Needing something a little less daunting than Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, I decided to postpone it by rereading Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies. Clarke, for those of you who don’t remember, was a counterterrorism expert in the Pentagon, serving in a variety of high-level capacities1 under four presidents, namely Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. He is a registered Republican.
Thus, it makes me wonder somewhat when conservatives circled the wagons around Bush II and started calling Clarke a partisan opportunist, a hack, and a grudge-holder; a bitter political relic who published a “defamatory” book to stir up sales. Let it be known that Against all Enemies isn’t a simply a condemnation of the Bush II White House; rather, it’s a much broader view of the United States approach to counterterrorism.
The first section is easily the most gripping: Clark’s first-hand account of the 9/11 attacks, in narrative form, including epithet-laden phrases from frustrated government muckity-mucks. It’s also quite long, and pretty detailed, and it’s something that people haven’t heard much about. It is—literally—a line-by-line account of the Clarke/Cheney/Rice/Bush/&tc, and this inside look is fascinating.
From there, the book gets dryer, but no less interesting, in my estimation. After he begins in medias res with Chapter 1, he goes back to the beginning, to his years working for the Reagan Administration, and the disaster in Iran. Then, of course, comes Bush I, and finally Clarke gets to the Clinton years, on which he spends a considerably amount of time, since Islamic terrorism really began with the WTC bombings, and Clinton had to find some way to deal with that, along with his troubles in Sudan and the Balkans. Clarke’s assessment is that while Clinton was perhaps savvy to the threat of terrorism, and even Al Qaeda in general, the right confluence of government agencies never happened, and the right measures never taken.
Then comes Bush II, and all the key players of the first Gulf War seem to be clamoring for Iraq the moment they take office—and especially in the days following 9/11/01, much to Clarke’s considerably dismay and consternation. In effect, Clarke asserts that the Bush II response to Islamic terrorism has been a disaster for any one of a number of reasons, and he ends the book by listing the steps he believes should have been taken following the attacks.
Sure, Clarke isn’t exactly blessed with a golden pen, but I found the book remarkably well-constructed, despite its occasionally turgid prose. If you’re in the mood for part political thriller, part political screed, this is your book.
- he basically coordinated the immediate response to the World Trade Center attacks; cf Chapter 1[↩]