Though many hoped that former National Security czar Richard Clarke's riveting testimony before the 9/11 Commission last year and his illuminating memoir, Against All Enemies, might have influenced the 2004 presidential election, Clarke himself remains sanguine about the outcome.
"That's not what it was about," Clarke said at an appearance in Memphis this week. Though it was no secret he was deeply concerned about what he saw and documented of the Bush administration's national-security shortcomings, Clarke's political evenhandedness is what gave such authority to his indictment of misguided foreign-policy priorities and lackluster national preparedness. His book, subtitled Inside America's War on Terror, made it clear that the nation's defenses against terror were woefully insufficient and remained so, even in the aftermath of 9/11.
What Clarke was, is, and presumably will be for time to come is a sentinel on the preparedness front. Appearing at a summit of preparedness officials and experts in Memphis last week, Clarke addressed the conference theme of Homeland Security with a clear caution: "Don't confuse activity with achievement," he told an attentive audience at the University of Memphis. The lack of further massive attacks like those against New York and Washington in 2001 should not lead to complacency in national councils, Clarke said, though he made it clear that he thought it already had.
About the prospect of another attack on the scale of 9/11, Clarke observed, "People tend to think that was yesterday's priority, and that's when you get into trouble. Maybe al-Qaeda as we knew it has gone away but not the jihadist threat."
Homeland Security funding and planning have both been substandard, Clarke said, though he commended the Tennessee officials present for their superior performance in both regards. But, as the former czar noted, the current state of preparedness leaves the nation ill-prepared not only against terrorist attack but against such natural catastrophes as earthquakes and influenza outbreaks.
Clarke endorsed the concept of mandated Homeland Security reviews, regular and periodic in the manner of those now required of the Defense Department. A measure to that effect has been advanced by U.S. representative Harold Ford Jr., who organized last week's summit. We concur and congratulate both the congressman and the former security czar for their insistence on such vigilance.