My guess…

…is that they’re not going to pursue these perjury charges against Clarke. They’ll find some excuse not to declassify his earlier testimony — if only we could, the American people would understand the truth, but you see, we just can’t endanger national security — and hope that the idea of Clarke the Liar will take hold in the public mind, without any real evidence. Remember, they’ve been fighting declassification of parts of that earlier report tooth and nail — there’s something there that could cut both ways.

Of course, we must also consider the possibility that Clarke did previously lie — on behalf of the Bush administration. Government officials have been known to do this on occasion. The only way someone is ever in a position to write a tell-all memoir is to have been a team player at some earlier point.

Nonetheless, Clarke’s basic allegation, that the Bushies were too fixated on Iraq at the expense of the war on terror, is backed up by numerous sources. Via Paul O’Neill, we know that an invasion of Iraq was a priority from day one. And then there’s Clarke’s friend, former counterterrorism advisor Rand Beers, who resigned after 35 years of civil service, disgusted with Bush’s I-lost-my-keys-in-the-alley-but-there’s-more-light-under-this-streetlamp foreign policy. Which is why he now works for John Kerry, according to the Washington Post::

He had briefly considered a think tank or an academic job but realized that he “never felt so strongly about something in my life” than he did about changing current U.S. policies. Of the Democratic candidates, Kerry offered the greatest expertise in foreign affairs and security issues, he decided. Like Beers, Kerry had served in Vietnam. As a civil servant, Beers liked Kerry’s emphasis on national service.

(Interestingly, Clarke was also close friends with John O’Neill, the FBI agent who resigned in disgust because he couldn’t get anyone to take his concerns about al Qaeda seriously. O’Neill, as longtime readers of this site may remember, took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center one week before September 11, 2001, and was killed in the attacks.)

And of course, Clarke’s story is also backed up by reality. The Bushies were fixated on Iraq at the expense of an effective counterterrorism strategy. Consider this nugget:

The fact that the Pentagon pulled the fighting force most equipped for hunting down Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan in March 2002 in order to pre- position it for Iraq cannot be denied.

Fifth Group Special Forces were a rare breed in the US military: they spoke Arabic, Pastun and Dari. They had been in Afghanistan for half a year, had developed a network of local sources and alliances, and believed that they were closing in on bin Laden.

Without warning, they were then given the task of tracking down Saddam. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them recalls.

“In spite of the fact that it had taken five months to establish trust, suddenly there were two days to hand over to people who spoke no Dari, Pastun or Arabic, and had no rapport.”

Along with the redeployment of human assets came a reallocation of sophisticated hardware. The US air force has only two specially-equipped RC135 U spy planes. They had successfully vectored in on al-Qaida leadership radio transmissions and cellphone calls, but they would no longer circle over the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

One question I have is: why has the Bush team’s response to Clarke been so haphazard? They’re obviously making it up as they go along — it’s as if they had no idea Clarke was about to go public with these charges. Which is bizarre, given that his book had to be vetted by the government before it could be published — in fact, the timing of the book’s release is apparently due to the fact that the vetting process held it up for an additional three months. They knew this was coming, and this hastily cobbled-together mudslinging fest is the best they could come up with?

I think it must be due to the insular world in which they operate. Going back to that Post article above — Beers was reluctant to discuss the inner workings of the White House, but his wife was more forthcoming:

“It’s a very closed, small, controlled group. This is an administration that determines what it thinks and then sets about to prove it. There’s almost a religious kind of certainty. There’s no curiosity about opposing points of view. It’s very scary. There’s kind of a ghost agenda.”

I think they are so out of touch with reality that they simply had no idea that Clarke’s charges would resonate with the public. And when they realized that they had made a terrible miscalculation, they had to scramble. The Bush administration is, at the moment, an desperate animal with its back to the wall — and facing down such a creature can be a very dangerous way to spend your time. I suspect that Richard Clarke’s rough ride is only beginning.

(Editing: the name of the FBI agent was, of course, John O’Neill, not Paul O’Neill.)