If Clarke is spewing nonsense - if the president and his national security adviser really did consider al-Qaida an urgent matter - Tenet is the man to say so. It's hard to imagine that the White House hasn't tried to recruit him to do so. Yet so far he hasn't.
Tenet is not the only quiet dog. One of the hounds that the White House did unleash - Secretary of State Powel - not only declined to growl, but practically purred like a kitten. Interviewed on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour, Powell said: 'I know Mr. Clarke. I have known him for many, many years. He's a very smart guy. He served his nation very, very well. He's an expert in these matters.' His book 'is not the complete story,' but, Powell added, 'I'm not attributing any bad motives to it.'
Asked if he had been recruited to join the campaign against Clarke, Powell replied, 'I'm not aware of any campaign against Mr. Clarke, and I am not a member.'
His choice of words here is fascinating. Note: He did not say 'There is no campaign,' but rather 'I'm not aware of any campaign.' As has been widely observed, Powell truly is out of the loop in this administration; it's conceivable he is unaware. He then went on to say, '[A]nd I am not a member' - suggesting there might be a campaign, but he's not part of it.
Clarke is not the first Bush administration official to be suddenly flung down from favour. Consider:
- General Eric Shinseki
- Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
- Ambassador Joseph Wilson
In each case the former official's allegations of fact have not been disputed, Instead we've seen a sustained and puerile assault on their character or motivation. As we speak a similar exercise is developing against the Medicare actuary threatened with the sack if he told the Congress the truth. Today's NYT editorialises that:
When the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, dared to say publicly that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq, he was ridiculed by the administration and his career was brought to a close. When Mr. Bush's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, disclosed that planning for an invasion of Iraq was already under way in early 2001, he was denounced as someone who didn't know what he was talking about. And there's hardly a serious person in the country who is unaware of the administration's sliming of Richard Clarke, who said, among other things, that the war in Iraq had undermined the war against terror.
If only the Bush administration was as good at fighting terrorists as it is at shooting the messenger.