Book Reviews

Book Review: Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke – Terrorism 101

Written in 2004

For anyone who doesn’t know who Richard Clarke is, he began his federal service in 1973 working on security issues. As the years progressed, he worked directly under Presidents Reagan and Bush I. Eventually, he was named National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism under President Clinton, a position he held until March 2003 when he resigned. Almost immediately, rumblings from the White House and Republican Party began coming out trying to discredit him. When he left the public service arena, he was in charge of cyber-terrorism, a post that has had a veritable revolving door. The most recent holder of this position resigned this past weekend (beginning of October 2004).

These are important facts to know, as Clarke’s book is not a trashing of the current Bush Administration. In fact, the majority of the book talks about the time preceding 9/11, establishing in great detail the history behind the events leading up to that fateful day. It’s not until approximately page 225 that he begins talking about the Bush Administration, other than detailing the events of 9/11. That narrative introduces the book, and it is just a retelling of events.

Unfortunately, Against All Enemies has gotten caught up with many of the other books released in this election year railing against the current state of affairs in this country. If you choose to dismiss every other book out there, that’s fine. Just make sure you read this one.

One of the most astonishing facts I learned during the narrative of events on 9/11 with which Clarke begins Against All Enemies is that Clarke was the one essentially calling the shots on 9/11 from the White House. He and his staff stayed behind and worked while everyone else was whisked off to safety. It’s a testimony to the high regard he was held in that this responsibility fell to his shoulders on that terrible day.

What Clarke does here is telling it like it is, all the way from the policies of Reagan against the Russians from which the roots of the terrorists of today were grown. No one could dream at the time what the side-effects of those policies would be. However, Clarke does point out with a good degree of clarity just what mistakes were made in the first Gulf War which led to the problems we face today.

He also writes in such a way that I could see his views changing. This was especially true when he spoke of the Clinton era. At first, he is apprehensive and fairly certain the President will not have the strength to respond to incidents as Clarke believes he should. Slowly that changes, and Clarke begins to detail how the Republicans in Congress blocked so many of Clinton’s Counter-Terrorism funding requests.

Clarke also debunks some myths about Clinton, such as the rumor that has floated around that Sudan offered to turn bin Laden over and Clinton refused. Clarke says flat out this never occurred, yet the rumors persist. It was also eye-opening to read about how Vice President Gore encouraged Clinton to engage in “snatches” – luring people wanted as terrorist leaders to locations where they could be arrested and brought back for trials – so much for Gore being “soft”. What’s even more startling is the fact that Clarke was in on the meetings where the Joint Chiefs from the Pentagon advised against many of these. Clarke states flat out that Clinton signed off on every “snatch” that passed across his desk which the Joint Chiefs advised going for. Yet later on, when talking to Green Berets who carried out these “snatches”, Clarke learns that they were told by the Pentagon that Clinton was the one who nixed the “snatches” when they had terrorist leaders as ripe picking.

Despite the temptation to do so, Clarke doesn’t put in his own opinion on what happened here, which is astonishing but which is also what makes the book very good. If I were in his position, I don’t think I could write this section and not want to rail against how these people put politics over this country’s safety. Yet Clarke just lays out the facts of what happened and lets the reader make their own judgments.

He also managed to make me change my mind about certain events, including events of the first Gulf War. His argument that we should have fought the war a few more days to wipe out Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards makes sense, although I have to wonder if it really would have changed the course of events with regard to the current situation over there. Clarke shows how all of our actions, whether it was against Communism or an evil dictator, have a consequence, and often one which people didn’t think about when they were making the decisions.

One thing I remarked to my husband about halfway through Against All Enemies was that I now understood things about government and how things operate better than before. Clarke writes in such a way that I could comprehend how things came to be the way they currently are in the Middle East – and indeed the world – in a way that I never could before. His style is extremely readable and I can’t imagine anyone having trouble following this book.

It’s very obvious to me that Clarke dedicated his life to serving the public, although he spends little time actually talking about himself in Against All Enemies. I know very little about him as a person after reading it, but it is clear that he felt a passion for public service. He doesn’t deserve the treatment he has gotten over the last year or so. There was no great windfall waiting for him in writing this book, unlike Cheney, whose Halliburton salary is being put into a trust for him. Does it bother anyone why they have risen from the #22 government contractor to #7 under this administration? Yet people continue to believe that he makes all his decisions for purely altruistic reasons while someone like Clarke who threw away his entire career up until this point in an apparent attempt to educate the American public is treated with disdain. It would have been easy for someone without a conscience to close his eyes to the events he saw happening and keep his job in the administration, yet his conscience wouldn’t allow him to do it.