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A regular Shakespearean play

Alan Braunholtz

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet’s famous line in Shakespeare’s play of deceit, death and betrayal seems strangely appropriate to President Bush administration’s apoplectic reaction to Richard Clarke’s revealing book.

Clarke was the civil servant in charge of counter terrorism until he resigned 13 months ago, and he doesn’t exactly endorse the current administration’s anti terrorist actions.

To give an idea how wide the mad scramble to discredit Clarke is, consider this: Dick Cheney phoned into Rush Limbaugh’s talk show, who I’m sure lapped it up. No objective audience there.



It’ll be interesting to see how the Republican spin machine maneuvers to destroy the credibility of a man acknowledged as an expert on national security and terrorism who served Reagan, Bush and Clinton before G.W. Bush and was known for his take-no-prisoners style.

Most of the papers I’ve read describe him as a nonpartisan with no ax to grind except his conscience. Still, destroy the man and you hope to destroy the message.



Problem is, his isn’t the only book from an ex-administration insider to say this. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill also said that Bush’s team arrived in office focused on attacking Iraq and dismissive of the Clinton administration’s growing obsession with terrorism and al-Qaeda.

While Clarke says Clinton was trying to focus on terrorist threats, his stupidity with Monica and consequent brouhaha provided too much of a distraction. That affair and impeach at all costs may have cost us more than we thought.

Partisan politics probably cost us, too. If you come into office with the basic idea of “if they’re for it we’re against it,” you’ll probably dismiss something you shouldn’t. I remember the major defense debate the summer of 2001 as the resurrecting of the Star Wars missile defense boondoggle with many in the Senate arguing that it’s a waste of money with a greater threat being terrorism.



Richard Clarke’s book put the invasion of Iraq in a new painful light. If Clarke and O’Neill are telling the truth, we were looking for any excuse to attack Iraq and despite no evidence of involvement with 9/11 started targeting them the day after. This puts a shadow over our dismissal and humiliation of the U.N. weapons inspectors, go-it-alone attitude and own statements on the weapons of mass destruction. Did obsession and strongly held beliefs trump the facts?

Clarke also says that the mid-term elections provided another motive for our war with Iraq. Timing a war (let alone having one) for partisan political gain is an unpardonable disrespect for human life. Wars are horrendous things of the last resort and mid-term elections don’t qualify.

Clarke saw the war as a distraction to the war on terrorism. It alienated us from our allies who didn’t see the need for such speed and provided al-Qaeda with a powerful recruiting tool. More of the Muslim world now sees us as a Christian power crusading against Islam. These are points that needed to be discussed before the war, but looming elections and a “with us or against us” jingoistic rhetoric muzzled any debate.

Despite our often open disdain for our allies (note recent political attacks on Spain), they are all still committed to the war on terrorism (al-Qaeda), just not from their perspective our war on Iraq. The premier of Poland feels “taken for a ride” on this war. I would look at the election results in Spain as less one of appeasement and more of public anger at a government that tried to mislead them for political advantage over which terrorists were responsible for the recent bombings there.

I still have a hard time believing some of what Clarke writes, mainly because I don’t want to. We’re supposed to be better than that, though it does fit a pattern.

This administration has a habit of ignoring inconvenient facts and misleading us at times. Despite the government’s own scientists and Pentagon analysis of global warming as a predominantly man-made and potentially huge threat, Bush dismissed one report as something put out by “bureaucrats.” James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Don’t like them, then ignore them.

The actuary in charge of the Medicare bill estimated it’d cost $139 billion more than the amount told to Congress before they voted on it. His political boss told him he’d be fired if he released these figures. This bill, thanks to its privatization provisions, will also bankrupt Medicare seven years earlier. Hide the facts if they don’t agree with you.

Originally, new laws relaxing the regulations on mercury pollution were enacted without the normally automatic cost-to-health-and-environment reviews. If you can prevent the research in the first place from even turning up inconvenient facts, then you don’t have to worry about them.

Government made easy.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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