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No Gloating, Please

I’m glad I’m not responsible for paying off Richard Clarke’s life-insurance policy. Having served the last three presidents — including Daddy and Baby Bush — as a senior national-security adviser, the latter as counterterrorism chief, and having worked as a rock-ribbed Republican for Reagan’s State Department as well, he’s the most powerful, persuasive and potentially dangerous national critic of the current administration to yet emerge.

Clarke — in his media appearances and in his new book, Against All Enemies — now publicly reveals from the inside just about everything we have suspected all along from the outside. That before September 11 the Bush administration was slow to confront al Qaeda. And that after the World Trade Center catastrophe, the White House diverted needed energy away from the fight against bin Laden in favor of battling the phantom threat of Saddam.

Clarke’s authoritative allegations have rattled the White House, eliciting an immediate, multifront administration counter-response aimed at demolishing his credibility. An unlikely prospect. It looks like the Bush-Cheney re-elect machine is going to get snagged from here to November by the lingering, haunting presence of both Clarke and the equally discomfiting David Kay. Neither is going away anytime soon.

But if you’re among those cheering on Clarke — as you should be — you also best take a moment to assess what kind of challenge the same man presents to the fiercest anti-war critics of the White House.

Clarke’s entire and quite compelling case is staked precisely on the clear and immutable difference between Iraq and al Qaeda. He’s spot on when insisting that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and that while the former Iraqi dictator was, indeed, a terrorist, he did not pose any significant nor immediate threat to the U.S.

If we conclude, then, that the Bushies lied in even suggesting a link, then we should take extra care not to indulge in our own fabrication. Saddam may have been inflated into a convenient bogeyman by a cynical White House. But the mortal threat that al Qaeda and its crew of Islamo-fascists pose is very much real. In dismissing the administration’s claims about Iraq, we become moral and political idiots if we equally brush off the need to ruthlessly crush al Qaeda.

The fiends who planted 10 bombs along the Spanish commuter railways committed barbaric crimes against humanity and will certainly strike again. They are motivated by a blinding and primitive religious fervor and are not simply aggrieved victims of U.S. imperialism. “If we want to stop terrorism, then we have to stop being terrorists” is a favorite refrain from the more fundamentalist sector of the peace movement. And that phrase encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the movement. Deploying 130,000 American troops into Iraq last year is — in retrospect — just as colossal a mistake as it was to send only 11,000 soldiers into Afghanistan.

 

This failure by so many self-proclaimed activists, the failure to take the real war on terrorism as seriously as they do their opposition to the intervention in Iraq, has stunted what ought to be a muscular peace movement. Why is it that a year ago, when war fever was at its peak, the anti-war movement could put three, four or 10 times as many people in the streets as it did last weekend? And just when anti-war sentiment is reaching majority status?

The answer is strikingly simple. The peace-movement leadership remains dominated by the same small fringe grouplet — the so-called ANSWER coalition. ANSWER, you will remember, also opposed the war against the Taliban and Osama, indeed, organizing its first macabre anti-war march a mere 18 days after 9/11 while the stench of burning flesh still permeated Manhattan. ANSWER’s Manichean mindset recognizes only one threat in the world: Amerikkka. Lionizing Mumia is more important for the ANSWERoids than is understanding and confronting, say, bin Laden.

When I raised this critique of ANSWER a year ago or so, I was met with howls and shrieks that I was red-baiting. Oh, grow up! ANSWER’s parent organization is the one that praises Kim Il Sung — I didn’t invent that. If you don’t like ANSWER being associated with Stalinists, take that issue up with them, not me.

The problem with ANSWER, in any case, is not what it does but what it doesn’t do. Instead of spending the last crucial year building political bridges toward a political center increasingly disenchanted by the war, the ANSWER-types frittered away the opportunity — as usual — by shouting simplistic slogans to themselves.

The result was last weekend’s demonstrations — smaller than last year’s. And bereft of any real political leverage. A pity, because they should have been and could have been huge.

I don’t fault ANSWER for this. They behave exactly as expected — like a tiny political sect. It’s rather the squishy liberals and mushy progressives who have defaulted in providing an alternative, broader-based leadership for the peace movement, one that could artfully and effectively navigate between the now widespread disgust with the war in Iraq on the one hand and the very legitimate fears of fundamentalist terrorism on the other.

But the liberals seem paralyzed with a terminal case of Anybody But Bush, rendering themselves incapable nowadays of engaging in critical thinking about anyone other than . . . well . . . Dubya. In the electoral sphere, they ceded to their right and scurried behind Kerry. In the streets, they cede to their extreme left and allow ANSWER to lead them exactly nowhere. And then they scratch their heads wondering why they keep getting beat by Republicans.