Who let the dogs out?

attack dog

Woof! Woof!

Hell hath no fury like a White House dissed. Richard Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, hit the bookstores this week, and the White House unleashed the attack dogs against him.

Richard ClarkeClarke, who worked in the White House for three presidents — Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 — has leveled serious charges against the Bush White House: that prior to 9/11 they did not give the threat of terrorism a high enough priority, that they were determined from the very beginning to wage war against Iraq, and that the Iraq war undermined the fight against terrorism, rendering the US less safe. Inasmuch as Clarke was the coordinator for anti-terrorism until he resigned last year, these are devastating charges.

book coverClarke's book, and the accompanying promotional blitz, appeared the same week that the 9/11 commission held public hearings at which officials from the Clinton and Bush administrations testified. Since Clarke's charges are explosive, to say the least, the media had a field day, and all the cable news channels carried his testimony live: CNN, MSNBC, FOX, C-SPAN.

Condoleezza RiceThe one Bush official conspicuously absent from the hearings was Condoleeza Rice, who demurred on the grounds that presidential advisors do not testify. (There are clear precedents and obvious reasons for taking that position, but equally compelling exceptions.) That doesn't mean she was working quietly at her desk in the White House, however. Instead, she spent most of her time on all the morning news shows and appearing behind banks of microphones at the White House leading the slime campaign against Clarke. For the most part the attack squad engaged in character assassination rather than discuss the substance of his charges.

Clarke is now the third former Bush administration official to go public with strikingly similar observations (John DiIulio ran the Faith-based Initiative and Paul O'Neill was Secretary of the Treasury): The Bush White House is driven by ideology and politics; policy takes a distant back seat. Bush doesn't read, and he listens only to those with whom he agrees. The administration came into office determined to go after Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The invisible hand of Dick Cheney pulls many of the strings in this administration. Instead of the centrist people thought or hoped they were getting in Bush, they got a band of ideologues with a far-right-wing agenda.

Mixed reaction. I am of two minds about this whole sordid episode. One the one hand, the ferocity of the Bush attack on Clarke tells me that his description is pretty close to the truth: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3 scene 2) The fact that the several administration slimemeisters couldn't get their stories straight suggests the wheels are coming off the PR machine. Perhaps, I think optimistically, people will finally begin to see what a disaster the Bush 43 administration has been.

On the other hand, I'm really sickened by it all. This feels like a real low point for the US. We seems so far from the aspirations set out in the preamble to the US Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The idea of public service seems quaint and naive. I can't imagine why anyone motivated by a genuine desire to perform public service would go into politics. Most national politicians leave me feeling like I need a bath, a good scrub with disinfectant soap.

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