Reviewed 12/02/2005

Against All Enemies, by Richard A. Clarke

Inside America's War on Terror
Richard A. Clarke
New York: Free Press, 2004




ISBN 0-7432-6024-4 304pp. HC $27.00

Thirty years of service to the American government, including ten years in the White House, gives one a certain perspective on affairs of state. Richard Clarke writes that it was the events of 2003, primarily the inception of the war on Iraq begun by George W. Bush, that motivated him to write this book. He regards the war as unnecessary and counterproductive, in that it consumed vast resources without materially reducing the threat of Al Qaeda (and in fact may have increased it), and in that Bush and a small group of ideologues misled the American people about the justification for the war, exploited it for political gain, and branded any dissenters as unpatriotic. From pages xi-xii of the Preface:

I recognize there is a great risk in writing a book such as this that many friends and former associates who disagree with me will be offended. The Bush White House leadership in particular have a reputation for taking great offense at criticism by former associates, considering it a violation of loyalty. They are also reportedly adept at revenge, as my friend Joe Wilson discovered and as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill now knows. Nonetheless, friends should be able to disagree and, for me, loyalty to the citizens of the United States must take precedence over loyalty to any political machine.

Clarke begins his tale during the frantic moments after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. The second plane had hit before security meetings got organized in Washington; but it was only a few minutes. Clarke's first chapter includes dialogue as he remembers it, and makes a gripping account. There are some grammatical errors but none of fact that I can recall. An interesting note is that it was his recommendation that the President not come directly back from Florida. Another is an omission: Clarke never mentions the extra minutes the President spent in that Florida kindergarten. The chapter is a fascinating look at the procedures, personnel, and some of the facilities involved in protecting the President and other high government officials.

Everything and everyone reacts very well during the first hours of the crisis: Most government and military leaders1 in video conference; the White House evacuated and cordoned off; COG established; 4,400 commercial aircraft smoothly grounded by the FAA; fighters and AWACS planes scrambled to put CAP over all major US cities; harbors sealed by the Coast Guard, and land borders (to the extent possible) by INS; DOD forces at DEFCON 3 worldwide; FEMA mortuary teams en route to New York City.

Then planning for the counterstrikes begins. It becomes clear that balls had been dropped. The CIA knew that terrorists were in the country, but had taken months to tell the FBI. The FBI had failed to find those terrorists. Even using the names by which they were known to the FBI, some had managed to board the airplanes they hijacked. Clarke comments on a general lack of interest in al Qaeda at the FBI, despite the efforts of a brave man named John O'Neill. O'Neill had resigned from the FBI in frustration and, early in September 2001, taken a new job as head of security for the World Trade Center; he, alas, is not around to tell his part of the story. When Clarke returns to his crisis-management role after going home to shower and change, he is dismayed to find that Cheney and Wolfowitz are determined to focus the discussion on Iraq. Wolfowitz claims that the terrorist operation is so complex it must have been state-sponsored; hence, Iraq. He claimed the same thing back in April, Clarke remembers, about the botched 1993 attempt to bring down the WTC. The President, too, being inexperienced with anti-terrorism, buys into this POV. On September 12th he insists that Clarke search for any link between al Qaeda and Iraq. Clarke taps Paul Kurtz, of the White House counterterrorism team, to organize an all-departments meeting on the question. The consensus of the meeting, held on September 13th, is that there was no cooperation between al Qaeda and Iraq. A memorandum to that effect is sent up to the President, but Clarke notes there is no indication it ever reached him.

The remainder of the book traces the roots of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Clarke presents his own role as well as the names and titles of other players and the views of all factions. Always analytical, he examines precepts he and others held to at the time. An example is the decision to arm the mujahedeen in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles. Clarke supported it then and still does; but he now views related decisions as mistakes. Don't think that it becomes a dry tome after Chapter 1, however. It is a chronological account, with the analysis inserted as appropriate; and there is plenty of drama. You'll learn, for example, that the plot to kill President G. H. W. Bush in Kuwait was organized around an SUV packed with explosives. The attempt failed when the SUV was involved in a traffic accident and came to the attention of Kuwait's police force. Both the SUV and the explosives were supplied by Iraqi intelligence, the Muhabarat2.

Because of Clarke's wealth of inside information, his analytical mind, and his clear and accurate writing, this eventful first-person narrative provides essential insight to military and political history of the period after the Cold War. It reveals his dedication to the counterterrorism effort, in various government positions, over three decades — and his frustration (and that of others) at the lack of high-level attention to the principal threat in early 2001. It is not a historical treatise; there are no chapter notes. (There is a thorough index.) It is the testimony of one honest and thoughtful man about a controversial period in our nation's recent history. I give it my highest recommendation.

1 As is common, several top officials were out of the country or in the hinterlands. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Peru; JCS Chairman Hugh Shelton was over the Atlantic. Then there were newbies, like Bob Mueller, who had taken over the FBI just the week before.
2 Clarke says on page 95 that the Muhabarat was regarded as "the Keystone Kops of the Middle East". (For younger readers of this page: The Keystone Kops featured in a series of silent movie comedies directed by Mack Sennett, where they performed absurdly inept car chases. They thus became the symbol of a bumbling police force.)
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