War against terror is a failure, ex-White House official says
The Bush administration has bungled the war on terrorism, doing little to provide security at home while breeding legions of new enemies abroad, the government's former anti-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, told a large Berkeley audience Tuesday night.
Clarke, who made international headlines last spring when he emerged as the highest-ranking whistle-blower from inside the White House's war on terrorism, painted an alarming picture of a White House still pursuing a losing strategy while America's safety hangs in the balance.
"The pool of people who really hate us is so much greater than it was on 9/11 because of this needless and counterproductive war in Iraq," Clarke said to applause from nearly 2,000 people at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach auditorium.
On the home front, except for improved airline safety, little or nothing has been done to protect the many other vulnerable targets such as trains, chemical plants, Wal-Marts and financial headquarters, said Clarke, who served as counterterrorism czar under both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, he and other counterterrorism officials urged a wide range of protective actions, such as security for commuter trains vulnerable to the type of backpack bombs that later blew up a train in Madrid.
"That could happen in the BART system today," he said. He described most homeland-security measures in the past three years as "token efforts."
He also called the war on terrorism a misnomer.
"We're not engaged in a war on terrorism, a war against a tactic," he said. "We're not concerned here with all terrorist groups." There are many terrorist organizations around the world that the U.S. government is not actively fighting, he noted.
The enemy, he said, consists of about 100,000 members of about 14 jihadist groups, loosely linked to al Qaeda and representing "a virulent strain of Islam." This strain, he said, is a violence-embracing form of the Sunni fundamentalist movement known as Wahabism.
America needs to confront such enemies directly, but it also needs to wage a "war of ideas" with the hundreds of millions of Muslims who currently support the hardcore fanatics, he said.
Clarke was a senior White House adviser to the last three presidents and was the government's "foremost expert on al Qaeda," in the words of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner writing in the New York Times last week.
Clark's bombshell book earlier this year, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. The book says the Bush team failed to give sufficient attention to the al Qaeda threat both before and after Sept. 11, focusing instead on a preoccupation with Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq.
Clarke, who left the White House in frustration in February 2003, issued high-profile criticisms as a star witness before the national Sept. 11 commission and on CBS News' "60 Minutes," both in March this year.
He had been dissatisfied before he left. In what Clarke viewed as a sign of the Bush administration downgrading counterterrorism, for example, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told him that he could stop attending the "principals" meetings of the National Security Council.
His book provoked strong reactions from the White House, with Vice President Dick Cheney saying Clarke hadn't been "in the loop," and others suggested he resented working for Rice.
Hoping to avert another Vietnam, he began a career in Washington in 1973, working for the Pentagon for five years before joining the State Department. He worked on security in the Reagan administration and, as assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs under President George H.W. Bush, he coordinated international support for the Persian Gulf War.
Clarke's appearance at Berkeley was sponsored by UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, the campus Institute of International Studies and the chancellor's office.
He was interviewed on stage by Michael Nacht, dean of the Goldman School, and Steven Weber, director of the Institute of International Studies.