Saturday, May 29, 2004

Book Review: Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke

By Matt Hurley for the TIB Network

Against All Enemies is the book by Richard Clarke that explores the world of counterterrorism and his role in the field. Clarke had a long career of government service in the State Department and national security and was a key player in the Senior Executive Service for several administrations.

The book’s title is a reference to a line in the oath that all government types take to protect the Constitution against all enemies. There is veiled suggestion that the Bush 43 administration is somehow a threat to the Constitution and thus the nation; which is not only ridiculous, but absurd. Clarke narrates a tale of terrorism and terrorists and those who seek to bring justice to those who bring harm upon the United States all the while feeding and fueling his own ego.

Dick Clarke knows everything and even though no one elected him to any office, he thinks he gets to make all the decisions. In the book, Clarke continually berates his superiors who don’t agree with him. When he overlooks something, it is no big deal (let’s call it some intricate nuance that slips under his radar); but when his superiors don’t have all the facts, Clarke deems them idiots. Clarke is a master of hindsight; frequently engaging in what I have come to call “No $#|+, Dick Tracy” moments where it seems so obvious to Clarke because he knows everything but can’t seem to convince anybody that he does.

It has been some time since I read Losing bin Laden by Richard Miniter, but I vividly recall that author citing Richard Clarke as a source for a number of items in his book. One of the key topics Miniter covers in his book is the number of occasions that Osama was offered to President Clinton. Miniter outlines at least four rejections from the Clinton White House, citing Mansoor Ijaz (then a major Clinton supporter, now a FOX News analyst) who worked to put the people in communication with each other. Clarke calls these offers and the rejections pure fantasy.

In the cinematic version of Tom Clancy’s Sum of All Fears, the President and his cabinet engage in a war game dealing with an exchange of weapons of mass destruction with a renegade Russian madman. The commentary track on the DVD is quite interesting, in it Mr. Clancy asserts that the principals would never be involved in such an exercise for fear of the resulting action taken might get leaked and thus tip off any enemy as to what we might do. In chapter seven of Against All Enemies, Clarke describes chairing a meeting with the principals (although President Clinton did not attend) in which he lays out a disaster; all for the point of illustrating that Dick Clarke knows all and nobody else has a plan. That is exactly the kind of information we don’t want our enemies to have; even if we now have a plan. He put that in a book that sold millions of copies. Later in the same chapter, Dick let’s us in on the secret that Osama bin Laden had taken out a “hit” on him. He admits that the threat was probably “bogus” but you can actually see his head expand through the lines on the page. And yet again, he put other people in jeopardy with this account. Apparently he had a meeting with an Arab friend in a public place and this Arab asked about his protection. Sure enough, Dick pointed the undercover Secret Service folks out to this guy and then writes about it in his tell-all book.

Clarke is right about one thing: Iran. Current events lead me to believe that when we’re done installing democracy in Iraq and call for “Next?” we are going to have two options: Iran and Syria.

Syria is a likely target, in my book, because I believe Saddam transferred a good deal of his weapons of mass destruction there. Recently, there was a foiled attempt to use weapons of mass destruction to attack Jordan by al Qaeda terrorists from Syria. A “silent war” has been waged near the Iraqi-Syrian border for quite some time now and it has been established that a significant number of foreign fighters in Iraq entered from Syria. The problem is that sources are now saying that Syria may have moved the weapons to the Golan. If true, that increases the potential for attacks on Israel with weapons of mass destruction and that opens a whole new can of something smelly.

Iran has long been considered a major source of terrorism and terrorist funding. Clarke lays out the whole history and makes an excellent case for why they should be next. In fact, Clarke seems to question why the Bush administration chose Iraq over Iran as its first Middle East target in the War on Terror. I think Clarke understands the national security aspects and the international implications of counter-terrorism, but what he doesn’t get is the domestic politics of such decisions. Iraq was a known enemy. And Saddam was someone Americans could easily recognize. We had just spent the last two years learning about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, whom the American people knew very little about.

Furthermore, choosing Iraq over Iran makes geopolitical sense: Iraq is at the heart of the Middle East. Securing Iraq first presents us with the options of being able to go to Iran or Syria. Plus, exporting democracy from Iraq will be easier and spread much more quickly because of its location and significance.

Allow me a moment to bring John Kerry in to the discussion for a bit. Kerry goes on and on about fighting the War on Terror with an internationalist approach and how a multilateral force of diplomats and negotiators could contain the situation so we could all go back to singing campfire songs instead of actually ridding the world of evil. If the liberal pseudo-god President Bill Clinton and his trusty know-it-all aide, Dick Clarke, couldn’t convince the Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden and the senior al Qaeda leadership; what makes John Kerry think he could do better? Just asking…

The entire book is preface to its final chapters wherein Clarke lambastes the Bush administration for the war in Iraq. Throughout the preceding chapters you will find belittlement and invective indicating Clarke’s liberal bias. All of that culminates in the final chapters. Now, I’m not one of those people who think President Clinton stood by and did nothing about bin Laden and al Qaeda; however, I am one of those who conclude that President Clinton (and thus Clarke) failed to take sufficient action when opportunity presented itself.

I’m not going to say that Clarke doesn’t have any valid criticisms. I will say that his knowledge and experience in counterterrorism are legitimate credentials. The problem is that he has let personal political ideology and unbounded narcissism cloud his judgment and evaluation of recent events. He had been working in counterterrorism for ten years and was too personally invested in his personal crusade and agenda.

His lack of knowledge of the personalities in the Bush administration and his unwillingness to do what was needed in order to gain sufficient influence demonstrate that Clarke had become ineffectual as a crisis management resource. After eight years of dealing with the Clinton administration, Clarke expected nothing to change with this administration. He should have known better. Politics is politics and as an experienced member of the Washington DC elite, he should have known better.

My recommendation is to pass on this book. I sure wouldn’t purchase the book; maybe check it out at the library. Quite frankly, the only reason I bothered to read it at all is that my boss bought it and passed it around. If Clarke had managed to put aside his obvious political leanings and wrote a book that took an honest unbiased view of the condition of our crisis management apparatus, I would have recommended the book; but that really isn’t what this book is about.