Today's Papers

Clarke Sparks

Everybody leads with former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke’s telling the 9/11 commission that before the attacks, the White House underappreciated the threat al-Qaida presented: “I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue.”

Clarke, who apologized to 9/11 family members—”Your government failed you. And I failed you”—said he tried to push the White House into action. One commissioner, helping Clarke along, cited a letter Clarke wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice one week before 9/11 asking policymakers “to imagine a day after a terrorist attack, with hundreds of Americans dead at home and abroad, and ask themselves what they could have done earlier.” The New York Times and Washington Post both briefly mention that commission staff reports state that two unnamed CIA staffers were “so worried about an impending disaster” and the ensuing lack of concern that they considered resigning.

USA Today gives the biggest play to a 2002 background briefing that Clarke gave the media—and that the White House decided no longer needed to be on background—in which he said the Bush administration had been doing a fine job fighting AQ pre-9/11. Clarke said, sure, he had been spinning. “I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done,” he said. “I’ve done it for several presidents.” When one commissioner continued to push him about it, questioning the “morality” of such work, Clarke shot back, “I don’t think it’s a question of morality at all; I think it’s a question of politics.” That’s when some in the audience, including many 9/11 family members, started applauding.

“A masterful bit of showmanship,” blurbs the Post’s Dana Milbank.

A front-page NYT piece details “the trail of fumbles” by both administrations that the commission has uncovered: “It is the story of bureaucratic miscommunication, diplomatic dead ends, military hesitation, intelligence failures, political rivalries and policy miscalculations at the highest levels of two presidential administrations.” In the most widely cited example, there appears to have been a miscommunication in the Clinton years between the White House and CIA over whether the president authorized the killing of Bin Laden. Senior WH officials say Clinton did. But CIA officials and agents said they thought the instructions were always to try to capture him first.

The WP off-leads details about the Pentagon’s plans to realign its forces abroad. The Post says the military is planning to move at least half of the 71,000 troops currently in Germany toward smaller bases in Romania, Bulgaria, and other relatively small countries.

Everybody notes inside that Medicare’s actuary said in congressional testimony yesterday that he gave the White House projections last summer showing that the proposed pill bill would cost about a third more than publicly available estimates. The White House shared the higher figure after the bill passed. The actuary also recalled being told by his boss that he was under “direct White House orders” not to give the numbers to Congress. The NYT’s headline conveys squat: “MEDICARE OFFICIAL TESTIFIES ON COST FIGURES.”

The NYT stuffs word that a non-partisan international security think tank offered evidence that the White House has presented an inflated picture of Libya’s now moth-balled nuclear program. The group noticed that, while the administration showed off what it said were samples of 4,000 completed Libyan centrifuges last week, the things weren’t actually anywhere near finished and were missing key components. An administration spokeswoman explained, “Libya had a nuclear weapons program—that’s not in dispute.”

Alone among the papers, the Los Angeles Times fronts Paul Bremer’s State of Iraq speech in which he acknowledged problems but also said that things have improved in the past year. The LAT makes a good catch: “Asked if U.S. planning for the postwar could have anticipated some of the problems, he ducked. ‘I was a businessman during the war,’ said Bremer. ‘I wasn’t in the U.S. government.’ “

The NYT off-leads with and others tease the Supreme Court case about whether “under God” should stay in the Pledge of Allegiance. Everybody is impressed with the atheist father-doctor-lawyer who brought the case and argued on his own behalf. But as the NYT notes, “Justices across the ideological spectrum appeared to be searching for reasons he should lose.”

Most of the papers front the European Union fining Microsoft (Slate’s owner) $603 million and forcing it to sell a version of Windows without the Media Player. The E.U. said that by embedding the software Microsoft has been abusing its “near monopoly” position.

Clarke Coverage cont’d … At the risk of (certainty, actually) stating the obvious, newspapers are geared toward revealing that day’s news—that is, information that wasn’t known before. Yesterday, the new wrinkle was Clarke adding a bit of meat to his complaints that the White House dilly-dallied before 9/11. Fine. But it’s worth keeping in mind that while the headlines were given to that angle, what was then all but ignored—with no front-page play—was Clarke’s more fundamental critique of the White House’s current counter-terror strategy.

As Clarke put it after a Republican commissioner asked him why he hadn’t been so critical during recent closed-door testimony, “No one asked me what I thought about the president’s invasion of Iraq. The reason that I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is that by invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.”