Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Clarke’s Successors AWOL on Slime Patrol*

Notably absent from the Sychronized Slime Team™ last week were any of the direct successors to Clarke’s position. So far, there have been four, a record which itself raises at least a few questions. One might reasonably ask why they’ve all been so quiet.

First there was Wayne Downing, who, according to Clarke, is a “retired four-star Army General who had led Special Operations command.” Downing quit “within months,” and is now an NBC news military analyst. For the record, Downing did make a brief appearance on Chris Matthew's Hardball last week, where he made a few comments that, in the end, are unlikely to have either hurt or helped either side a great deal. Downing acknowledged that Clarke is “partisan,” but also “truthful” -- though the latter claim was then qualified:

“He tells the truth, Chris, as he knows it through the filters that all of us have with our perceptions.”

One can only infer, because Matthews didn't ask, that Clarke is also being truthful when he says in his book that Downing quit “in frustration at the Administration’s continued bureaucratic response to the threat.” You don't suppose, do you, that there's a pattern here?

Next up was the team of John Gordon and Rand Beers. Beers, as many of you know, is now a foreign policy advisor to the Kerry campaign, and a personal friend of Clarke’s. So I guess the White House won't be getting much help from him. There’s a memorable exchange in Clarke's book, where Beers stops by for “some drinks and advice:”

“I think I have to quit….They still don’t get it. Insteada goin’ all out against al Qaeda and eliminating our vulnerabilities at home, they want to fuckin’ invade Iraq again.”

Clarke quotes Beers at length, capturing a fine rant that goes on for a while about the idiocy of invading Iraq, and the shameless politicization of the War on terror, before it concludes with these words: “I can’t work for these people.”

Who, with a conscience, could?

Which left John Gordon, who remained until promoted – or kicked upstairs, it’s hard to tell, especially since I’m not sure if one can be kicked upstairs to a basement office – into the position vacated by Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Advisor. Perhaps the White House had figured out by then that it's not such a good idea to just let these guys quit. Presumably, he could have joined the attack team last week – but somehow chose not to. If anyone has any idea why, please let me know.

Which brings us, finally, to the matter of Fran Townsend, whom I’m betting few people have ever heard of. She did, however, manage to catch the attention of the ever-vigilant Robert Novak, shortly after her appointment last year:

Much of Washington was stunned last month when President Bush's chief counterterrorism expert [Rand Beers] resigned with a blast of criticism and then joined Democratic Sen. John Kerry's campaign for president.

The shock among a knowledgeable few was even greater when an intimate adviser of Janet Reno as the Clinton administration's attorney general was named to a similar high-ranking terrorism post.

Mr. Novak’s lament is that “careful political screening by the Bush operation for routine appointments seems to have broken down in filling highly sensitive terrorism posts.”

It’s not clear what alternative he would have preferred. Does he think that it would have been a good idea to put a brazen political hack in the nation’s most senior counter-terrorism post? Frankly, I doubt Novak considered alternatives at all. To do that, he would have had to consider one obvious possibility: maybe, just maybe, the White House couldn’t find any Republicans with serious counterterrorism credentials.

Call me crazy, but somehow I have a feeling we won't be hearing a lot from Ms. Townsend any time soon. But then, who knows: she may even be in line for a promotion.

*Headline format inspired by one of my favorite sites, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo

**Clarke's account of the revolving door in his wake is in Against All Enemies, on pp. 240-242.


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