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March 21, 2004: Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Clarke Goes Public with Complaints against Bush Response to Terrorism

Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. (CBS News 3/21/2004; CBS News 3/21/2004; Clarke 3/23/2004; Conason 3/24/2004) Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 277) The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. (Milbank 3/22/2004) He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).


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