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On Richard Clarke

Richard Clarke blames the Bush administration for September 11, but what does he think about President Clinton?

7:00 AM, Mar 22, 2004 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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THERE ISN'T MUCH THAT'S FUNNY in discussions of war and terrorism. But Clarke's back-and-forth with 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl on the Clinton administration's response to Iraq's 1993 assassination attempt on President George H.W. Bush offers a brief moment of levity.

The assassination attempt came just three months after President Clinton told the New York Times's Tom Friedman that being a Baptist and a believer in "deathbed conversions" he was willing to give Saddam a fresh start.

Saddam dispatched a rag-tag group of intelligence operatives to assassinate his nemesis. They failed. And when the FBI determined that Saddam's intelligence service was behind the plot, President Clinton ordered a handful of Tomahawk missiles to destroy the Iraqi Intelligence headquarters in Baghdad.

It was a flaccid response to the attempted assassination of a former head of state. But Clarke doesn't see it that way. Along with the strikes, Clarke says, the Clinton administration sent "a very clear message through diplomatic channels" that further Iraqi terrorism would be dealt with more severely. Clarke calls this "a very chilling message."

IN HIS INTERVIEW with Stahl, Clarke goes to great lengths to suggest that there was no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. At one point in the interview, Clarke makes a stunning declaration. "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

Leave aside the fact that Clarke was a key player in the decision to strike the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in 1998. That strike came twenty days after al Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. Clinton administration officials repeatedly cited Iraqi support for Sudan's Military Industrial Corporation and al Shifa in their defense of the targeting.

Disregard, too, the fact that when the Clinton Justice Department blamed bin Laden for those attacks, the indictment specifically cited an "understanding" between Iraq and al Qaeda, under which the Iraqis would help al Qaeda with "weapons development" in exchange for a promise from bin Laden that he wouldn't work against the Iraqi regime.

More important, Clarke's assertion is directly contradicted by CIA director George Tenet. In a letter he wrote to the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 7, 2002, Tenet cited numerous examples of Iraqi support for al Qaeda. Tenet wrote: "We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs."

Clarke should answer several questions when he appears before the September 11 Commission this week. Among them:

(1) Is George Tenet wrong about Iraqi support for al Qaeda?

(2) Why did the Clinton administration cite an "understanding" between bin Laden and Iraq in its indictment of bin Laden for the 1998 embassy bombings?

(3) Did Iraq support al Qaeda's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction in Sudan?

(4) Clinton administration officials, including Clarke's former boss Sandy Berger, stand by their decision to target al Shifa. Does Clarke?

(5) What did the Clinton administration do to get the Iraqis to turn over Abdul Rahman Yasin, the Iraqi harbored by the regime after mixing the chemicals for the 1993 World Trade Center attacks?

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.