From a reader ...
I can't help wondering who at the White House reviewed Clark's book and cleared it for publication? And where will they be working next week? They sure don't act like they saw this one coming. Maybe the warning never made it "up the chain". I guess it wouldn't be the first time that happened, eh?
This missive not only made me cough up some of the soda I was drinking this morning, it's also on the mark and raises a puzzling question. <$Ad$>The White House was in no position to prevent the publication of this book. But they were in a position to read it well in advance of its publication.
Playing by the strictest of rules, of course, what the NSC bureaucrats see for classification purposes shouldn't end up in the hands of the politicals either at NSC or the White House political office. But from the first months of the administration we've seen that those proprieties aren't given a lot of attention. In any case, right out of the gate the White House seemed to have good chapter and verse talking points prepared, challenging Clarke and points raised in his book. So I think we can dispense with any notion that they hadn't given his book a pretty close read.
And that again raises the question: why has the response been so contradictory and feeble? Why, as the reader puts it, have they acted as though they didn't see this coming?
Partly, I think the answer is the same as I gave in a column I wrote for The Hill a few weeks ago: "Weâre looking at a White House that is increasingly insular and isolated. Most specifically, its missteps show how deeply out of touch it is with how much its public credibility has atrophied over the last eight months."
The White House can be a very isolated and isolating environment -- especially on the downward side of the mountain. And I think this is a large part of what we're seeing. Many of the challenges they've faced over the last two or three months are ones they might easily have weathered as recently as eight or nine months ago. And they keep reacting as though they have little grasp of how much the ground has moved beneath their feet during those intervening months.
One other point. We certainly don't know yet. But I think the early signs are that this perjury attack on Clarke was a major, major blunder. I don't think the perpetrators of this ugly stunt even thought they'd ever get into a courtroom. That wasn't the point: this was watercooler ammo. Something you get on to the news so that when Mr. X asks Mr. Y over the watercooler what he makes of Clarke's testimony, Mr. Y responds, "Hell, that guy? He's probably gonna get indicted for perjury. You can't believe anything that guy says."
Still, Clarke -- who was unflappable on the shows this morning -- and Hill Democrats seem to have immediately called Frist & Co.'s bluff. Not only have they welcomed the release of Clarke's materials, they've called for the release of more documents, correspondence and testimony from him and Rice. Selective declassification would be very difficult in the current context -- and could complicate efforts to keep so much other stuff out of the public's view.
This was a very high stakes bluff, not least because it looked like the worst sort of Nixonian tactic, using the coercive machinery of the state to bludgeon political opponents. But if they were going to play hardball at this level, they should have been certain they had him dead to rights. And it seems like they didn't. Now even a number of partisan Republicans I know feel like this looked ugly and wrong. To use the Napoleonic aphorism again: this was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.
When you walk into a crowded room, walk up to a man, put a gun to his head and pull the trigger, make sure the gun's loaded. If not, you have the worst of all worlds -- like the White House.