In New Hampshire [yesterday], ... Mr. Bush prefaced his remarks by pointedly noting that the commission was looking at "the eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration."
--New York Times
I said this a couple of days ago and I'll say it again: The impact of what Richard Clarke is saying is blunted by the way the discussion is so often framed -- that Bill Clinton failed to capture or kill bin Laden for eight years, while George W. Bush failed for eight months. Framing the discussion this way glosses over the fact that (a) Bush hasn't been able to catch or kill bin Laden in more than three years, even with the world on his side now (which means it's not just a matter of boldness and lack of risk-aversion) and (b) we didn't have to catch or kill bin Laden to prevent 9/11 -- we just had to pay attention to the damn intelligence, and act accordingly.
Slate's William Saletan makes that point here.
The best shot at preventing 9/11 would have come not through a preconceived plan—Clarke's, Hadley's, or anyone else's—but through a process designed to pull together bits of useful information from various parts of the government. That process, as Clarke explained on 60 Minutes, was what President Clinton had ordered when faced with similar warnings of impending terrorism [prior to January 1, 2000]: a regular schedule of Cabinet-level meetings at which the attorney general, the CIA director, the secretary of defense, and other top officers of the government would have to explain what their agencies were doing to address the threat. To prepare for those meetings, the Cabinet members would have had to press their subordinates for regular updates, and so on, down the chain of command. Clarke and others call it "shaking the tree."
The most important thing isn't that prolonged development of a huge new global counterterrorism strategy made it impossible for the Bush administration to focus on destroying al-Qaeda -- it's that it seems to have made it impossible for the Bush administration to identify and arrest one or two guys, which could have ended 9/11 before it began.