Intelligence disputes get political
The fracas over the recent incendiary comments by former intelligence adviser Richard Clarke are a disquieting symptom of the breakdown in consensus over national security and foreign policy. This breakdown is another consequence of the terrorist campaign against the United States, a dismal reminder of how far we really are from victory. Clarke argued that the U.S. war to remove Saddam Hussein from power was not warranted and has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism. He has (or had) a high reputation for his knowledge of terrorism, and he was one of those "super-bureaucrats" who knows all the intricacies of the Federal government in Washington. He knows where to pull the right strings and push the right levers to get something done fast. Indeed, he earned a reputation as a know-it-all maverick who sometimes ran roughshod over anyone who got in his way. What would cause a highly regarded expert to give up any pretense of neutrality over policy questions, squander his professional esteem, and jump into the partisan political fray? Perhaps it was years of built-up frustration over the Federal regulations on political activity of civil servants. (That's something I can relate to.)
In response, Condoleeza Rice pointed out an obvious fact that many critics refuse to face: The terrorist threat is not specific, but is instead very broad in nature. That is, the threat does not reside so much in the particular leaders, weapons caches, or safe havens, but rather in the sociopolitical pathology that has infected much of the Middle East. Indeed, terrorism -- or more accurately, Arab-Islamic fascism -- is not a tight-knit conspiracy but a broad movement whose strength lies in the realm of ideas and passions. Many people in Europe and in the Democratic Party regard terrorism as a form of international crime, for which the appropriate response is finding, arresting, and prosecuting the guilty parties. Adopting that approach -- the "multilateral" approach, you might say -- would lead to many years of fruitless searching. Indeed, even the Bush administration has at time fallen victim to treat terrorism as a crime against humanity. Fortunately, though, the strategic thinkers such as Condoleeza Rice, and even the neoconservative ideologues such as Paul Wolfowitz, are well aware of the true political nature of the war in which we find ourselves. Like all wars, the struggle is to a large extent a contest of willpower, which makes many people uncomfortable because it implies we might have to play tit for tat with barbarians. Nevertheless, the only way we Americans will ever be reasonably safe is by either systematically destroying terrorist bases and bringing about regime change in countries where governments are accustomed to garnering popular support by (tacitly) giving safe haven to terrorists, or else by building a "Fortress America" with constant land, sea, and air patrols all around North America. The former course may entail a long, hard struggle with no certainty of victory, but latter course is probably unthinkable.