Clarke writes (and nobody has disputed) that when Condi Rice took over the NSC, she kept him onboard and preserved his title but demoted the position.
He would no longer participate in, much less run, Principals' meetings. He would report to deputy secretaries. He would have no staff and would
attend no more meetings with budget officials.
Clarke probably resented the slight, took it personally. But he also saw it as a downgrading of the issue, a sign that al-Qaida was no longer taken as
the urgent threat that the Clinton White House had come to interpret it. (One less-noted aspect of Clarke's book is its detailed description of the
major steps that Clinton took to combat terrorism.)
The White House talking-points paper is filled with these sorts of distortions. For instance, it notes that Bush didn't need to meet with Clarke
because, unlike Clinton, he met every day with CIA Director George Tenet, who talked frequently about al-Qaida.
But here's how Clarke describes those meetings:
[Tenet] and I regularly commiserated that al Qaeda was not being addressed more seriously by the new administration. ... We agreed that Tenet
would ensure that the president's daily briefings would continue to be replete with threat information on al Qaeda.
The problem is: Nothing happened. (It is significant, by the way, that Tenet has not been recruited—not successfully, anyway—to rebut Clarke's
charges. Clarke told Charlie Rose that he was "very close" to Tenet. The two come off as frustrated allies in Clarke's book.)
The White House document insists Bush did take the threat seriously, telling Rice at one point "that he was 'tired of swatting flies' and wanted to
go on the offense against al-Qaeda."
Here's how Clarke describes that exchange:
President Bush, reading the intelligence every day and noticing that there was a lot about al Qaeda, asked Condi Rice why it was that we couldn't
stop "swatting flies" and eliminate al Qaeda. Rice told me about the conversation and asked how the plan to get al Qaeda was coming in the
Deputies' Committee. "It can be presented to the Principals in two days, whenever we can get a meeting," I pressed. Rice promised to get to it
soon. Time passed.
The Principals meeting, which Clarke urgently requested during Bush's first week in office, did not take place until one week before 9/11. In his 60
Minutes interview, Clarke spelled out the significance of this delay. He contrasted July 2001 with December 1999, when the Clinton White House got
word of an impending al-Qaida attack on Los Angeles International Airport and Principals meetings were called instantly and repeatedly:
In December '99, every day or every other day, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, the Attorney General had to go to the White House and
sit in a meeting and report on all the things that they personally had done to stop the al Qaeda attack, so they were going back every night to their
departments and shaking the trees personally and finding out all the information. If that had happened in July of 2001, we might have found out in the
White House, the Attorney General might have found out that there were al Qaeda operatives in the United States. FBI, at lower levels, knew [but]
never told me, never told the highest levels in the FBI. ... We could have caught those guys and then we might have been able to pull that thread and
get more of the conspiracy. I'm not saying we could have stopped 9/11, but we could have at least had a chance.
That's what Clarke says is the tragedy of Bush's inaction, and nobody in the White House has dealt with the charge at all.
I'm now researching this Clarke guy, so I have no comment for now...
[edit on 13-2-2005 by TrueLies]