Just when you thought Dick Cheney had maxed out on self-righteousness, the former Vice President went and took it up a notch. Cheney gave a speech on national security that was filled with “omissions, exaggerations, and misstatements;” he publicly backed away from his repeated assertion that Iraq had anything at all to do with 9/11; and he also attempted to soften expectations regarding the content of classified documents, two CIA memos which Cheney previously maintained would illustrate Bush administration enhanced interrogation successes.
All of this he did in the last two weeks, and he did it clinging to notion that none of his policy decisions were flawed. “They kept us safe,” he said.
The issues mentioned above are not overly surprising, some even predictable, but attempting to blame the national security failures leading up to 9/11 on former counterterrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, was flat out despicable:
Cheney’s flippant remark, “he obviously must have missed it,” is not just an insult to Clarke, but to the intelligence of us all. The reality is, few, if any, did more to sound the alarm regarding al Qaeda’s intentions. Ali Frick listed some of Clarke’s efforts in a June 1 Think Progress post:
In fact, it was Cheney who “missed” the warning signs, not Clarke. New York Times reporter Philip Shenon’s book, “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” reprinted some of Clarke’s emphatic e-mails warning the Bush administration of the al Qaeda threat throughout 2001:
“Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3)
“Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23)
“Bin Ladin’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26)
“Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23)
“Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25)
“Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks” (June 30)
“Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2)
Additionally, it was Clarke who was among the first to testify about US anti terrorism efforts before the 9/11 Commission (.pdf), where he first recounted his frustrated efforts under the Bush administration. You can view Richard Clarke’s pre-9/11 memos and much more at George Washington University’s National Security Archive.
Cheney’s jab was a response to more recent criticism from Clarke, published May 31 in the Washington Post, “The Trauma of 9/11 Is No Excuse.” Within his post, Clarke takes issue with Cheney’s and Condoleezza Rice’s propensity for accusing those critical of the Iraq invasion or the torture of enemy combatants of forgetting the pervasive tension in America following 9/11:
[Emphasis Added] …Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years — on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping — were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney’s admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.
Thus, when Bush’s inner circle first really came to grips with the threat of terrorism, they did so in a state of shock — a bad state in which to develop a coherent response. Fearful of new attacks, they authorized the most extreme measures available, without assessing whether they were really a good idea.
Though it’s not in the above clip, Cheney was asked to comment about Clarke’s documented efforts to alert the Bush administration of al Qaeda’s intentions, pre 9/11. His response was to laugh off the question, joking that he hadn’t read Clarke’s book. Jon Stewart put it best during the June 3 broadcast of The Daily Show. Stewart aired Cheney’s comments and said, “You never read his book! That’s a good one, Mr. Cheney. I guess you never read the memos either and then the planes hit.” Spot on, Mr. Stewart.
What do you think? Is Clarke correct in his assessment of Cheney? Cheney has never been a big fan of Richard Clarke, but for the former VP to react the way he did, Clarke must have touched a nerve. I imagine Clarke will soon respond in some way, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a scorcher.
Clarke Memo Image from Flickr User: takomabibelot, by way of CreativeCommons.org