BUSH AND TERRORISM….Dick Clarke complains in his book that before 9/11 the Bush administration did not take terrorism as seriously as the Clinton administration had. Is he right? Let’s go to the tape:

  • General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: the Bush administration pushed terrorism “farther to the back burner.”

  • Bush administration terrorism report, April 2001, via CNN: When asked why the Administration had reduced the focus on Osama bin Laden, “a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden.”

  • Thomas Maertens, NSC nonproliferation director for Clinton and Bush: “[Clarke] was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S.” But Maertens said the Bush White House was reluctant to believe a holdover from the previous administration. “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration,” he said. “So anything they did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.”

  • Lieutenant General Don Kerrick, Clinton deputy NSA who was held over for several months by Bush, comparing Bush’s sense of urgency regarding terrorism to Clinton’s: “Candidly speaking, I didn?t detect that kind of focus.” And this: “I don’t think it was above the waterline. They were gambling nothing would happen.”

  • President Bush himself, quoted by Bob Woodward: “I didn?t feel a sense of urgency about al Qaeda. It was not my focus; it was not the focus of my team.”

That’s a lot of backup for Clarke’s position. Frankly, a lot of us didn’t take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11, so I’m not sure there’s any great shame in all this. Still, the Bush White House should quit smearing Clarke and own up to the truth: terrorism wasn’t a top priority during their first few months in office. 9/11 was a wakeup call for them, just as it was for the rest of the country.

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