Even as the White House races to discredit former U.S. anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, Bush administration officials and their allies appear to be steering clear of one politically loaded piece of evidence.
A 1992 report by Sherman Funk, then inspector general of the State Department, alleged that Clarke overlooked Israel’s illegal sale of American weapons technology to third countries while he was serving as the assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs under the first president Bush.
James Baker’s State Department eventually reprimanded Clarke, who subsequently lost his position there before immediately being picked up by the National Security Council.
“The word was out that he was generally friendly toward Israel,” said one of Clarke’s former colleagues at both the State Department and the NSC.
Clarke has sparked a national furor with his allegations that the Bush administration underestimated the threat of terrorism before September 11, 2001, and made matters worse by pushing the country to war with Iraq afterward. His new book, “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror,” quickly has become a bestseller.
In an attempt to paint Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration as inconsistent, Republican leaders have been calling for the declassification of two-year-old congressional testimony that he delivered as a Bush official, but they have not mentioned his reprimand. Similarly, neoconservative commentators in Washington who are supportive of Israel also have declined to invoke the inspector general’s report while criticizing Clarke.
It seems the only news source to make any prolonged mention of the scandal was the Al Jazeera Web site, in an article by Michael Saba noting the unwillingness of Clarke’s enemies to utilize what is arguably the most noticeable blemish on his resume.
“During an election year with friends of Israel, and especially close friends like Richard Clarke, permeating both political parties,” Saba declared, “nobody wants to mention that the elephant is in the room.”
In a reverse twist on the neoconservative balancing act regarding Clarke, the Al Jazeera contributor carefully avoided implying that the 1992 incident should be taken as any strike against the credibility of Clarke’s current allegations about the Bush administration.
Clarke’s history of support for Israel, observers say, has made it difficult for some supporters of Bush to use the Funk report as ammunition against Clarke. The Jewish community has largely stayed silent on the entire issue of Clarke’s allegations.
But Clarke’s history with Israel can also provide a lens through which to understand his current campaign against the Bush administration.
David Ivry, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, remembers, from his dealings with Clarke, a man who “was first of all, very much concerned with the strategic position of the U.S. That was his first concern. When he could be sympathetic for Israel in the interest of the United States, he would do it.”
Clarke’s single-minded focus on American security, Ivry said, was so strong that it frequently drove him to question the authorities.
“He wasn’t afraid to challenge issues and to try and find a solution,” Ivry said. “In an administration where everyone is waiting for people higher-up, he was a man who took responsibility.”
For Clarke’s former colleague at the State Department and NSC, who requested anonymity, this attitude explains everything: “The way it looks to me is that he has been troubled by the inadequate attention to security in the past few years, and he had no other objective in mind than to tell the truth.”
The inspector general’s report itself remains a highly disputed document. Ivry, who was Clarke’s counterpart in the Israeli government at the time, told the Forward that, “someone tried to blame us and [Clarke] without any real basis for it.”
In Clarke’s written refutation to the inspector general in 1992, he showed an aggressive fighting spirit that some observers say is rare for a career diplomat, but indicative of Clarke’s background and his current strikes against the Bush administration.
“There is an allegation in the report,” Clarke wrote, “that basically says that we knew about violations by one country, did nothing about it until prompted, and hid the ball from the principals. This is simply wrong.”
But the author of the report has publicly decried Clarke’s denial of the report’s allegations. In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, Funk said, “He’s being very disingenuous. Dick Clarke was unilaterally adopting a policy that was counter to the law and counter to the avowed policy of the government.”
This has been the implication of other evidence put forward by the administration and Republican leaders, yet they have not touched upon Funk’s testimony, or James Baker’s sympathetic reception.
In his new book, Clarke made no mention of the inspector general’s report, though he refuted allegations that Israel had transferred Patriot missiles to China, charges that were floated around the release of the Funk report, but subsequently rejected by the State Department.
Clarke also offered a generally positive view of his relations with the Jewish state.
He praised the decision of the Reagan administration to strengthen America’s strategic relationship with Israel as the “right thing to do militarily and morally.”
Clarke also wrote of the influence that he wielded in Israel and his affection for the Jewish people. Both points come across in one section of the book that recounts an exchange with Ivry about Israel’s alleged cooperation with South Africa on defense.
As Clarke tells it, the conversation began with him speaking of his experience growing up in a Jewish area where his family “was the only non-Jewish family in the neighborhood. I saw what people would do to the temple, I saw the harassment, heard the epithets.”
Clarke, according to his recollection, then challenged Ivry over Israel’s dealings with South Africa: “But, General, apartheid is the same thing. It’s racism. Don’t you think a government based on apartheid is a sin?”
A week later, Clarke wrote, Ivry went before the Israeli cabinet and successfully urged for an end to all defense relations with South Africa.
While Ivry declined to comment on the incidents mentioned in the book, he did say: “I had a sympathetic way of working with him on a personal level.” In what seemed like a carefully guarded attempt to compliment Clarke while shielding him from claims of bias, Ivry said that the former U.S. official “was not sympathetic toward Israel beyond what it deserved.”
During the time of the Funk report, Clarke’s strongest backing came from the ranks of neoconservatives and other supporters of Israel.
Richard Schifter, a current lay leader at the American Jewish Committee and former state department official, wrote a column in the Washington Jewish Week defending Clarke after the Inspector General report was released. Frank Gaffney, who worked under Richard Perle at the Pentagon during the Reagan years, and is now the director of the private Center for Security Policy, wrote in the Washington Times that Funk’s “organization seized upon what a lawyer would call ‘hearsay’ to impugn a major U.S. ally and to vilify a career public servant, Richard Clarke.”
For those neoconservatives and Israeli supporters who now want to raise questions about Clarke’s current allegations, his track record forces a much more delicate approach.
In a recent interview with the Forward, Gaffney criticized Clarke’s attacks on the Bush administration — but only after saying that “for most of the period that I’ve known him, he was a robust, national-security-minded professional.”
As for Clarke’s recent pronouncements, Gaffney said, “I’ve simply found the tenor and content of what he said in his book to be of a somewhat different character, and disappointing.”
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, who was one of the few Jewish leaders willing to comment on the matter, made a similar move in defending Clarke’s past while raising questions about his current behavior.
“Clarke was a friendly persona and an individual highly thought of throughout all the years in the Jewish community because of his responsibilities,” Foxman said. “Whatever you think, the way he is doing what he is doing now is not the way government professionals of a highly confidential manner operate. The timing, the place, all of these things, they leave a lot of questions.”
Ami Eden contributed to this report.
This story "Bushies Skip Opportunity To Rip Foe Over Israel" was written by Nathaniel Popper.