The Bush camp:unsteady leadership

Richard Clarke reminds us that President George W. Bush bungled the war on terror.

With the 2004 presidential campaign already under way, it was only a matter of time before a credible figure came forward to challenge the Bush administration’s record against terrorism. Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official who served four presidents for over 30 years in government, launched that challenge this week with a new book and testimony before the independent commission investigating Sept. 11. As the presidential campaign enters the spring and summer, American voters should pay close attention to Clarke’s charge – the Bush administration bungled the fight against terrorism before and after Sept. 11.

White House efforts to quiet Clarke by questioning his credibility should not distract voters from his central message. Clarke’s version of events is much closer to the truth than the Bush administration would like to admit. It is now clear Bush officials came to office with a skewed set of foreign policy priorities. While early attention was focused on a national missile defense system and relations with China, the search for a stronger anti-terrorism policy languished in a snail’s-paced policy review that concluded only a week before the Sept. 11 attacks. As the national coordinator on counterterrorism in the Clinton administration, Clarke regularly chaired high-level counterterrorism meetings. After Bush officials took office, he was barred from these meetings and demoted to a level where his terrorism warnings were effectively muted.

Clarke is one of only a handful of individuals who clearly recognized the threat of terrorism long before Sept. 11. Those credentials more than qualify him to critique the Bush administration’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Clarke rightly points out the war in Iraq will cost nearly $180 billion over the first two years while American cargo containers, nuclear plants and electrical grids remain largely unprotected.

George W. Bush already started to tap his $100 million-plus campaign chest to promote, according to one commercial, his “steady leadership in times of change.” These are indeed times of change, but Clarke reminds us just how unsteady Bush’s leadership has been.