Clarke and the al-Shifa plant

Dan Darling doesn't take Richard Clarke seriously, because he perceives an inconsistency regarding Clarke's support of the decision to bomb the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan during the Clinton Administration.

It's worth pointing out that Clarke has been consistent in arguing the strike was justified - even reiterating the point during his public testimony to the 9-11 Comission:

CLARKE: But when you sometimes do that, you get into trouble. President Clinton got into a lot of trouble, a lot of criticism for blowing up a chemical plant in Sudan. To this day there are a lot of people who believe that it was not related to a terrorist group, not related to chemical weapons. They're wrong, by the way. But the president had decided in PDD-39 that there should be a low threshold of evidence when it comes to the possibility of terrorists getting their access, getting their hands on chemical weapons. And he acted on that basis. And when he acted on that basis, he and his advisers were all heavily criticized. So what I was suggesting there and what I am suggesting here now is that while Sandy Berger is right and we should not rush to judgment after a terrorist attack as to who did it until there is ample intelligence evidence, not criminal evidence, on the other hand, we should feel free to attack terrorist groups without waiting for them to attack us if we make a policy and an intelligence judgment that they pose a threat.

My emphasis should address Dan's question of whether Clarke stood by his support for bombing al-Shifa - he clearly does. Dan argues that the al-Shifa plant was a tangible connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, which Clarke himself accepted (and accepts) as valid. Thus, Dan concludes, Clarke's argument today that the Bush Administration wrongly linked 9-11 to Iraq and that the war on Iraq has undermined the war on Terror is false.

if Clarke does indeed stand by the decision to attack al-Shifa, he can hardly blame President Bush for taking action against Iraq. Indeed, it would seem that he was simply agreeing with Clarke's earlier conclusions about a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq when he advised President Clinton to destroy the al-Shifa plant.

However, that conclusion is flawed, because the central terror threat of Al-Qaeda is not primarily a state-sponsored one. Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek article is essential reading on the difference between state-sponsored terror and Al-Qaeda). The Bush Administration's focus on Iraq - from the President on down immediately after 9-11 - is indicative of a strongly state-centric view of global terror which is dangerously outdated. Josh Marshall went back to Condi Rice's landmark article in Foreign Affairs in 2000 and found that the main foreign policy emphasis from the future National Security Adviser was not terrorism but missile defense - and discusses rogue states as the primary threat, with no mention of Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Paul Wolfowitz had a similar attitude in a meeting a few months after inauguration that Clarke describes in his book:

Rice's deputy, Steve Hadley, began the meeting by asking me to brief the group. I turned immediately to the pending decisions needed to deal with al Qaeda. "We need to put pressure on both the Taliban and al Qaeda by arming the Northern Alliance and other groups in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, we need to target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the Predator."

Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld's deputy at Defense, fidgeted and scowled. Hadley asked him if he was all right. "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden," Wolfowitz responded.

I answered as clearly and forcefully as I could: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States."

"Well, there are others that do as well, as least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example," Wolfowitz replied, looking not at me but at Hadley.

"I am unaware of any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism directed at the United States, Paul, since 1993, and I think FBI and CIA concur in that judgment, right, John?" I pointed at CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who was obviously not eager to get in the middle of a debate between the White House and the Pentagon but nonetheless replied, "Yes, that is right, Dick. We have no evidence of any active Iraqi terrorist threat against the U.S."

Finally, Wolfowitz turned to me. "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

I could hardly believe it, but Wolfowitz was actually spouting the totally discredited Laurie Mylroie theory that Iraq was behind the 1993 truck bomb at the World Trade Center, a theory that had been investigated for years and found to be totally untrue.

Peter Bergen wrote a definitive article on the fallacy of Mylroie's claims in The Washington Monthly. Overall, the Bush Administration was operating on an a priori worldview that was heavily influenced by outdated Cold War thinking.

To some degree, Dan has reduced Clarke's argument ad absurdum to simply "Iraq and Al-Qaeda never had a link" when in fact Clarke has never stated such a belief. What Clarke has argued is that Al Qaeda's specific operations leading up to 9-11 were independent of Iraq, and part of the intelligence failure that led to 9-11 was because the Bush Administration did not pursue specific policies to coordinate information between agencies (policies which helped the Clinton Administration successfully prevent the Millennium bombings in December 1999).

Moreover, Clarke is arguing that post-9/11, the emphasis on state supporters of terror came at the expense of attention paid to the principal actors, who continue to elude capture or killing.

By the way, I strongly believe that no one is qualified to have an opinion on Clarke unless they have either read or watched the full testimony. Putting forward a specific point of dispute or critique is not a rigorous dismissal of Clarke's claims, the basis for which are founded in a far more thorough and fundamental critique of the Administration than the straw-men characterizations put forth by Administration apologists. Though he rarely disagrees with Bush Administration policies, Dan Darling is not an apologist. Neither, however, is he giving Clarke a fair evaluation if he bases his entire opinion of him on the sole matter of this pharmaceutical factory.

UPDATE 3/31/04: Dan responds. He found specific quotes by Clarke that asserted there was NEVER any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, which seemd to me a contradiction in what had been until now completely consistent views, until I realized something - that Clarke's support for bombing the al-Shifa plant was based on his belief it was associated with Al-Qaeda, but not neccessarily Iraq. Dan linked to a Weekly Standard article that suggests there were phone calls between Sudan and Iraq, and a Slate article that mentions the plant owner had traveled to Iraq. Dan also links to a Global Security article by the infamous Laurie Mylroie whose claims have been utterly discredited. This is flimsy evidence upon which to hang a conclusion that Iraq was actively involved with Al Qaeda. It is possible that some Iraqi expertise found its way into Al-Qaeda hands, but a direct connection is too much of a stretch.

And it is irrelevant. Let's be clear that the issue at hand with Dan rests on why Clarke supported bombing al-Shifa, and whether that rationale held by Clarke is consistent with his current critiques of the administration. Dan believes Clarke was either wrong in 1998 or is wrong now. I believe that Clarke believes he was right in both cases, though he may have been factually wrong in 1998.

I was wrong in assuming Clarke had never denied any connection because to some extent I let my own biases filter my view, that at some level all these things are connected. But focusing on the specific issue of Clarke's credibility allows us to separate these threads for more accurate analysis.

There are a number of other (relatively minor) points with which Dan disagrees - go read the whole thing. Note that we are actually much on the same page on most of the broader points. I also very much want to hear Clarke's answer to the question Dan poses: "Why did you advise Clinton to bomb al-Shifa?" I suspect teh answer will be because of Al-Qaeda, so I propose a follow-up question: "Do you believe the expertise for bioagent production at al-Shifa is of Iraqi origin? If so, please explain the connections in light of your CBS assertion that there was never any link." The answers will be useful in clarifying the debate on this issue, but I still don't see it as central to the argument. On that score, I guess Dan and I have to agree to disagree.

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