I consider Phil Carter one of the two or three smartest people blogging about foreign and military affairs. So I’m completely puzzled at this:
Update V: David Frum, a former Bush Administration speech writer who now pens a ‘blog for the National Review, has an interesting take on the Clarke allegations from the perspective of someone who served in the same GWB West Wing.
bq.. “I have yet to read his book, but I have studied his interview, and I think I understand his argument.
Clarke seems to have become so enwrapped in the technical problems of terrorism that he has lost sight of its inescapably political context. One reason that his line of argument did not get the hearing in the Bush administration that he would have wished was that he did tend to present counter-terrorism as a discrete series of investigations and apprehensions: an endless game of terrorist whack-a-mole.
The Bush administration thought in bigger and bolder terms than that. They favored grand strategies over file management. Clarke may have thought that he was dramatizing his case by severing the threat from al Qaeda from its context in the political and economic failures of the Arab and Islamic world.
Instead, his way of presenting his concerns seems to have had the perverse effect of making the terrorist issue look small and secondary – of deflating rather than underscoring its importance.
And this propensity continues.
The huge dividing line in the debate over terror remains just this: Is the United States engaged in a man-hunt – for bin Laden, for Zawahiri, for the surviving alumni of the al Qaeda training camps? – or is it engaged in a war with the ideas that animated those people and with the new generations of killers who will take up the terrorist mission even if the US were to succeed in extirpating every single terrorist now known to be alive and active? Clarke has aligned himself with one side of that debate – and it’s the wrong side.
p. What’s Mr. Frum saying? Is he saying that Mr. Clarke’s allegations were right, but that he just wasn’t articulate enough to sell his agenda to the President? Is Mr. Frum, who was part of the White House political apparatus, saying that Mr. Clarke’s real failures were political — not factual? Did the Bush Administration really ignore a national security threat because one of its advisors couldn’t find a way to sell the problem politically? If true, this statement by Mr. Frum is a damning indictment of the entire White House and National Security Council, and it indicates a near-total breakdown of the national security process. The idea behind the NSC staff, intelligence community, Joint Chiefs, and all the other systems in the national security process is to professionalize the decisions of the President in this area — not to politicize them. Now comes Mr. Frum, saying essentially that the White House ignored its in-house expert on terrorism because he couldn’t package it well enough.
No, Phil, that’s not it. What Frum is saying is pretty obvious, and echoes what a lot of folks (including me) have been saying; that the notion that 9/11 was caused by an isolated group of bad actors – and that the appropriate response is to capture (or kill) that select group of bad actors – is just wrong. It’s the doctrine that the Clinton team followed pre 9/11, and which they executed pretty darn well.
It was wrong.
Frum is arguing that the alternative to ‘whack a mole’ is to unplug the mechanism which keeps popping moles up, and that to do that, you have to change state behavior – a political act and a political decision. Clarke isn’t being criticized for not playing office politics enough in selling his message, he’s being criticized for selling a message which ignored the geopolitics of what is going on.
I can’t believe that Phil doesn’t see that (note that this doesn’t suggest that he necessarily has to agree with it, just that he’s busting Frum for making a different argument than he’s actually making).