The Long View 2004-03-23: Clarke; Pledge; Theocracy

Richard A. Clarke has long fallen off the national public radar, or at least mine. In retrospect, it seems he may have had a point about the Iraq War, but no one now is interested in keeping score about that, except perhaps me.

Then Senator Joe Biden also gets bonus points for making sense in 2004. John, regrettably, thought the spectacular 9/11 attacks meant terrorists would just keep getting better and better. In 2016, it looks like that was a mistake. 9/11 was the high point of al-Qaeda's operations, and everything since has been far more limited in scope.

To be fair, al-Qaeda has probably been trying to mastermind more 9/11s, but in reality they just got lucky. Better intelligence and better security are probably why terrorists now bomb and shoot civilians in businesses and public places; those are easier targets at this point. We are fortunate only so far as our enemies lack the capacity to pursue this more vigorously. We are protected not only by rough men ready in the night, but by the incompetence of those who mean us harm.

Persons more low-minded than I have begun to cast aspersions on the motives and consistency of Richard A. Clarke, the Clinton-era White House anti-terror advisor who was retained by the Bush II Administration, and who has now published a tell-all book, Against All Enemies. The effective launch for the book was a long report that aired on CBS's 60 Minutes on March 21. I did not see that show, but Drudge reports that there was no mention that CBS's parent, Viacom, also owns Simon & Shuster, which owns the book's publisher, The Free Press.

I am not particularly impressed by such a link. Media conglomerates rarely have common editorial policies. More damaging to Clarke, if it turns out to be true, is the report that the US government thought there was a WMD terrorist link between Al Qaeda and Iraq because Clarke said so. This was in connection with the Clinton Administration's cruise missile attack in 1998 against the factory at El Shifa in the Sudan. His opinion on the matter is supposed to have appeared in the press: "Embassy Attacks Thwarted, U.S. Says; Official Cites Gains Against Bin Laden; Clinton Seeks $10 Billion to Fight Terrorism," Vernon Loeb, Washington Post, A02, January 23, 1999. If that story says what summaries of it say, then Clarke's surprise that the Bush Administration would immediately suspect an Iraqi link to 911 becomes mysterious.

Something I did see for myself was Clarke's appearance last night on PBS's News Hour. When asked whether the publication of his book was timed to affect the presidential election, he said that publication had been delayed by three months, because the White House held the manuscript for review that long. If that's true, then the book was supposed to appear at the beginning of the year, which would have been an even better time to influence the election, because that was the beginning of primary season.

More substantively, he complains that the Bush Administration did not follow the Clinton Administration's practice of holding frequent meetings of the heads of the principal agencies concerned with national security. Considering the scale of successful terrorist attacks, foreign and domestic, that the US suffered during the Clinton Administration, it's not obvious why that Administration's procedures should be taken as a model. (The Clinton people notoriously held meetings all day long about everything.) Nonetheless, Clarke attributes the foiling of the Millennium bomb plot directly to a regimen of really full meeting schedules.

A White House flack appeared on The New Hour immediately after Clarke said these things. The flack asserted that the bomb plot was discovered by a conscientious customs agent on the Canadian border, before there was a state of heightened alert. Again, damaging if true.

The fact that the Clarke book is a transparent election-year ploy should not distract us from the fact that there is a real policy dispute at issue. The usually responsible Senator Joe Biden (D. Del.) put it like this:

"I am much more concerned about the safety of my granddaughter in school here in Washington because of Al Qaeda than I am with 10 Saddam Husseins," Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on ABC. "And we took our eye off the ball because of a preoccupation with Iraq."

There are two things wrong with this. The first is that the resources of the terror networks are limited; Iraq as great a distraction for them as it is for the United States. The other is that terrorism is about to change its nature. The fact is that traditional terrorism was tolerable. The US, frankly, could have suffered the loss of the World Trade Center. If attacks of that magnitude were all that was at stake, then the US could have simply strengthened ordinary law enforcement and endured any attacks that slipped through the net in the future. Future successful attacks, however, could mean the loss of whole cities. The key to preventing that is to prevent the establishment of sovereign-host suppliers of WMDs. If anything, playing cops-and-robbers with Al Qaeda is the distraction. Maybe that's what the Islamists intended all along.

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Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will add a bit more spice to the electoral season by hearing arguments in the Newdow case, the one about whether the words "one nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional, at least when used in the public schools.

As I have remarked previously, the inclusion of those words in the Pledge was a bit of bad drafting. The passage sounds like it says, "one nation, under God's protection." In fact, when Abraham Lincoln or George Washington used that phrase, they meant "God willing," or "with the understanding that God is more important." An example of the latter use might be, "I love my country, under God." Far from theocratizing the citizen's loyalty to the United States, the phrase in the Pledge might be taken as a reminder that citizenship is not the ultimate loyalty. However, man or boy, I have never heard the Pledge so interpreted.

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Those of you who are really keen for a theocracy will be interested in this passage by my favorite New Ager, William Irwin Thompson, from his essay, From Nation to Emanation (1982):

[R]edemption through the part of our political heritage as far back as the Old Testament. When Saul inflates, and the war lord tries to become a king and kill the servant of the Lord, Samuel, then Samuel goes to the lowest of the tribes, the tribe of Benjamin, and anoints David. The humble shepherd becomes the future king. When society is not attuned to divinity, then divinity works outside society. Moses was an outlaw.

For centuries in America we have been accustomed to the pattern that Empire is evil and that virtue resides with the humble, the primitive, the outlaw. Through the principle of redemption through the primitive, we have tried to redeem all decaying theocracies. But that is only half the truth. Moral tribe against decadent Empire is one profound truth, but another profound truth is the act of creation of a new sacred civilisation, when in the words of the ancient Sumerians, 'Kingship descends from heaven.' For the last two hundred years we have become habituated to the pattern of fighting against Empire, but now as we enter a new age we may be called upon to work at the other end of history, to create a civilisation suffused with divinity. Will it become simply another decadent empire, following the familiar Weberian pattern of the routinisation of charisma? Of course it will...

Readers may amuse themselves by ascertaining just how garbled that first paragraph is (a reader emailed me to point out that the tribal affiliations of David and Saul are switched, for instance). Still, I find myself meditating on this passage when I think about Frank Herbert's Dune, or I hear that Mel Gibson is considering making a film about the Maccabees. The model of history it implies is structurally similar to the one in Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics, but the sentiment is the polar opposite. Kaplan says that world order is possible only if we prescind from religious questions. Thompson says that order is a religious question.

Another difference is that Thompson, at the time he wrote this, thought that the way to the holy empire was through the strengthening of international institutions. Kaplan, of course, thinks the UN is a Kantian chaos-machine, and that the power of the United States is the predicate for a livable world. For a slightly different take on the matter, you might consider this assessment from Cutting Edge Ministries:

Symbolically, our Masonic Founding Fathers intended to communicate that part of the New World Order Plan which stipulates that, at the right moment in our history, the America that has faithfully led the rest of the world for so long into the new global system of Antichrist, will suddenly burst into flames and be totally consumed by fire. However, out of the ashes of the old America will rise the new global system of Antichrist. We cover how we think this scenario will play out, and will fulfill the Biblical prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7, and Revelation 18.

Probably no one will submit any of this analysis to the Supreme Court. It would just make them nervous and unhappy.

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Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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