I am against the blame game about 9/11 but there is one topic where Richard Clarke's fulminations prompts a reaction from this quarter; his claim that the Iraq war undermined the war on terrorism.
This morning, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Clarke gave three reasons for this argument, one having to do with vulnerabilities and one with resources, but it is the third that gets my goat. Here is Clarke in his own words (with some added links, mostly to my already-written responses to Clarke's assertions):
Who are we fighting in the war on terrorism? We're fighting Islamic radicals and they are drawing people from the youth of the Islamic world into hating us. Now, after September 11, people in the Islamic world said, "Wait a minute. Maybe we've gone too far here. Maybe this Islamic movement, this radical movement, has to be suppressed," and we had a moment, we had a window of opportunity, where we could change the ideology in the Islamic world. Instead, we've inflamed the ideology. We've played right into the hands of al-Qaeda and others. We've done what Osama bin Laden said we would do.
Clarke has it diametrically wrong here: as the links above suggest, Muslims responded to 9/11 with delight and enthusiasm. It was only the coalition victory over the Taliban that tamped down the exhilaration.
Ninety percent of the Islamic people in Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, allied countries to the United States--90 percent in polls taken last month hate the United States. It's very hard when that's the game where 90 percent of the Arab people hate us. It's very hard for us to win the battle of ideas. We can arrest them. We can kill them. But as Don Rumsfeld said in the memo that leaked from the Pentagon, I'm afraid that they're generating more ideological radicals against us than we are arresting them and killing them. They're producing more faster than we are.
Odd, is it not, that Clarke implies that if Muslims see Americans negatively, it is the Americans' fault? I wonder if he would have thought the same about Germans in 1943, upset about the invasion of Italy that year.
The president of Egypt said, "If you invade Iraq, you will create a hundred bin Ladens." He lives in the Arab world. He knows. It's turned out to be true. It is now much more difficult for us to win the battle of ideas as well as arresting and killing them, and we're going to face a second generation of al-Qaeda. We're going to catch bin Laden. I have no doubt about that. In the next few months, he'll be found dead or alive. But it's two years too late because during those two years, al-Qaeda has morphed into a hydra-headed organization, independent cells like the organization that did the attack in Madrid.
Boiled down, Clarke is saying that the war on terror has gone sour because Muslims are angry about U.S.-led forces deposing and capturing Saddam Hussein.
A counterterrorist specialist like Clarke, someone who worries about hardening railroad beds and getting law enforcement agencies to speak to each other, might miss the larger point, which is this:
Americans and Muslims see the world very differently. It's not just a matter of such hot-button issues as Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict but also larger questions of economics, politics, religion, sexuality, and child-rearing. Put in the simplest terms, Americans are mostly modern and Muslims are mostly not. There are exceptions to this general rule but it holds often enough and is so consequential that it now drives world politics. Further, this was the situation no less before 9/11 than it is today; it just was not so evident.
There are only two choices. Either militant Islam wins or America does. Clarke's advice amounts to appeasement and the route to defeat. (March 28, 2004)
March 30, 2004 update: Brian Levite, a reader, points out that Clarke (in the above quote) misrepresents Rumsfeld's memo. Here is how Clarke paraphrased the memo:
But as Don Rumsfeld said in the memo that leaked from the Pentagon, I'm afraid that they're generating more ideological radicals against us than we are arresting them and killing them. They're producing more faster than we are.
And here is what Rumsfeld actually wrote:
Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us? Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?
Rumsfeld is merely raising questions; Clarke has him saying that the United States is losing. That's a big difference. It appears that, in his effort to discredit the Bush administration, Clarke does not mind making things up.