Orlando, Fla. The invasion of Iraq was an "enormous mistake" that is costing untold lives, strengthening al-Qaida and breeding a new generation of terrorists, former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke said Saturday.
"We did exactly what al-Qaida said we would do: invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country that wasn't threatening us in any way," Clarke said before giving the keynote address at the American Library Assn.'s annual convention in Orlando. "The hatred that has been engendered by this invasion will last for generations."
Clarke, a counterterrorism adviser to the past three presidents, wrote the book "Against All Enemies," which strongly criticizes the Bush administration for making Iraq a top priority and for underestimating warnings about al-Qaida before the 9-11 attacks.
Clarke said the United States would lose the war on terrorism if it lost the battle of ideas against extremists in the Middle East.
The United States' ideological credibility has been undermined by revelations of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and the release of documents that showed U.S. government attorneys conducted a legal analysis of what constituted torture, Clarke said.
Clarke took issue with some elements of filmmaker Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which depicts how the Bush administration allowed Saudi nationals and members of Osama bin Laden's family to leave the United States days after the 9-11 attacks.
Clarke said he thought the Saudi government was "perfectly justified" in wanting its citizens to leave the United States out of fears of "vigilantism" by Americans.
The Saudis were not allowed to leave until the FBI cleared them of posing any danger and having knowledge of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, Clarke said.
Clarke added that he agreed with many things Moore stood for.