“Wretched Excesses” among responses to 9/11: Richard Clarke | Power & Policy

“Wretched Excesses” among responses to 9/11: Richard Clarke

The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.

Richard A. Clarke

Richard A. Clarke

Richard A. Clarke, who was the White House counter-terrorism adviser on Sept. 11, 2001, offers a withering critique of the American response to 9/11 in the decade that followed.

In an essay published on The Daily Beast website, Clarke writes: “Our nation was stunned and wanted to unify in response. That desire for unity kept too many voices silent when they should have been contributing to a public debate about how to react. Wretched excesses were proposed and barely opposed.”

Those included the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, Clarke says, leading to more American deaths in Iraq than on 9/11 itself. “Constitutional protections that generations of Americans had struggled to achieve for our own people were eroded in the name of the new cause.”

Clarke, who is Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, at the Harvard Kennedy School and a faculty affiliate in the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, spent 30 years in U.S. government service, from 1973-2003. He served in senior intelligence and security roles in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Clarke argues in the essay that “for most of the decade, our reaction to the attack strengthened the attackers.”

Clarke’s takeaways: “Preserving and strengthening our critical thinking as a nation is even more necessary at a time when our emotions and primitive instincts would otherwise dominate.” He adds that “America should not again panic and overreact to terrorist attacks against this country.”

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