The one person who should be happiest about the publication of Bob Woodward’s new book is surely former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke. After insisting that President Bush had begun planning the Iraq invasion soon after Sept. 11, Clarke was denounced by the White House and on the floor of the Senate as a lying, disgruntled profiteer. But with Woodward’s undisputed revelations that Iraq War planning began almost immediately after 9/11, Clarke has been vindicated as a truth-teller. It is now the White House that must explain why the public was deliberately lied to about the war.
Clarke and Woodward are not the first to confirm that the invasion of Iraq was being planned soon after or even before Sept. 11.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill published documents proving that the president “ordered the Pentagon to explore the possibility of a ground invasion of Iraq well before” Sept. 11 — an account corroborated by another White House aide.
In other words, Clarke’s account and Woodward’s independent confirmation are only the most recent evidence that the Bush administration used 9/11 as a platform to pursue the predetermined goal of war in Iraq. But before Woodward’s book, top White House officials paraded on national television in a coordinated effort to discredit those who had come forward with the facts.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan was first. In his March 23 briefing, he was asked point-blank whether, immediately after 9/11, “the president was already directing the Pentagon to prepare plans for the invasion of Iraq.” He replied, “That’s part of his revisionist history.” The reporter then asked, “Are you saying [Clarke's charges] are not true?” “Yes, that’s right. I am. That’s just his revisionist history to make suggestions like that.”
McClellan’s answer had clearly been parsed, poll-tested and approved beforehand by Karl Rove’s political shop in the White House, which had used such phraseology before to defend its Iraq policy. McClellan did not stop there. He went on to tell reporters that Clarke’s well-substantiated assertions about Iraq planning “are deeply irresponsible and they are flat-out wrong.”
The same day McClellan assailed Clarke, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was asked by 9/11 commissioner Tim Roemer about charges that Wolfowitz and others in the administration focused on Iraq after 9/11. At the end a rambling answer, Wolfowitz dismissed Clarke as having a “creative memory” and said it was “playing tricks.” Yet Wolfowitz admitted that “in 2002, in January, the president said, OK, I want to see military options for Iraq” — confirming Clarke’s central assertion that the White House began planning for war almost immediately after 9/11.
Finally, Rice rounded off the attack on Clarke with a series of falsehoods. On March 22, the national security advisor told the NBC “Today” show that after 9/11 “Iraq is going to be put to the side.” Then, on March 24, Rice said that the president signed a military directive after 9/11, but one that “says it’s Afghanistan.” She omitted the directive’s order for the Pentagon to draw up invasion plans for Iraq.
Then, at the White House’s instigation, the smear campaign against Clarke was carried to the floor of the Senate. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., excoriated Clarke for having “lied to the press” and claimed Clarke had perjured himself by supposedly telling “two entirely different stories under oath.” But according to Slate, Frist “later retreated from directly accusing Clarke of perjury, telling reporters that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies” in Clarke’s testimony. It also turned out, as the American Prospect reported, “Frist’s senior national-security adviser, who advised him on the speech attacking Clarke, is one Steve E. Biegun, former executive secretary of Bush’s National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice from 2001 through 2003.”
The calumnies against Clarke were echoed, not just by the reliable amplifiers at Fox, the Washington Times and the Weekly Standard, but by neoconservatives with megaphones on the opinion pages of mainstream newspapers. David Brooks of the New York Times wrote, “Clarke has turned himself into a mendacious glory-hound whose claims are contradictory.” Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post denounced Clarke as “not just a perjurer but a partisan perjurer.”
Conservative pundit Bob Novak, on CNN, asked a guest whether Clarke’s charges were false because he had a “problem with this African-American woman, Condoleezza Rice?” And Ann Coulter was invited on MSNBC, where she said Clarke’s charges should be dismissed because he was just “upset a black woman took his job.”
In the preface to his book, “Against All Enemies,” Clarke wrote that the Bush White House was “adept at revenge,” and he expected it. He was not disappointed. But those who claimed he was lying were themselves lying. They knew full well what they had done inside the White House — and they knew that Clarke knew, too. Rather than being “out of the loop,” as Vice President Dick Cheney claimed, Clarke was at the center of the events he described. The attacks against him were intended to defend the White House against the growing disillusionment with its policies and credibility. Now Woodward’s book underscores in its details Clarke’s story. It also casts a light on the recent lies that have been told. And the credibility gap grows.