(As I look down at my watch as I start this entry, I see it is 9:11, eery). I had been eager to read this book, partly because I wanted to see someone stick it to Bush's international policies, partly because it will most likely change the course of the election to come, and partly because Richard Clarke's career, spanning thirty years, would certainly offer much needed perspective on the evolution of America's relationship to the Arab world.
What I found inside Against All Enemies was three books. The first part recounts the events of September 11th from Clarke's perspective. The second part recounts the history of US counter terrorism policy and relationship with the Arab world from the mid 1970s up until the end of Clinton's presidency, with a large focus on the Clinton presidency. The third and final part of the book deals with the Bush presidency, briefly discussing its failures before September 11th, and then focusing on the failures of his post-September-11th policy.
In my extended entry, I recount each of these sections in more detail, but what was most surprising to me, was that the majority of this book is not a "attack Bush" book. Blind to the 9/11 Commission and the rest of the media circus swirling around this book, and asked to write a one sentence summary of this book, I would say
A history of America's counter terrorism from Ronald Reagan to present
In this function, the book is very insightful. You should read this book regardless of political viewpoint, as I, at least, found it to be the first cohesive and detailed history of the emergence of radical Islamic terrorism as a threat to America. At some point in our history, we transitioned from a Cold War threat to a jihadist terrorism threat, and Clarke is able to pull apart history to show us how this transition took place. One also gets to see how the gears of the CIA and FBI interact, how the Executive Branch analyzes terrorist threats, how our security policies in the seventies and eighties have come to haunt us in the present day. As a national security primer, one would be well served in reading this book, regardless of your personal political leanings.
Listening to the media circus surrounding this book, though, one would believe that it's three hundred pages of non-stop Bush Administration critique. However, of the three hundred pages this book encompasses, less than a third deals specifically with Bush, and of this third, not all of it is necessarily criticizing. Sometimes Clarke makes Bush, Rice, and Rumsfeld look good, sometimes he makes them look bad. In the balance, though, he does make them look bad (Wolfowitz never looks good), and the book closes with an essay that can stand by itself as an informed critique of the current Iraq War.
From his vantage point, Clarke levels two main charges against the Bush administration. The first is that the administration ignored his warnings about the seriousness of the al Qaeda threat before September 11th, and failed to enact policies that could have possibly (but not certainly) prevented the attacks. The second charge is that by engaging America in a war with Iraq, we have only worsened America's defenses to future terrorist attacks: we passed up the opportunity to capture al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, we stretched our military and National Guard forces thin, we stirred up anti-American sentiment by invading an Arab nation without provocation, we've underfunded security efforts at home, we failed to promote an alternate ideology to counterattack the fundamentalist, jihadist ideology, etc... (there are many more)
Of these two charges, the first has gotten the most attention in the press, perhaps because the 9/11 Commission is naturally focused on events leading up to 9/11, not the response that occurred afterward. We also seem to be at a stage where we are looking to assign blame to particular people and administrations for failing to prevent the attacks. However, I believe that it is the second of these charges that is the most important to dwell on. What we did or didn't do to prevent 9/11 at this point is moot: we as a nation now recognize the threat from al Qaeda, and whether or not someone underestimated the terrorist threat is a question for the past, not the future. Clarke, himself, doesn't focus very strongly on the first charge, and his recounting of the events before 9/11 are offered up mostly as facts without follow-up analysis and critique.
Our response to 9/11, however, is still a matter of current policy, and it is important, as we look at our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, to decide whether or not our current policies are the ones that will best prevent future terrorist attacks. Although most of the book is a memoir, Clarke shifts gears to offer a detailed critique of how our second Iraq War has weakened our defenses to terrorism, while at the same time outlining what our national security response should have been.
There is a third, implicit, criticism in the book, which is that career civil servants, qualified, intelligent people that Clarke respects, have all quit (despite many years of service), due to frustration and the way the Bush Administration is handling it's security policy. There is also another, similar criticism, which is that enlistments are certain to suffer as the Iraq War is pushing extended enlistments for Army, Marines, and National Guard alike. These are serious criticisms, but ones that unfortunately takes second stage.
Reading the book, it's easy to see why Clarke is a threatening target to the Bush Administration. Clarke's views on foreign policy and counter terrorism sit well enough to the right to fit in with a Republican administration. He has no problems with using force to achieve foreign policy goals, including assassinating foreign targets and supporting the proxy wars as a means of fighting Russia. He is also against the Kyoto Treaty and the International Criminal Court (p. 273).
Clarke will also be difficult to refute because he is extremely specific with names, quotes, and other details. I am surprised at the level of detail he was able to achieve, and I wonder what sort of journal he has been keeping in order to make this book possible. Given that the White House has had a copy for several months now, and has chosen to challenge the book primarily with character rather than factual attacks, it would appear to me at least that Clarke is probably accurate in most of his recollection. It would be too simple to find the people involved in the conversations he recounts, or the documents that he refers to, produce them, and show Clarke to be incorrect if that were the case.
Even if you don't read my extended notes that follow, I would recommend reading the transcript of Clarke's, Berger's, Tenet's, and Armitage's testimony to the 9/11 commission, contradictions in Rice's statements/attacks, and the transcript of Rice's 60 Minutes interview, which includes this wonderful exchange
I'm saying that the administration took seriously the threat - let's talk about what we did.
But no, I understand-
But you - you listed -
You'd listed the things that you'd done. But here is the perception.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at that time says you
pushed it to the back burner. The former Secretary of the Treasury
says it was not a priority. Mr. Clarke says it was not a priority.
And at least, according to Bob Woodward, who talked with the
president, he is saying that for the president, it wasn't urgent. He
didn't have a sense of urgency about al Qaeda. That's the perception
Ed, I don't know what a sense of urgency - any greater than the one
that we had, would have caused us to do differently.
This entry is almost incomplete, and I'm too lazy to finish. I have yet to write my summary of Part III, and my Part II summary is still a bit scattered.