it wasn´t.
      When Clarke recommended ``a series of rolling attacks´´ against al
      Qaeda´s ``infrastructure in Afghanistan,´´ his recommendation was
      rejected. But Clarke says ``to be fair´´ we should understand that
      the Clinton administration decided it had higher priorities -- the
      Balkans, the Middle East peace process.
      By the eighth day Clarke was telling Tim Russert that the difference is
      that Clinton did ``something´´ whereas Bush did ``nothing.´´
      Nothing except, among other things, authorizing a quadrupling of
      spending for covert action against al Qaeda.
      Clarke's apology to the American people, delivered to the Sept. 11
      commission, should be considered in the context of the book, the
      publication of which was timed to coincide with his testimony. When,
      presuming to speak for the entire government, he said ``we tried
      hard,´´ he actually must have been using the royal plural, because
      the gravamen of his book is that only he was trying hard.
      Indeed, parts of Clarke´s memoir call to mind Finley Peter Dunne´s
      jest that Teddy Roosevelt´s memoir of the Cuban expedition should have
      been titled ``Alone in Cuba.´´
      Republicans should not press Majority Leader Bill Frist's implied
      threat, in his Senate speech Friday, that the differences between
      Clarke's sworn testimony to the Senate in 2002 and his sworn testimony
      to the Sept. 11 commission constitute perjury. Perjury being properly
      difficult to prove, Clarke, if charged, would be acquitted. Besides, it
      is time to stop trying to criminalize political differences, even those
      flavored, as in Clarke's case, by anger, malice, opportunism and
      And Republicans should stop saying that the one continuity from the 1993
      attack on the World Trade Center, through the 1998 attacks on the U.S.
      embassies in East Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, to 9/11 is
      Clarke, so he must somehow be to blame. That argument is a cousin of
      Clarke's apology.
      When he apologizes for his and the government's ``failure´´ (he
      means its failure to listen to him, and his failure to make it listen),
      the implied principle is freighted with future acrimony. The principle
      is that when government efforts to protect public safety are proved to
      be imperfect, we should be able to identify measures that could have and
      -- this is not the same thing -- should have been taken.
      That principle is especially dubious after the Madrid bombings. They
      were perpetrated without suicides, and using two ubiquitous items --
      backpacks and cell phones. Donald Rumsfeld, providing adult supervision
      during the Clarke kerfuffle, keeps saying something we will have
      occasion to remember: More attacks are coming because we are still far
      from draining the social swamps where attackers breed.
      Former Sen. Slade Gorton, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, asked
      Clarke whether there was ``the remotest chance´´ that acceptance by
      the Bush administration of all the recommendations Clarke made four days
      after President Bush took office would have prevented Sept. 11. Clarke
      said: ``No.´´ So what makes Clarke strident -- his self-description
      -- is his belief that the Iraq War was a tragic blunder, arising from
      the president´s monomania about Saddam and draining resources from the
      war on terror.
      Intelligent people can and do make that argument. However, by day eight
      Clarke's version of it was puerile: But for the Iraq War, Sept. 11 might
      have caused the Islamic masses to say ``maybe we´ve gone too
      In 1862, as his policy toward slavery evolved, Lincoln got from the
      Library of Congress ``A Key to Uncle Tom´s Cabin,´´ in which Stowe
      provided documentation on which her novel had been based. It is unlikely
      that 10 years from now the president will be consulting Clarke´s book,
      or Clarke.
      ©2004 Washington Post Writers Group
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