October 29, 2007, 9:00 am - July 11, 2019, 9:49 am


1761 N Street NW
Washington, 20036 (Map)

Richard Clarke made the remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 30, 2007.


Mr. Clarke discussed the five myths he said are circulating around Washington regarding current US relations with the Middle East.

Event Summary

The Five Myths:

Mr. Clarke’s speech addressed five myths that he said are currently circulating around Washington regarding US relations in the Middle East. The first myth, according to Clarke, is that ‘Osama Bin Laden has become irrelevant and that Al-Qaeda no longer matters. He noted that, contrary to the current administration’s claims that Al-Qaeda has been smashed, “Al-Qaeda is back,” planning attacks and just as powerful as before. The only major way in which Al-Qaeda has changed since 2001 is that they have moved from Afghanistan to the border regions of Pakistan.

The second myth, according to Clarke, is regarding the US’s “Global War on Terrorism,” or the GWOT. It’s not global, he said, it shouldn’t be called a war, and it’s definitely not on terrorism. The “war,” Clarke argued, is largely unconcerned with regions like South America and southern Africa, and is in fact focused almost exclusively on the Islamic world. He explained that terrorism is a tactic of war, not an entity to be fought against. Rather, the US fight is against “a small group of extremists who wrap themselves in the mantle of a religion they don’t understand.” Terrorism must be fought ideologically, a way in which, according to Clarke, the US is in no position to fight. The US has no credibility left in the Islamic world, he asserted, and won’t until the US gets out of Iraq.

The third myth is that oil funds terrorism. Many Americans believe that the war in Iraq is all about oil, and furthermore that oil is a major reason that the US goes to war in the Middle East. The truth, says Clarke, is that most American oil comes not from the Middle East, but rather from Mexico and Canada. Any oil that does come from the Middle East is purchased directly from the governments of countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. These governments have no desire to support Al-Qaeda, because they are Al-Qaeda’s first targets. Thus, purchasing gas from US oil companies does not contribute to Al Qaeda's terrorist activities.

The fourth myth is that if the US military leaves Iraq, there will be chaos, and Al-Qaeda will move back in. But, he said, Iraq today is already “the poster of chaos.” Al-Qaeda still has a fairly sturdy base in Iraq. They not only have a sanctuary, they have a training ground, and the US is bringing their targets right to them. Clarke argued that none of the predominant groups in Iraq — the Kurds, the Shia, or the Sunni — would be willing to allow Al-Qaeda to establish a base after a US withdrawal. The US, he stated, should allow the Iraqi government to take responsibility for terrorist camps in Iraq. The elimination of terrorist cells doesn’t require thousands of our own troops on the ground.

The fifth and most important myth, says Clarke, is that Iran has “inexplicably become aggressive” and therefore must be dealt with militarily. Clarke asked the audience to put on their shoes “the Iranian way:” “Imagine that you were Iranian,” he continued. You wake up one morning and American forces have occupied the country to your East. You wake up one morning and they have occupied the country to your West. You find yourself, along with North Korea, on a list to be closely monitored by the US. There are reports that US Special Forces have entered your country and are causing trouble. Surely these developments would easily explain your aggressiveness. According to Clarke, any US attack would target Iranian nuclear facilities. However, in order to protect the aircraft and ships involved in the attack, it would also be necessary to bomb Iranian air defense and naval facilities. Iran would certainly respond militarily to such an attack. Fortunately for Iran, Clarke quipped, the US has conveniently moved most of our troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, making them easy targets. Noting that he has played out this and other possible scenarios many times in his head, Clarke said that typically after the 4th or 5th strategic move, the American side wishes it had not started the fight.

About this Event

Richard Clarke made the remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 30, 2007.


This event summary was written by Caroline Behringer, a senior at American University and currently programs intern at MEI. The summary was peer-edited by Andrew Cockerham, currently a communications intern at MEI.

Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.