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Bush vitriol flows forth

Allyn Harvey
Richard Clarke addressing the fifth annual State Of The World Conference at the Aspen Institute July 10th, 2004. Aspen Times photo/Devon Meyers
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Sitting around a lunch table at the Aspen Meadows Saturday, the conversation between national security adviser Richard Clarke and Ambassador Joe Wilson, both retired, inevitably turned toward the current state of American democracy.According to a person present at the table, both expressed deep concerns about what the source described as the fascist leanings of the current government.Although neither used the word “fascist” in their speeches before overflow audiences at Paepcke Auditorium this weekend, both Clarke and Wilson addressed the domestic and international threats that they see coming from President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.Both men, two of Bush’s most potent critics, crossed paths in Aspen this weekend as they spoke at the fifth annual State of the World Conference hosted by the Sopris Foundation. Clarke has worked under every administration – Republican and Democratic – since the early 1970s, when he began his career in the Defense Department. After a number of years with the State Department, where his accomplishments included leading the diplomatic effort to line up international support for the 1991 Gulf War, Clarke ended his career as the top Bush administration adviser on counterterrorism. He resigned in March 2003 after being ignored and marginalized for three years by the likes of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his assistant Paul Wolfowitz and the president himself.Much of Clarke’s speech before an overflow crowd at Paepcke Auditorium on Saturday focused on the domestic front. At one point he accused Bush of “dividing the country when we need unity.”He expressed alarm over the case of Jose Padilla, the American citizen who was stripped of his rights and jailed without charges or access to the U.S. court system after being declared an “enemy combatant” by the Defense Department. Clarke pointed out that Padilla lost his rights even though he never left the country or committed a crime.

“If the Defense Department can take way Jose Padilla’s rights, they can take away your rights,” Clarke said. “I thought it was agreed more than 200 years ago that Americans are born with certain inalienable rights.”He also raised concern with the Justice Department’s insistence on reviewing library and bookstore records in its search for potential terror suspects.”When the Bush administration attempts to take away those rights following a terrorist attack, remember it’s your duty to protect the Constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic,” Clarke continued.He also pointed out some of the different paths the Bush administration could have taken in the wake of Sept. 11 besides the one it chose. “We could have gone after al-Qaida and secured ourselves at home,” he said, noting that American railways and chemical plants remain essentially unsecured, and local emergency aid systems around the country, from police and firefighters to hospitals and EMTs, remain severely underfunded. Clarke said the Bush administration declined – on the grounds it was too expensive – to accept a recommendation from a committee he sat on to spend $90 billion over five years shoring up the first response system.Like Wilson, Clarke noted that unless there is a dramatic improvement in the situation in Iraq, America now faces at least a generation of hatred in the Middle East.Wilson, who addressed the conference on Sunday, spent much of his career in the foreign service. He was the acting ambassador to Iraq in 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait, and led the effort to free Americans taken hostage by the Iraqis. He ended his career at the State Department in 1998 as ambassador to Gabon.

Wilson was tapped by the Bush administration in 2002 to investigate the validity of reports that Iraq had purchased uranium from the African nation of Niger. His findings concluded that no such transaction occurred, but that did not stop President Bush from alleging that the sale was made in his 2003 State of the Union address. Wilson spoke out last July because of the continued use of the nonexistent Niger-Iraq connection as a point of justification for the invasion of Iraq. “I could not stand by and let him [Richard Perle] have a free ride into Baghdad. We needed to have a debate, and I don’t think we were having it,” he said.After Wilson pointed out the use of misinformation by the president, his wife, a CIA agent, was exposed by an unnamed administration source in a column written by Robert Novak.Wilson said he, like many others, supported Congress’ decision to give the president authority to use force against Iraq, if necessary, because it resulted in action by the United Nations. “UN Resolution 1441 was worth it,” he said.Wilson pointed out that the inspection regime under the United Nations following the Gulf War had successfully eliminated weapons of mass destruction from Iraq’s arsenal – a fact pointed out by Hans Blix, the head of the U.N. inspection team that was on the ground in Iraq in early 2003.”This government’s betrayal was not in the use of force resolution, but in the use of force when it was not necessary,” he said.In pointing out the fragility of America’s leadership in international affairs, Wilson gave the Sunday audience a lesson in the recent history of America’s foreign policy failures and the effects they’ve had on the lives of foreign nationals. The withdrawal from Somalia, where 18 American soldiers were killed by the people they were there to protect in the early 1990s led, he believes, to the inaction in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were exterminated. And he points out that America and Europe stood by and let the Serbian regime enact a program of ethnic cleansing in the remnants of Yugolslavia that continued unabated for three years.

“American leadership is a precious commodity,” he continued. “If that leadership goes away, we run the very real risk of more Rwandas and Yugoslavias.”The real cost [of failure] is leadership. If we fail in Iraq, it will be remembered for a very, very long time.”Wilson used the case of his wife to focus his criticism of Bush’s domestic policies. “Who decided and how did they decide that their personal political gain was more important than national security, and expose a working CIA officer?” Wilson asked. “Valerie Plume is the first spy in post-war history to be exposed by her own government.”Wilson, clearly seething with anger from what he sees as a concerted effort to ruin him and his wife, pointed out that Bush has hired a criminal defense attorney to advise him on the Plume case, which is before a grand jury in Washington, D.C.He pointed out that every time the Bushies go after him, they lose.He is particularly appalled by the fact that the Bush administration, voted in by just 19 or 20 percent of the population, is stripping citizens of their rights and enacting an ultraconservative, even evangelical, set of policies. At one point he termed the neo-conservatives, or neocons, in charge of Bush administration policy as “s” who aren’t really Republicans. “These guys are radical reactionaries,” he said.”The minute we allow our allegiance to be transferred from the U.S. Constitution to the Book of Revelations, we are in deep trouble,” Wilson said, concluding his presentation.


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