I now join the rest of the blogosphere in having successfully completed Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies
and I can say that it is a pretty good read, albeit a retelling of grim events and one in which you know how it ends and it's not happy.
Here's one of the livelier reviews
I've read, though it comes on a trifle strong at the end.
A number of reader's have expressed surprised at the administration's violent reaction to it -- almost as if they'd been hired by Clarke's publisher to build interest in the book -- it doesn't really say that much that we didn't already know (and are learning in spades during the 9-11 commission testimony), but it's pretty obvious from last night's performance that the slightest hint that mistakes were made on his watch must be immediately suppressed.
Moreover, it not only illustrates their mistakes, it paints the Bush leaguers as slow on the uptake and really unpleasant people.
Equally offensive to our moral leadership, Clarke reminds us that the vulnerabilities of the U.S. against terrorists began, not as a result of Mogadishu and a feckless Clinton administration, but during the shameful pullout of Beirut by Reagan who, remember, has been nominated for sainthood and a place on Mt. Rushmore by the GOP.
Oh, yeah, and Poppie looks pretty bad too. He fails to retailiate against the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. citizens in history, he's controlled by James Baker, and, along with one Dick Cheney, an utter failure in not destroying Saddam and his Republican Guard at the end of the Gulf War.
If you plan to read it, stop here. Otherwise, here's some of my favorite bits.
Chapter 1 Evacuate the White House
We let 'em get away in '93, not unlike the disappearance of Saudi Nationals in Sept. 2001:
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, friend. CIA forgot to tell us about them.” Dale Watson was one of the good guys at FBI. He had been trying hard to get the Bureau to go after al Qaeda in the United States with limited success. “Dick, we need to make sure none of this gang escapes out of the country, like they did in ’93.” In 1993 many of the World Trade Center bombers had quickly flown abroad just before and after the attack.
“Okay, I’ve got that.” As we talked, we both saw on the monitors that WTC 2 was collapsing in a cloud of dust. “Oh dear God,” Dale whispered over the line.
“Dale, find out how many people were still inside.” I had often been in the World Trade Center and the number that popped into my head was 10,000. This was going from catastrophe to complete and total calamity.
“I’ll try, but you know one of them. John just called the New York Office from there.” John was John O’Neill, my closest friend in the bureau and a man determined to destroy al Qaeda until the Bureau had driven him out because he was too obsessed with al Qaeda until the bureau had driven him out because he was too obsessed with al Qaeda and didn’t mind breaking crockery in his drive to get Usama bin Laden. O’Neill did not fit the narrow little mold that Director Louis Freeh wanted for his agents. He was too aggressive, thought outside the box. O’Neill’s struggle with Freeh was a case study in why the FBI could not do the homeland protection mission. So, O’Neill retired from the FBI and had just become director of security for the World Trade Center complex the week before.
Presciently, Clarke realized that if the U.S. had successfully targeted bin Laden during Clinton's administration, as they had fervently wanted to do, Clinton would have been blamed for the attacks which would have been seen as retaliation:
The meeting had finally happened exactly one week earlier, on September 4. Now, as I was telling Cressey, I thought the aggressive plan would be implemented.
“Well that’s fuckin’ great. Sounds like they’re finally going to do everything we wanted. Where the hell were they for the last eight months?” Cressey asked.
“Debating the fine points of the ABM Treat?” I answered, looking up at the sky for the fighter cover.
“They’ll probably deploy the armed Predator now too,” Cressey said, referring to his project to kill bin Laden with an unmanned aircraft. CIA had been blocking the deployment, refusing to be involved in running an armed version of the unmanned aircraft, to hunt and kill bin Laden. Roger Cressey was still fuming at their refusal. “If they had deployed an armed Predator when it was ready, we could have killed bin Laden before his happened.”
“Yeah, well, this attack would have happened anyway, Rog. In fact, if we had killed bin Laden in June with the Predator and this still happened, our friends at CIA would have blamed us, said the attack on New York was retribution, talked again about the overly zealous White House counterterrorism guys.”
Chapter 2, Stumbling into the Muslim World
Swatting at flies, or a failure to?:
The Iranian-supported Hezbollah faction in Lebanon responded to the new American military presence by staging devastating car bomb attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks and twice on our embassy. In the attack on the Marine barracks alone, 278 Americans died.
There would be no similar loss of American lives in terrorism until the Libyan attack on Pan Am 103 six years later during the first Bush’s presidency. Those two acts stood as the most lethal acts of foreign terrorism against Americans until September 11. Nothing occurring during Clinton’s tenure approached either attack in terms of the numbers of Americans killed by foreign terrorism. Neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush retaliated for those devastating attacks on Americans.
Ch. 3, Unfinished Mission, Unintended Consequences
Like all personal memoirs, he’s the star and conversations are suspect:
Steve Simon met me at my house and we sat on the stoop and began to drain a bottle of Lagavulin. John Tritak, then a leading State Department analyst, joined us. I debriefed them on the meeting and we commiserated about the bureaucracy. As the second round was being poured, the telephone rang. John took it. “You have to go back in. The Deputies Committee is reconvening.”
“Why, so we can all agree not to do anything again?” I asked bitterly.
John shook his head and grinned: “No, actually, it seems like there really is an Iraqi T-72 in the parking lot…of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.”
Cheney, showing that go-it-alone spirit:
In the months that followed, President Bush and Secretary Baker engaged in a diplomatic tour de force. They created a consensus coalition of over one hundred nations, many of which agreed to send forces to defend Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. My job was to coordinate the solicitations for military units and to find space for the immense Tower of Babel military force that was heading to the Gulf: French, Syrians, Egyptians, units from South and Central America, Africa and Asia. At one point when I told Cheney that the Australians had made a decision to send F-111 aircraft, he threw up his hands in frustration, “Dick, we do not have room for any more allies. Stop asking them.” Cheney’s attitude then foreshadowed his attitude twelve years later: we can deal with Iraq militarily by ourselves and everybody else is just more trouble than they are worth.
I don't think Richard Clarke will be driving the Cigarette boat in Kennebunkport any time soon:
Faced with the prospect of renewed U.S. bombing, however, Secretary Baker returned to Washington and convinced President Bush to accept a negotiated settlement of the standoff. Baker held a strong influence over Bush. He had a dedicated telephone on his State Department desk that ran directly to the Oval Office. By my own observation, Baker did not hesitate to initiate calls on that line. In private, Baker did not treat Bush with all the deference a Secretary of State usually accords a President. Baker thought that he had made Bush the President, through Baker’s political maneuvering.
Baker also sometimes doubted Bush’s skills. At a NATO summit in London early in the administration, Baker had stunned me by coming to sit next to me in an auditorium, as I listened to President Bush’s press conference. As Bush batted the reporter’s [sic] questions, the Secretary of State provided me with a personal color commentary whispering in my ear: “Damn he flubbed that answer…I told him how to handle that one…Oh, no, he’ll never know how to deal with that…”
[all ellipses sic]
Chapter 5, The Almost War
Louis Freeh's priorities -- FUBAR:
During the two years of Sayegh’s detention in the United States, Freeh sought to understand from Prince Bandar why the FBI was not getting better cooperation from the Saudi government. I learned that Bandar had explained to Freeh that the White House did not want the Saudies to cooperate with Freeh. Clinton, Bandar claimed, did not want the evidence that Iran had bombed an American Air Force base; Clinton did not want to go to war with Iran. Freeh believed it. It fit with his own dim view of the President, the man to whom he owed his rapid elevation from a low-level federal job in New York. In the White House, we heard that Freeh began to repeat Bandar’s explanation for the failed Khobar investigation, telling Congressmen and reporters of the supposed Clinton cover-up.
Freeh should have been spending his time fixing the mess that the FBI had become, an organization of fifty-six princedoms (the fifty-six very independent field offices) without any modern information technology to support them. He might have spent some time hunting for terrorists in the United States, where al Qaeda and its affiliates had put down roots, where many terrorist organizations were illegally raising money. Instead, he reportedly chose to be chief investigator in high-profile cases like Khobar the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and the possible Chinese espionage at our nuclear labs. In all of those cases, his personal involvement appeared to contribute to the cases going down dark alleys, empty wells. His back channels to Republicans in Congress and to supporters in the media made it impossible for the President to dismiss him without running the risk of making him a martyr of the Republican Right and his firing a cause célèbre.
Ch. 8, Delanda Est
Remember what it was like to have an intelligent president, with people working for him who were capable of nuanced thought? Sure wish they'd thought to bring the "Pol" part when they packed for Iraq:
Although he had approved the retaliatory bombing and the sanctions after the attacks on the African embassies, Clinton had also asked Berger for an overall plan to deal with al Qaeda. My team set out to develop what we had taken to calling a “Pol-Mil Plan.” A politico-military plan was something we had first invented to deal with Haiti. When General Shaliskashvili, Hugh Shelton’s predecessor, had presented Clinton with a military plan to invade Haiti, the President had been impressed by the detail, responsibilities being assigned, timelines, resources. Clinton asked for the civilian plan, saying, “Because the military will take over Haiti in a few hours. If they don’t, we sure have been wasting billions of dollars over there at the Pentagon. But after they do – then what? We need this kind of detail on what happens after the shooting.”
Ch. 11, Right War, Wrong War
Clarke concludes (this paragraph alone probably did it for Dear Leader and his henchmen):
The nation needed thoughtful leadership to deal with the underlying problems September 11 reflected: a radical deviant Islamist ideology on the rise, real security vulnerabilities in the highly integrated global civilization. Instead, America got unthinking reactions, ham-handed responses, and a rejection of analysis in favor of received wisdom. It has left us less secure. We will pay the price for a long time.