05 January 2005

Book Review: Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, by Richard Clarke, *****

Few political memoirs have made such a dramatic entrance as that by Richard A. Clarke. During the week of the initial publication of Against All Enemies, Clarke was featured on 60 Minutes, testified before the 9/11 commission, and touched off a raging controversy over how the presidential administration handled the threat of terrorism and the post-9/11 geopolitical landscape. Clarke, a veteran Washington insider who had advised presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, dissects each man's approach to terrorism but levels the harshest criticism at the latter Bush and his advisors who, Clarke asserts, failed to take terrorism and Al-Qaeda seriously. Clarke details how, in light of mounting intelligence of the danger Al-Qaeda presented, his urgent requests to move terrorism up the list of priorities in the early days of the administration were met with apathy and procrastination and how, after the attacks took place, Bush and key figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney turned their attention almost immediately to Iraq, a nation not involved in the attacks. Against All Enemies takes the reader inside the Beltway beginning with the Reagan administration, who failed to retaliate against the 1982 Beirut bombings, fueling the perception around the world that the United States was vulnerable to such attacks. Terrorism becomes a growing but largely ignored threat under the first President Bush, whom Clarke cites for his failure to eliminate Saddam Hussein, thereby necessitating a continued American presence in Saudi Arabia that further inflamed anti-American sentiment. Clinton, according to Clarke, understood the gravity of the situation and became increasingly obsessed with stopping Al-Qaeda. He had developed workable plans but was hamstrung by political infighting and the sex scandal that led to his impeachment. But Bush and his advisers, Clarke says, didn't get it before 9/11 and they didn't get it after, taking a unilateral approach that seemed destined to lead to more attacks on Americans and American interests around the world. Clarke's inside accounts of what happens in the corridors of power are fascinating and the book, written in a compelling, highly readable style, at times almost seems like a fiction thriller. But the threat of terrorism and the consequences of Bush's approach to it feel very sobering and very real. --John Moe for Amazon.com

This is essential reading in international security. I have degree in international affairs and a Ph.D. in strategic studies and have read hundreds of books on these issues over the past 25 years. This must rank among the top 10. Possibly the top 2 or 3. It is not academic in style and format, but not less educational because of that. Probably more so.

The insight one gets from the decades long experience of Richard Clarke is priceless. He knows more than anyone on the subject of terrorism, but is never egocentric (well, almost never) and often ready to admit his mistakes. It is a shame the U.S. government did not make more use of him. Or any other democratic government for that matter.

He goes through the background of our current problems, beginning back in the 1970s. he discusses Reagan, Bush I and Clinton's policies with a dry insider's perspective. He illustrates the self deceit of the Bush II administration in pursuing Iraq while al Qaeda was allowed to get on pretty much undisturbed. Clarke was not only useful in government, even more so he is useful now to the broader public to help understand how the leaders of the free world conducted war against terror in the past quarter century. His prose is captivating and even enthralling at times, which makes for a pleasant as well as instructive reading.

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