William S Farish: Don't believe these self-serving allegations against Mr Bush's anti-terrorism policies

Richard Clarke's interviews may lead one to conclude that his advice was ignored. This is simply untrue
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The Independent Online

The American film director Billy Wilder once said, "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty." But Richard Clarke's recent assertions show that even hindsight can be woefully off the mark.

The American film director Billy Wilder once said, "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty." But Richard Clarke's recent assertions show that even hindsight can be woefully off the mark.

Who is Richard Clarke? For 30 years, he was a civil servant in the United States government. When President Bush assumed office, he kept Dick Clarke on as his principal counter-terrorism expert. In return, Clarke has written a new book giving his view of events. He has accompanied its release with an orchestrated array of books and self-promotion interviews, to launch a political attack on President Bush and his administration in the hothouse atmosphere of a presidential campaign season. This is a good atmosphere to sell books, perhaps, but not one designed for a cold examination of the facts.

Readers of Clarke's views might be surprised to learn a few facts.

The President was well aware of the threat posed by al-Qa'ida. As the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, noted in her 22 March column for The Washington Post, "During the transition, President-elect Bush's national security team was briefed on the Clinton administration's efforts to deal with al-Qa'ida. The seriousness of the threat was well understood by the President and his national security principals... [But] no al-Qa'ida plan was turned over to the new administration."

Immediately after taking office, the President's national security team worked aggressively and rapidly to develop a new strategy on al-Qa'ida, one designed not to counter al-Qa'ida but to destroy it. Although this involved a spectrum of complex issues and challenges, the President's team completed the new strategy in less than six months.

At Dr Rice's request, in January 2001, Dick Clarke presented her with a number of ideas to address the al-Qa'ida threat. The administration acted upon the ideas that made sense. Although Clarke suggested some ideas to address al-Qa'ida outside the United States, he did not advocate to the Bush administration any plan of action to address al-Qa'ida's presence within the United States.

Clarke's interviews may lead one to conclude that his advice was ignored. This is simply untrue. As the President's principal counter-terrorism expert, if he had asked to brief the President on any counter-terrorism issue, Dick Clarke could have done so. He never did. The only time he asked to brief the President was during the height of the terrorism threat spike in June 2001. And then he asked to brief the President not on al-Qa'ida, but on cyber-security. Per his request, the briefing took place.

Clarke is also off-target in his accusations concerning the Bush administration's views on Iraq, in relation to the 11 September attacks. While the President and his administration were legitimately concerned about the threat posed by Iraq - a concern shared by the Clinton administration, which established the formal policy supporting regime change in Iraq - President Bush's team completed a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al-Qa'ida well before it completed its strategy to address Iraq. In fact, his directive to eliminate al-Qa'ida was President Bush's first major foreign policy directive.

After the 11 September attacks, the President sought to determine who was responsible. Given Iraq's past record of terror, including an attempt by Iraqi intelligence to kill a former US President, it would have been irresponsible not to consider this possibility. However, when the Director of Central Intelligence told the President that there was no evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attack, the President advised his principal national security advisors on 17 September that Iraq was not on the agenda, and that the initial US response to 11 September would be to target al-Qa'ida and its parasitic host, the Taliban, in Afghanistan.

Given these facts, and all that has been written on the subject, can anyone give credence to the suggestion that President Bush didn't take seriously the threat of terrorism?

Groucho Marx was once quoted as saying, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?" A glance at President Bush's statements, and his actions, clearly demonstrates that he has given more attention to the threat of terrorism - and done more to defeat it - than any other president. One may like and support President Bush's policies, or take issue with them - but the President's record on terrorism is clear and convincing.

The writer is the United States ambassador in London

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