- Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terrorism
Richard Clarke was an unconventional Washington bureaucrat who served in two White House administrations that had experienced significant acts of violence directed by radical Islamists. His position as the principal official at the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) for the better part of a decade gave him a unique if somewhat channeled view of global political violence. But it provided unique witness to how decisions were made in response to real security threats.
The book Clarke has written of those years is by his own observation egocentric and missing the essential roles of other players in the antiterrorism process. (Readers should also consult The Age of Sacred Terror by Clarke's colleagues at the CSG, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.) It is, however, the single best account of the global antiterrorist problem and the failures of a weakened Clinton presidency and the blindness of the Bush administration in understanding the gathering global reach of al Qaeda that led to 11 September. Unlike his superiors in the Bush White House and some of his counterparts at the Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton administration, Clarke recognized the religiously inspired threat from militant Islamists. He cried "wolf" a great deal, but the wolf finally arrived at our doorstep, just as he predicted. In this book, Clarke settles all accounts, taking major aim at the George W. Bush administration that eventually eased him out of his critical position and at his antagonists such as Vice President Richard Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Clarke had previously observed the inevitable results of the Iran-Contra fiasco during the Reagan years and the incoherence of policies that, on one side, espoused no quarter should be given to terrorists and, on the other, secretly armed a major sponsor of international terrorism at the time, the Iran of the ayatollahs, and used the proceeds to fund a covert war in Central America. When added to the reluctance of the same administration to retaliate for the suicide bombings of the American Embassy and the Marine barrack in Beirut in 1983, new lessons were provided to the would-be terrorists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Afghanistan was the other object lesson, demonstrating to al Qaeda how a superpower like the Soviet Union could be defeated and driven from an Islamic country. (Osama bin Laden credited God, not the Stinger missile, for the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.) Clarke, distinct from many in the intelligence community, was among the first (and most influential) to recognize the growing threats of religiously motivated and inspired political violence. He [End Page 156] campaigned to raise the subject of terrorism to the top of the American foreign policy agenda and often was unsupported by a truculent bureaucracy. The CSG, designed as the central coordinating point for all US government antiterrorism policies, originated in the Reagan administration. Its most renowned head was Oliver North, a hero to conservatives and a bête noire to liberals. Although much better intellectually equipped, Clarke, like North, sometimes alienated his counterparts in the antiterrorism community, relentlessly pushing the issues he had identified as the most urgent. He did find a supporter in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's John O'Neill, who died on 11 September. O'Neill, much like Clarke, often rode roughshod over his colleagues and subsequently was disciplined by his FBI superiors.
The book is most valuable when bearing witness to the ideological biases demonstrated by the Bush policy advisers at the Pentagon and the vice president's office. These were rigid views derived both from a Cold War perspective and an arrogant delusion that the real enemy was a Middle East dictator that the president's father had failed to dispatch during the first Persian Gulf conflict. These attitudes were buttressed by the bizarre theories of writer Laurie Mylroie, who had claimed that Saddam Hussein had been behind every act of international terrorism directed at the United States since the first...