Richard Clarke and the GOP slime machine

I watched rather dumbfounded last week when Richard Clarke testified in front of the 911 commission. It was almost as though we were back at the hearings on Clarence Thomas or Watergate. I was mesmerized from the start, when Clarke uttered his now famous apology, which was surely the shrewdest, most brilliant snippet of politcal oratory I’ve heard in years.

Equally remarkable, however, has been the take-no-prisoners smear campaign spearheaded by Bush’s lieutenants against Clarke, an ugly reminder of how nasty this administration gets whenever it feels threatened. (Remember Paul O’Neill just a couple of months ago? Same scenario, same full-frontal-assault tactics, same game of lambasting the accuser while ignoring the issues he brings up.)

Andrew Sullivan is quick to point out the lunacy of the administration’s response to Clarke:

I agree with the Washington Post yesterday that the more worrying sign is the way the White House has responded. They have been close to hysterical, defensive to an absurd degree and therefore unpersuasive. Their response to Clarke evokes far more doubts about their pre-9/11 conduct than anything Clarke could have mustered by himself. More evidence that they’re losing it. I think they realize they’re in trouble and don’t know quite how to right themselves. Hence the policy lurches – from Mars to [gay] marriage to steroids.

Determined to dig their own graves, the White House continues its refusal to let Condi testify before the commission in public and under oath. To understand just how convoluted, how deranged her argument for not testifying is, you simply must read Josh Marshall’s precious post using Condi’s own words to show how idiotic her reasoning (i.e., lack of reasoning) is.

So far the White House and various Republicans have spent an entire week spinning their wheels to make Clarke look bad by whatever means possible. One of the very slimiest was Senator Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert questioning whether Clarke had committed perjury because his testimony was contradicted by things he had said earlier.

But nothing is sticking. Having served under the last four presidents, in which capacity he has built a reputation for intelligence and fairness, Clarke simply can’t be torn down with dirty tricks, the only weapons the White House now has at its disposal. It was a real pleasure reading Josh Marshall this morning on the folly of the Frist/Hastert perjury charge — and how Clarke beat them at their game.

I think the early signs are that this perjury attack on Clarke was a major, major blunder. I don’t think the perpetrators of this ugly stunt even thought they’d ever get into a courtroom. That wasn’t the point: this was watercooler ammo. Something you get on to the news so that when Mr. X asks Mr. Y over the watercooler what he makes of Clarke’s testimony, Mr. Y responds, “Hell, that guy? He’s probably gonna get indicted for perjury. You can’t believe anything that guy says.”

Still, Clarke — who was unflappable on the shows this morning — and Hill Democrats seem to have immediately called Frist & Co.’s bluff. Not only have they welcomed the release of Clarke’s materials, they’ve called for the release of more documents, correspondence and testimony from him and Rice. Selective declassification would be very difficult in the current context — and could complicate efforts to keep so much other stuff out of the public’s view.

He’s made a clean sweep so far; out of nowhere, this bureaucrat many of us never heard of two weeks ago managed to turn the Bush administration on its head and call into question its main raison d’etre, national security. Something of a miracle, don’t you think?

So far the polls aren’t showing any significant change in public opinion toward Bush, but I think we’re just getting started. Condi eventually will testify, and between now and the moment she’s put under oath, the government will continue to lose credibility, as Sullivan says above. And Clarke is not going to vanish into the night. He has captured the media’s attention, ascending overnight to super-stardom, and at this very instant the first story on the evening news is all about Clarke and Condi.

This obviously has Bush and Rove twisted into knots. From now on, all praise of Bush’s national security policy will bring to mind Clarke’s charges calling that policy into deep doubt. Again, for a single-issue candidate this is nothing short of a catastrophe. And it didn’t have to be; the Condi Rice omerta exacerbated it infinitely, and has made the Administration appear frightened and defenseless in the wake of Clarke’s testimony. Amazing.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 18 Comments

Well stated.

Now if people on the pro-Bush blogs will pay attention to what Bush really is, a boy without a clue when he doesn’t have his old nannies able to back him up. One area of concern are the retired US military. Check their blogs. On their blogs I have seen, they seem heavily into hating Kerry, so much so that even though Bush has gotten US into an ill- advised war in a most immoral and unethical way for no substantial reason, killing and maiming other US military personnel, they cannot see beyond their hate. How in the world would these honorably discharged folks want to support a president who fabricated a need to go to war and has plans for more attacks/wars on other countries in the Middle East. This kind of thinking and support for a militarist leader is what got Japan to start its war against China and bomb Pearl Harbor.

March 29, 2004 @ 8:39 pm | Comment

Not all the military feel comfortable with Bush. Check out this post on Reagan’s Navy Secretary, who roasts Bush alive for the recklessness of the so-called War on Terror.

Interesting points about the bubbling hatred of John Kerry among the military bloggers. It could have a lot of sources, from Kerry’s stand against the Vietnam War to dread that he’d lower military spending. And I have no doubt that Karl Rove’s elves are fanning the flames at peak velocity.

March 29, 2004 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

All that needs to be said about Clarke is said here and here.

BTW, welcome back.

March 29, 2004 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

I definitely agree with you. But a new poll showed that Bush’s position against Kerry strengthened even after Clarke gave the testimony. According to CNN, “the poll results suggest that the Bush campaign’s attempts to paint Kerry as a tax-raising liberal who flip-flops on the issues has affected the race more than charges by former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke that Bush and his national security team didn’t pay enough attention to al Qaeda in the months leading up to 9/11.” Amazing, you can look better and win trust simply by thowing money into advertising even when there is strong evidence against you. This reminds me of how my high school textbook painted the “false” democracy of U.S. I never like the material, but it makes perfect sense in this scenario! I kept telling myself not to be upset by the poll. It is not my president. I’m a P.R.C citizen, and it has nothing to do with me. But I’m still upset, because I really hate Bush, to a degree beyond what I can explain. I believe Americans deserve a better leader , but a lot of them seem to quite enjoy his presidency. This is totally beyond my comprehension and I can only attribute it to my lack of understanding of this country.

March 30, 2004 @ 12:34 am | Comment

Screw you Hui. Why don’t you worry about your inability to have any say whatsoever in changing the vile and corrupt leadership of your own country before you deign to tell me who should govern mine. Why should I trust your political opinion when your own government clearly doesn’t?

The majority of the American people may not select the candidate that you would prefer, but don’t you dare sneer down your nose at the choice of the citizens of a democratic republic when you are, in effect, a slave.

Bill Clinton wasn’t my choice for US president but, when he was elected, I wasn’t so arrogant as to assume that those voting for him were stupid and deluded. The majority decided, and I respected their decision. But then, you wouldn’t know anything about that would you?

In short, piss off you arrogant little turd.

March 30, 2004 @ 1:30 am | Comment

Well, just because the U.S. is millions of light-years ahead of China in the democracy department — and only a fool would argue otherwise — doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement in the way our democracy functions.

At the risk of inflicting further “Passion”-like corporal punishment on a REALLY moribund equine: consider how you’d feel about Clinton’s Presidency if he, rather than having won a clear-cut electoral plurality (twice), had instead become President as a consequence of electoral irregularities in a state governed by his brother, and of a Supreme Court decision rendered in part by Justices who were appointed by his father.

Would you, or would you not, think that there was something ever so slightly amiss?

March 30, 2004 @ 5:26 am | Comment

While debate on this kind of thing is undoubtedly worth having … I do hope this blog isn’t going to become too much focused on US politics and forget asia now you’ve moved back home? Richard?

March 30, 2004 @ 8:11 am | Comment

No, this blog will continue to focus on Asia. Don’t worry; it’s always been about 50-50 (US politics and Asia), and will stay that way, at least for the time being.

March 30, 2004 @ 8:21 am | Comment

Conrad, I saw the links you provided. It’s another case of “he says/she says.” There is a simple way to find out the truth — open the documents, as Clarke has requested. Sensitive stuff can be blacked out.

March 30, 2004 @ 8:24 am | Comment

Well, well. Wouldn’t you know it. conrad from GD showing himself at his foul mouth best. I didn’t know you could tell people on other blogs to to shut up and go away like you did to Pete on GD becasue you didn’t like his thinking. Actually you should be known as the hateful Redneck. Get a life, bud. What is so wrong with Hui’s comments, at least he does it on an intellectual level. Hey, you can’t stop people from think and talking. BTW, what are you scared of learning?

March 30, 2004 @ 10:00 am | Comment

In any case, now that Condi has agreed to testify — under oath — we’ll soon have yet another version of events to analyze.

March 30, 2004 @ 10:50 am | Comment

I think Conrad’s comments and the poll numbers I’ve seen in the last day do point to the fact that for a significant number of Americans (and not just ex-military personnel), no evidence that Bush “got it all wrong” is truthful. Bush can make jokes about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and a large number of Americans shrug. Former advisors can state that Bush missed al-Qaeda completely because of an unnatural focus on Iraq. Commentators can point out Condi’s piece in Foreign Affairs long before 9/11, which demonstrated a focus on Iraq and missed al-Qaeda completely. It doesn’t matter for these Americans. As a line from a song put it, “Ya ain’t gonna learn, what you don’t want to know.” And that goes for white cats, black cats, and every other shade of cat that populates our blessed planet.

March 30, 2004 @ 8:29 pm | Comment

Tom, I said in my post that there’s been little to no political fallout from Clarke’s testimony, at least not yet. But I also think there’s more to come in the hearings. The media seem to adore Clarke as much as they did Donald Rumsfeld during the Iraq war; they’re true media darlings. Clarke still has the potential to make big news. As to Bush’s recent strength in the polls, I’m reading that it’s mainly because of the campaign to portray Kerry as a tax raiser and a waffler. It’s very aggressive and it’s working. Kerry has to do something to counter it fast.

March 30, 2004 @ 9:20 pm | Comment

Given the most recent news of Bush’s deal to get out of testifying before the committee under oath or alone or in public… I’d say that there isn’t much more political fallout left to come, especially since the deal requires the committee to not call any more WH staff after Condi and Bush/Cheney. (The deal reminds me a bit of Reagan’s video testimony on the Iran-Contra affair, where Ron was smirking the whole way saying that he didn’t remember.)

March 31, 2004 @ 1:13 am | Comment

This election was over the day John Edwards pulled out. The only question is how badly will Kerry lose. The answer is, I think, by a lot.

March 31, 2004 @ 1:30 am | Comment

Conrad, here’s good news for you. I’m not only from a Communist country, but I was essentially born and raised as a Communist. My parents are long-time CCP members, my brother’s in CCP, and I joined the evil institution before I turned 20. So you got the right kind of person to attack. But here comes the bad news. You’re in nature much more CCP than me. Your writing style has shown the core virtues of a real CCP: absolute intolerance of any difference, any disagreement and unbridled enthusiasms to destroy all your opponents using every means available. Since everybody’s talking about jobs being outsourced to China, I have a great idea for your career. You can go to China to work for CCP, and that would be a perfect match (But you need to work on your language skills cause CCP usually use civilized words).

I know the government that rules my country is corrupt and oppressing. I don’t need you to tell me that. But this does not mean I have to worship a free world leader as George W. Bush. Let me tell you, I hate your beloved leader very much. If you cannot stand this, too bad. You’ll find the majority of the world share my opinion. But as I said, it is not our president and this is a purely American business. So nobody is infringing your constitutional right to vote for him as long as you don’t mind getting more hatred of America around the world. Also keep in mind that in most parts of the world “arrogant” is reserved for citizens of the United States so make sure you use it carefully. But I have to admit you got one thing right. I have totally no saying in what kind of people will rule my country. And I’m actually doing nothing to change this because I’m not brave enough. I think I’m not so prepared to go to jail, to be tortured, and to let my Mom’s heart bleeding. So I have learned to live with the reality although I’m not proud of my coward. But Conrad, you really make me feel much better although you’re so mean to me. You know why, cause you show me what a true slave would be and I’m sure I don’t fall into the same category with you.

By the way, put away your dirty words when you need to attack me next time. Keep in mind that I’m a Chinese who speaks very little English so I cannot feel the emotional impacts of your language. It’s just like you won’t feel any pain if I say “piss off you arrogant little turd” to you in Chinese.

March 31, 2004 @ 2:53 am | Comment

The opinions regarding democracy of an admitted member of the most murderous institution in the history of mankind, i.e., the CCP, are of no interest whatsoever. I’d as soon ask a Nazi who he thought should be US president.

And being called a communist by an actual fucking commie is hilarious.

Besides, I would think, as a CCP cadre, you’d have more important things to do, than post blog comments — such arresting and torturing Fulan Gong members, infecting ignorant villagers with AIDS and detaining Tianamen mothers.

March 31, 2004 @ 7:48 pm | Comment

Well said, Conrad — but I think there’s more to it than that. Before I left China for the last time, I came to realize there really are some decent, democracy-oriented Party members who, hopefully, will fight for their convictions. Reformers like Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang have always been part of the CCP, but after Tiananmen Square the Li Peng contingent got the upper hand. So I’m a lot less inclined nowadays to make blanket generalizations about everyone in the CCP. That’s not to say they don’t suck, but there’s definitely some glimmers of hope.

Unfortunately, I’m not yet convinced Hui is one of the CCP’s do-gooders. His remark, “Keep in mind that I’m a Chinese who speaks very little English so I cannot feel the emotional impacts of your language” is awfully disingenuous (his English is quite good and he knows it). And as you say, the fact that he’s commenting on blogs like mine does little to convince me he’s a Party member at all.

March 31, 2004 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

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