Profile: Richard A. Falkenrath
Richard A. Falkenrath was a participant or observer in the following events:
Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath. [Source: US State Department]The Washington Post reports that President Bush remains focused on the capture of top al-Qaeda leaders and has shown little interest in other counterterrorism efforts. The Post reports, “Bush conducts the war on terrorism above all as a global hunt for a cast of evil men he knows by name and photograph. He tracks progress in daily half-hour meetings that Richard A. Falkenrath, who sometimes attended them before departing recently as deputy homeland security adviser, described as ‘extremely granular, about individual guys.’” Falkenrath says, “This is a conversation he’s been having every day, more or less, with his senior advisers since September 11th.” It covers “the same people, over and over again.”
"Decapitate the Beast" - In 2002, the CIA identified about 30 al-Qaeda leaders known as “high-value targets,” and the Bush administration believed al-Qaeda would collapse without them. White House counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend similarly says Bush’s strategy since 9/11 has been to “decapitate the beast.” She says the men on the list have “unique expertise, experience, or access.” Al-Qaeda may replace them, “but does that person have the same strength and leadership and capability? The answer is no. Maybe he acquires it on the job, but maybe not.” However, many counterterrorism experts increasingly believe that al-Qaeda has turned into more of an ideology than a hierarchical structure, and that the movement can easily survive the loss of its top leaders.
Crossing Names Off a List - Since shortly after 9/11, Bush has had a card containing a list of the names of the top al-Qaeda leaders, and he likes to personally cross them off the card whenever any are captured or killed. The Post says that Bush “mentions little else, save the Taliban’s expulsion from power, when describing progress against al-Qaeda. According to people who have briefed him, Bush still marks changes by hand” on his copy of list of leaders. He sees the issue largely in terms of a battle of wills between himself and al-Qaeda leaders, although he also focuses on removing the governments of countries he believes are state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq.
Bush Not Interested in Root Causes of Terrorism - Bush is uninterested in polls showing sharply rising anti-US sentiment overseas, particularly in Muslim countries. One high high-ranking national security official says of the increasing Muslim hostility to the US, “I don’t think it matters.” Many counterterrorism experts and officials disagree. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” from late 2001 until early 2004, says that Osama bin Laden has worked effectively to “convince the Islamic world the US is the common enemy.… We have done little or nothing [to combat this perception]. That is the big failure.” The Post says that “strong majorities of several dozen officers and officials who were interviewed… cite a long list of proposals to address terrorism at its roots that have not been carried out.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Richard Falkenrath, a former assistant professor at Harvard and White House staffer in the Bush administration, writes a blistering critique of the 9/11 Commission report for the scholarly journal International Security, published by Harvard and MIT. Falkenrath attacks the commission for failing to publicly name the White House officials who performed poorly—apparently counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—as this is “exactly the wrong message to send to future government officials and the people who train them.” Falkenrath charges that the commission endorsed a “no fault” theory of government, where individuals are not held responsible for their actions, no matter how catastrophic they are. Instead of this, the commission report offered an “imprecise, anodyne, and impersonal assignment of responsibility for the US government’s failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks.” However, Falkenrath argues that “government is not a ‘no fault’ business,” and that “when the government fails to act in situations in which it has a legal authority to do so, it is almost always because specific and identifiable officials made a decision, formally or informally, not to act.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 391-393]
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