For better or worse, Richard Clarke puts forth his account of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and counterterrorist policy in a convincing new book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." Clarke, a longtime political insider since the Reagan administration, was the chair of the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) that lead the response to Sept. 11.
In the first chapter, Clarke takes the reader through the events in the White House and reactions to the unfolding crisis of Sept. 11. He convincingly describes a solitary encounter with President Bush who he claims told him, "See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way . . ." While the immediate situation of Sept. 11 was addressed in the best way possible, Clarke contends that President Bush was looking for a contrived enemy to fight and was not ready to pursue a more reasonable attack against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
As I read the book my mind was simultaneously juxtaposing my dorm room and the White House situation room onto each other. Geographies and events collided and I realized that these were the events that were happening when I was abruptly jerked from bed to face the surrealistic news. This is an important account of the critical events that occurred in our government that seem so obscure to most Americans.
This account is enough to secure the book on the New York Times best-seller list for a long time to come, but it goes into so much more depth about the state of counterterrorist preparations before Sept. 11.
More controversially, Clarke criticizes the administration for its decisions at the time of Sept. 11 and for the ineffective war on terror that it is waging right now. In the preface, Clarke describes the "obligation" he felt to write the book and the overwhelming sense of responsibility to American civilians, "for me, loyalty to the citizens of the United States must take precedence over the loyalty to any political machine." He also acknowledges the certain negative reaction from the administration, but his remarks qualify him as a true patriot and advocate of the truth.
For my part, I am inclined to believe Clarke's account. Not only because of his authoritative style, but also because he has the conviction to challenge the current administration.
Clarke does an admirable, if somewhat informal, job of tracing the "historical strands" that form the fabric of American counterterrorist policy. He also shows how his advice and the advice of other qualified members of the CSG were systematically ignored or mishandled.
"Enemies" is a great source for reviewing the critical political events of our lifetime that have characterized America's war on terror, including the Persian Gulf War, the Black Hawk Down situation in Somalia, and the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Despite the careful monitoring and actions of America's intelligence and administrative resources, the War on Terror continues to be mismanaged from above. Clarke will probably be the first of many insider politicos who vent their frustration about counterterrorist policy. I welcome the controversy that Clarke has unleashed and the honest evaluation of events surrounding America's War on Terror.
The scary thing about Clarke's account, if it is credible, is that most of the people who responded so well to the Sept. 11 incident had such a good grasp of the terrorist picture have since "left the Administration, frustrated." Our current administration has driven out those who probably know best how to deal with terrorism. I weep for the future. If you want to join me, read this book.