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Inside Politics
Inside Politics

Clarke's book, testimony alter election-year landscape

Bush's stewardship of nation's security questioned

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's credibility came under assault this week from someone who's not supposed to be a political player. That's what made it the political Play of the Week.

The president claims the war on terrorism as his issue. This week, his former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke blew a hole in that claim.

"I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue," Clarke said during his testimony before the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Clarke lays out his critical assertions in his new book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." The White House has denounced the book as a wildly inaccurate description of the administration's response to terrorism.

But Democrats on the committee tried to build up Clarke's credibility.

Commissioner Tim Roemer, a Democrat and former congressman from Indiana, read from a memo Clarke had written while in the administration.

"You urge policymakers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home or abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on September the 4th, seven days before September 11," Roemer read.

An assault on the president's main re-election issue is serious. The White House moved into high gear, pointing out that Clarke is on record praising Bush's commitment to the war on terrorism.

"You cannot square Dick Clarke's new assertions with his past words," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary.

Clarke's defense? Those past words were spin. Everybody in Washington does it. "When you're on the staff of the president of the United States, you try to make his policies look as good as possible," Clarke told the 9/11 panel.

In fact, the White House is doing it now.

Sen. John Kerry, wisely, kept his distance from Clarke. At one point, he told reporters he was "just reading" Clarke's book and would only describe it as "very interesting."

And Clarke, wisely, kept his distance from the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. "I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one -- on the record, under oath," Clarke said

Under questioning, Clarke revealed his true motive: Iraq. "By invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism," Clarke said.

Bush has been trying to depict the war in Iraq as secondary to the war on terrorism. Clarke argues the war on terrorism was secondary to Iraq and therefore compromised -- by politics.

We think it was the political Play of the Week.

The idea behind the commission was to remove 9/11 from partisan politics. But exactly the opposite has happened -- mostly as a result of Clarke's book and his testimony.


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