Thursday, March 25, 2004

Excerpts from the August 2002 press briefing by Richard A. Clarke:

RICHARD CLARKE: There was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration … In January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. [They] decided to … vigorously pursue the existing policy [and] … initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years.

In their first meeting [the principles] changed the strategy by authorizing the increase in funding [for covert action against al Qaeda] five-fold, changing the policy on Pakistan, changing the policy on Uzbekistan, changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance. [They] then changed the strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda … to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda.

QUESTION: What is your response to the suggestion in the [Aug. 12, 2002] Time [magazine] article that the Bush administration was unwilling to take on board the suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of animus against … the foreign policy?

CLARKE: I think if there was a general animus that clouded their vision, they might not have kept the same guy dealing with [the] terrorism issue … There was never a plan [in the Clinton administration].

QUESTION: What was the problem? Why was it so difficult for the Clinton administration to make decisions on those issues?

CLARKE: Because they were tough issues. One of the big problems was that Pakistan at the time was aiding the other side, was aiding the Taliban. In the spring [of 2001], the Bush administration … began to change Pakistani policy. We began to offer carrots, which made it possible for the Pakistanis … [to] join us and to break away from the Taliban. So that’s really how it started.

QUESTION: Had the Clinton administration … prepared for a call for the use of ground forces, special operations forces in any way?

CLARKE: There was never a plan in the Clinton administration to use ground forces. The military was asked at a couple of points … to think about it. And they always came back and said it was not a good idea. There was never a plan to do that.

QUESTION: You’re saying … there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of ‘98 were made in the spring months just after the administration came into office?

CLARKE: You got it …The other thing to bear in mind is the shift from the rollback strategy to the elimination strategy. When President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the [policy] from one of rollback to one of elimination.

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