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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Go with slow
John Ashcroft before September 11 had refused to increase counterterrorism funds and had not placed terrorism in the top-priority issues for the Justice Department. When I and one of my staff met with Ashcroft early in the Administration, we were left wondering if his discussion with us had been an act. My associate asked me on the drive back to the White House, "He can't really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can't get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?"

I wasn't sure. "I don't know," I said. "Maybe he's just cagey, but after all, he did lose a Senate reelection to a dead man."
-- Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, p. 256.

Clarke continues:
What Ashcroft and others did in the case of Padilla, and in proposing to amend the Patriot Act to allow for actions without judicial review, was to fundamentally shake the confidence of many Americans in the government's ability to safeguard our rights. At a time when we need greater citizen trust in the government so that we can adapt to the terrorist threat, Ashcroft is doing such things as engaging in a war of words with America's librarians over whether the FBI can scan reading records. The probability of the FBI ever needing to do that is so remote that this controversy should never have been allowed to develop. The Battle with the Librarians, the case of Jose Padilla, and the request for Patriot Act II make it very difficult to gain consensus to do the things that are needed to improve security, because trust in government's sensitivity to civil liberties is eroded.

I just finished reading the book. I don't agree with Clarke on everything. But unlike Bush, Ashcroft or Rice, he gives the distinct impression that he really knows what he is talking about, and is therefore far more deserving of the benefit of the doubt. His criticism of the war in Iraq is scathing and comprehensive. No reason, no need, poorly explained, poorly executed, costly, and a total failure. Plus a few more things besides!

One more quote, for now:
September 11 erased memories of the unique process whereby George Bush had been selected as President a few months earlier. Now, as he stood with an arm around a New York fireman promising to get those who had destroyed the World Trade Center, he was every American's President. His polls soared. He had a unique opportunity to unite America, to bring the United States together with allies around the world to fight terrorism and hate, to eliminate al Qaeda, to eliminate our vulnerabilities, to strengthen important nations threatened by radicalism. He did none of those things. He invaded Iraq.