Richard Clarke's Legacy of Miscalculation

Monday, 17 February 2003, 1:22 PM EST

The retirement of Richard Clarke is appropriate to the reality of the war on terror. Years ago, Clarke bet his national security career on the idea that electronic war was going to be real war. He lost, because as al Qaeda and Iraq have shown, real action is still of the blood and guts kind.

In happier times prior to 9/11, Clarke -- as Bill Clinton's counter-terror point man in the National Security Council -- devoted great effort to convincing national movers and shakers that cyberattack was the coming thing. While ostensibly involved in preparations for bioterrorism and trying to sound alarms about Osama bin Laden, Clarke was most often seen in the news predicting ways in which electronic attacks were going to change everything and rewrite the calculus of conflict.

September 11 spoiled the fun, though, and electronic attack was shoved onto the back-burner in favor of special operations men calling in B-52 precision air strikes on Taliban losers. One-hundred fifty-thousand U.S. soldiers on station outside Iraq make it perfectly clear that cyberspace is only a trivial distraction.

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