On Saturday’s Good Morning America on ABC, during a discussion of the Ground Zero mosque and the possibility of Koran burning in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones, after anchor Dan Harris brought up the naive liberal expectation that President Obama would be able to improve relations with the Muslim world because of his family connections to Islam and his inaugural speech reaching out to Muslims, ABC News consultant Richard Clarke suggested that Obama’s inaugural address had "helped a lot" to make America safer before being derailed by recent controversies. Clarke's suggestion came after he had argued that recent events have made America "a lot less safe," with the conversation continuing:
DAN HARRIS: But, you know, there was all this talk when President Obama was inaugurated that here's a man whose middle name was "Hussein," he spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country, he's made a LOT of effort to reach out to the Muslim world, and, in fact, gave an impassioned set of statements on this very issue yesterday. Has none of that helped?
RICHARD CLARKE: Well, it did help. When he said in his inaugural address, "America is not at war with Islam," that helped a lot. But the recent controversies have undone all of that.
Clarke – a former counterterrorism advisor for both the Clinton and Bush administrations who has a history of sharp criticism of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 – later in the segment vaguely impugned the Bush administration’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks: "We have to anticipate that there will be another attack. And we have to think about what our reaction's going to be when that occurs. Last time, a lot of our reaction was counterproductive."
But, as Clarke gave credit to Obama as if he were the first President to articulate a distinction between radical Islam and moderate Muslims, he seemed to forget that President Bush made this distinction clear in his address to a joint session of Congress nine days after the 9/11 attacks:
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans. And by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful. And those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.
The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.
Below is a complete transcript of the relevant segment from the Saturday, September 11, Good Morning America on ABC:
DAN HARRIS: Let's talk about all of this now with Richard Clarke, who was the counterterrorism czar in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. And he was in that position on 9/11. He's now an ABC News consultant. He joins us from Virginia. Richard, good morning to you.
RICHARD CLARKE ABC NEWS CONSULTANT: Good morning, Dan.
HARRIS: So, even though this Koran burning has been called off, do you think the damage has been done? Has it made us less safe, do you think?
CLARKE: It's made us a lot less safe. Whenever we do things that support bin Laden's theory that America is at war with Islam, that strengthens his recruitment process. So he's probably recruited thousands of more adherents over the last few weeks while we argued about a mosque in New York and Koran burning.
HARRIS: But, you know, there was all this talk when President Obama was inaugurated that here's a man whose middle name was "Hussein," he spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country, he's made a LOT of effort to reach out to the Muslim world, and, in fact, gave an impassioned set of statements on this very issue yesterday. Has none of that helped?
CLARKE: Well, it did help. When he said in his inaugural address, "America is not at war with Islam," that helped a lot. But the recent controversies have undone all of that. And the average Muslim in Indonesia or India or Pakistan could be forgiven for thinking that the United States really is at war with Islam. And that's the fuel that bin Laden needs to get support, financial support, suicide bombers, to get people who will join the al-Qaeda cause.
HARRIS: Martha Raddatz brought this up in her piece. Why have we not found Osama bin Laden nine years after the fact?
CLARKE: Well, you know, the world has billions of people on it, and finding one person has always proved difficult when they don't want to be found. But, as General Petraeus said in your piece, he is out there. He is influential. He is still issuing orders. And he's still issuing orders to attack the United States.
HARRIS: You were in the White House, as we said, nine years ago, on 9/11. As you look out at the world right now and you survey our anti-terror defenses in this country, what keeps you up at night? What is our biggest vulnerability?
CLARKE: Well, it's still possible for a handful of people – I mean, even if al-Qaeda is reduced to 150 or 200 people – it's still possible for 10 or 12 to come to the United States. They could even be people with American passports who went overseas and got trained and came back – to get into the United States and cause an attack. It's always going to be possible, no matter what we do. So we have to anticipate that there will be another attack. And we have to think about what our reaction's going to be when that occurs. Last time, a lot of our reaction was counterproductive. And this time, I hope if it happens, we are more realistic. Now, we all want it not to happen, but stopping every terrorist attack is almost impossible.
HARRIS: Have our defenses improved measurably, do you think?
CLARKE: Yeah, they have in some areas. Certainly, aviation security is much better. But the sort of attack that occurred on the London subway a few years ago on 7/7, that sort of attack could take place on any one of the American subway systems today. There's some targets that are just really, really tough to protect, no matter what you do.
HARRIS: Richard Clarke, thank you very much. We appreciate your input on this anniversary.
CLARKE: Thank you, Dan.