Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Scary. Very scary...


Monday, March 29, 2004

Welcome Hoffmania to the blogroll....
Amid the furor caused by the Richard Clarke revelations I have seen very few posts from people who have actually read his book. Fortunately for us, one of my favorite bloggers Tristero has, and he's got this to say in his book report:

1. Clarke, perhaps more than anyone else in or out of government, knows exactly what he is talking about. He led the fight against foreign terrorism for years and every page reflects his deep, hands on understanding of his area of expertise.

Clarke is extremely concerned -no, Clarke is terrified - that the Bush administration is so utterly incompetent on so many levels, that the country today is far more vulnerable than it was on 9/11, or at any time in his nearly 30 years of government service.

2. Many people have noted Clarke's bulldog tenacity and blunt opinions of people and policies. Few have noted his ability to be, dare I say it, fair and balanced.

Obviously, Clarke believes that the FBI is an organization that is so crippled that it can barely function. Louis Freeh is portrayed not as criminally incompetent, but as nearly treasonously negligent and a religious fanatic. Even so, there are times when the FBI does get it together and does great work. While predictably, John O'Neill is nearly canonized by Clarke, what is striking is that Clarke often acknowledges, without any snarking, the good work done by those who don't live up to O'Neill's level.

In other words, Clarke, while passionate and judgemental, is not someone who evaluates information and people as "either/or," black and white, but rather in terms of gray. Rudman and he strongly disagree on the Department of Homeland Security. Even so, Clarke finds many areas of agreement and writes of their present collaborations with enthusiasm and respect.

This tendency to be both extremely blunt and and surpisingly judicious gives the angry sections of his book considerable force. The portrayal of the Bush administration as hopelessly incompetent is given considerable weight because of Clarke's ability to acknowledge even a smidgen of good work whenever he finds it. He thinks the Patriot Act, for instance, contains vital reforms, even as he attacks it for egregious excess.

He finds very little to no competence in Bush. Coming from someone like Clarke, that should alarm every American.

3. Anyone who is sensitive to literary style will find themselves wincing while reading the book, especially the dialogue reconstructions. They will be making a huge mistake, however, if they ignore how carefully and subtly Clarke has composed his text. When you've spent 30 years in the government and risen as high as Richard Clarke, you become expert at presenting information in numerous different ways in order to persuade your readers. Clarke wastes little of our time, for example, on John Ashcroft; in a paragraph or two, he makes it clear that Ashcroft is dumb as a post and that there is nothing he does or says that's worth our attention.

On the other hand, his portrait of Tom Ridge is much more kind and understanding. Well, it seems that way, until you read it closely. The sections on Ridge, however, are blatantly obvious in technique compared to others, where a single, easily overlooked adjective changes the meaning of the passage. It pays to read Clarke very carefully.

4. From the moment Clinton first appears, he is portrayed as decisive, brilliant, deeply empathic, and focused. Even when Clarke rolls his eyes in exasperation and says Clinton drove everyone to distraction, he does so with an amused, even loving, respect. The portrait he draws is of a great president, who fully understood the problems of his world and did a good job overall. Whatever the failures of his administration, he maintains his respect for Clinton's vision and his character. This is a radically different portrait of Clinton than the conventional one. It is also, at least to me, the most convincing one I've read.

5. The crucial sections of the book are the ones about the Bush administration post 9/11, particularly the last few chapters. The book is really about the stupidity of the Bush/Iraq War. He makes it clear that had there been no Iraq war, he would never have left government service, let alone written the book.

Clarke wastes no breath bothering to debunk the starry-eyed Wilsonian rationalizations of the Liberal Hawks. He simply quotes from an evaluation by the Army War College Strategic Studies Institute that the Iraq War "was a strategic error of the first magnitude." The rest is details.

6. In these final chapters, Clarke makes some important policy proposals regarding the FBI and other areas. Obviously, they are couched in general terms, for the lay reader. How good these proposals are when you get to the level of implementation is beyond my expertise, but given Clarke's stature, and the intelligence with which they are described, they beg to be taken seriously and evaluated. So far, I've not read a word about them anywhere.

7. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, in the controversy that has been whipped up about Clarke that addresses the substance of the important issues Clarke addresses in the book. The inability for the Bushites to focus on what is truly important proves Clarke's point: the Bush administration's attention is woefully, dangerously misplaced.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

If it's Sunday it must be Contribute to John Kerry Day!

I gave Kerry $25 today, and I plan on giving him $25 every Sunday until November. The demise of Howard Dean still stings a bit, but I know what's important....


Sunday, March 21, 2004

YIKES it seems like forever that I added something to this little piece of the Blogosphere. Just in case you were worried (and I can't imagine anybody was) I have been out of the country for the last two months on my annual Thailand holiday.

How good was Southern Thailand? THIS good.