Through all this commotion and vitriol over Richard Clarke's 9/11 Commission testimony there is a pervading aura of the surreal. I say that because, at least in its broad outlines, little he has said is even that controversial.
I don't mean every conversation he recounts or each incident he says occurred in the White House, but the broad narrative -- for instance, the fact that the new administration did not place a high priority on transnational terrorism as a major threat to the United States, certainly not as high a priority as the previous administration.
The key, as we've noted before, was the new administration's abiding belief in the centrality of states as the actors in international affairs. That assumption not only preceded 9/11 but, perversely, survived it.
As we'll discuss in much greater depth in the future, the hidebound unwillingness to rethink that assumption after the 9/11 attacks is at the root of most of our greatest mistakes and strategic failures over the last two and a half years.
But, again, that's for another post.
Let me note an example.
At the beginning of 2000, Condi Rice wrote an article in Foreign Affairs outlining the sort of foreign and national security policy America should pursue. It was published as part of the journal's treatment of the 2000 election and in the article Rice was identified as one of then-candidate George W. Bush's foreign policy advisors. The article was intended to be a quasi-official statement of Bush's policies for the foreign policy elite -- the folks who read Foreign Affairs.
I read the piece at the time, or near after, and it was certainly very widely read by people in the foreign policy community.
I mention it now because this evening a reader reminded me of it and brought a now-pertinent fact to my attention. In the article Rice notes five key foreign policy priorities. Only the last made any mention of terrrorism and it was: "to deal decisively with the threat of rogue regimes and hostile powers, which is increasingly taking the forms of the potential for terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction."
Her article then elaborates on each of the five priorities and takes up the fifth toward the end of the piece.
It's well worth linking through and reading.
Not only does she not mention al Qaida or Osama bin Laden, she scarcely even mentions terrorism in the sense we now generally understand it. Her discussion is about North Korea, Iraq and Iran -- rogue states that might threaten the US with weapons of mass destruction (primarily with the use of missiles) -- and, to a much lesser extent, state-sponsored terrorism from Iran.
The key policy prescription for this section is contained in this paragraph ...
One thing is clear: the United States must approach regimes like North Korea resolutely and decisively. The Clinton administration has failed here, sometimes threatening to use force and then backing down, as it often has with Iraq. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence -- if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration. Second, we should accelerate efforts to defend against these weapons. This is the most important reason to deploy national and theater missile defenses as soon as possible, to focus attention on U.S. homeland defenses against chemical and biological agents, and to expand intelligence capabilities against terrorism of all kinds.
The central policy recommendation is national missile defense -- a defensive capacity aimed at states. And though there is mention of chemical and biological agents and the need to "expand intelligence capabilities against terrorism of all kinds" even a quick read of the entire section shows clearly that ideologically-based transnational terrorism simply wasn't on her radar as a significant threat to the United States.
There's no mention of Afghanistan or the madrassas in Pakistan, the importance of knocking down terrorist financial networks, Islamist sleeper cells in American or Germany. None of it.
Rice's own words from 2000 provide a lot of back-up for one of the major arguments for which Clarke is now being villified by Rice and her allies.