The principal objections to democratical or popular
government, are taken from the inequalities which arise among men
in the result of commercial arts. And it must be confessed, that
popular assemblies, when composed of men whose dispositions are
sordid, and whose ordinary applications are illiberal, however
they may be intrusted with the choice of their masters and
leaders, are certainly, in their own persons, unfit to command.
How can he who has confined his views to his own subsistence or
preservation, be intrusted with the conduct of nations? Such men,
when admitted to deliberate on matters of state, bring to its
councils confusion and tumult, or servility and corruption; and
seldom suffer it to repose from ruinous factions, or the effect
of resolutions ill formed or ill conducted. – Adam Ferguson

Ill formed resolutions, and ill conduct in carrying them out, were at the heart of the Clarke controversies this week. LI watched with our most jaundiced eye as the Bush administration tried out a defense compounded of contradiction, denigration, and denial. None of them have worked very well, because they rebound against a solid fact: before 9/11, the mind of the Bush administration gave less thought to Al Qaeda then they did to raising the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water. It was a non-agenda item.

However, the real question is whether the Bush mindset has changed in such a way as to secure us against terrorist attack. Us, in the narrow continental sense, and us, in the sense of the U.S. and its allies.

Although we generally avoid the vaguely repulsive experience of reading the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer – he is one of those columnists who seems to spit as he writes – his column about Clarke made the one sensible case against him, even as it buried the case in the usual Right Wing rolodex calumny. Clarke, in fact, should have apologized to the families of the WCT, because he, more than anyone else, was the architect of Clinton’s failed anti-terrorism initiatives.

“It is only March, but the 2004 Chutzpah of the Year Award can be safely given out. It goes to Richard Clarke, now making himself famous by blaming the Bush administration for Sept. 11 -- after Clarke had spent eight years in charge of counterterrorism for a Clinton administration that did nothing.”

Unfortunately, Krauthammer undermines his own point by exaggerating it to the point of caricature. Still, the Clinton administration did not do enough. And what it did do should have been done differently. There, we would have to agree. The problem is, what Clinton did wrong – responding with military force to Al Qaeda without jacketing that force in the full panoply of political pressures on those states in which Al Qaeda operats -- has been taken up by the Bush administration as a strategic panacea. The result of taking the Clinton doctrine to absurd extremes is shown in the overthrow of the one country in the Middle East that we know was not, in any major way, connected with the jihadists in Afgahanistan. All the eagerness that Bush’s apologists have shown in trying to pin some connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein stands in almost comical contrast with what we know about the connections between Al Qaeda and two of our allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We know, and the whole Arab world knows, that if we are really trying to justify a war with a country on the basis of known, prolonged and sustaining relationships between that country and Al Qaeda, our soldiers would be in Riyadh and Islamabad.

Clarke’s failure, we think, comes from his obsession that Al Qaeda could only be dealt with by military force. We think that the Clinton administration should have been out there shaking its finger at the Saudis, at Pakistan, at Malaysia, at Indonesia, at Egypt – at every country where the terrorists have comfortably found niches.

Clinton didn’t do it. Bush, with the evidence before his eyes that something had to change, decided to relapse into the old groove. Clarke has surprised LI by showing that Bush shared the Iraq obsessions of his Defense Department subordinates. We assumed that Bush was more, well, sane than the Rumsfeld crew. We are still not sure we buy Clarke’s evaluation of Bush’s motives. But post 9/11, we have watched as the Bush administration, behind its rhetoric about a new kind of warfare, are engaging in just the kind of mistaken strategy that shows they have learned nothing from the past. The justification of this is comic: the war on terrorism, we are told, is going to last thirty years, fifty years, a century. Actually, it should have lasted precisely two years. By this time, Al Qaeda networks should really have been rolled back. Instead, they have further embedded themselves in the Mediterranean periphery.

Clarke’s claims about the Bush policy were being tested out even as he spoke last week. Unfortunately, the press was only interested in the sensational side of it, and soon let it sink to page B-12 or whatever. Two things happened in Pakistan. They are summarized by a Week in Review piece in the NYT:“On March 18, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, gave a television interview in which he described a pitched battle between Pakistani soldiers and 400 to 500 militants and set off expectations that Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been surrounded.
Two days later, military officials were playing down talk of Mr. Zawahiri's encirclement as "conjecture." And by the end of this week, a fresh audiotape message purportedly from Dr. Zawahiri emerged - taunting the government with a defiant call for General Musharraf's overthrow.”
The October surprise in the current election was supposed to be the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. But it looks increasingly like another surprise, one not so pleasant for Bush, might occur – the toppling of the Mussharef regime. In fact, Pakistan is the one country in which stateless terrorism could actually metastasize to encompass the organs of the state. If this happened, or even if there is a bloody revolt, the Bush doctrine would not only take a fatal hit – it would open up a threat both to this country and to India that is a level larger than any terrorist threat ever before.
So, next week, we will do another post on Pakistan -- October Surprise II