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Book Review of Against All Enemies, by Richard Clarke
Reviewed by Geoffrey Riklin
08 April 2004

The odor of dishonesty hangs about Richard Clarke's book. At best it's a useless volume, at worst...


Let me make a few brief remarks about Clarke before I address what it says. As everybody knows, he is now front and center in the controversy surrounding 9-11 and the war in Iraq. Some people have attacked his character, and his motives. Motives are almost always unknowable, and it is therefore senseless to question them except in the case of politicians whose actions are often transparently dishonest and prompted by ulterior considerations. I can't possibly know Clarke's motives, but I can judge him by his public statements and his actions, and those are quite enough. As for character, I don't doubt that he served our country as best he could, but in this book he reveals himself to be a man unworthy of respect. In recent weeks he has said a great deal, and with one exception at the end of this review I will not comment on his oral statements. Oral remarks are inherently rife with problems because they are spontaneous and one can't edit them. With a book, however, one can go back and reconsider and rewrite many times over the course of weeks and months. I therefore take this book to be incomparably more important than anything else he has produced.

Now to Against All Enemies. On nearly the last page, 289, he reveals that "[t]his book is...from my memory." This after he has quoted other people scores of times. Throughout the book he says that Person X said such-and-such, and surrounds the alleged statement with quotation marks. To use quotation marks does not mean that the person in question said more-or-less such-and-such, but that he said precisely those words. Anything less than the precise, verbatim quotation of a statement means that quotation marks cannot be used. Clarke breaks this sacred rule constantly. In addition, virtually every person he quotes talks like virtually every other person. How odd. In my eyes this gross fault renders the entire book suspect.

There are two more huge problems with alleged statements that he quotes, and one immense problem in a scene that he refers to.
The scene is the Principals Meeting that occurred on September 4, 2001. After Clarke repeatedly asking for such a meeting, a number of cabinet secretaries convened to talk about the al Qaeda problem. Clarke writes that "...Rumsfeld, who looked distracted throughout the session, took the Wolfowitz line that there were other terrorist concerns, like Iraq, and whatever we did on this al Qaeda business, we had to deal with other sources of terrorism." [pp. 237-238] Appearing on the Jim Lehrer Newshour recently, Rumsfeld said that he didn't attend that meeting. Rumsfeld, like all senior officials, keeps records of meetings and phone calls, and had Clarke or his publishers bothered to contact the Pentagon they could have determined that Rumsfeld wasn't in the meeting. But, as we have seen, Clarke is going by memory.

Now for the two dubious quotes. Clarke writes that "At a NATO summit in London early in the [first Bush 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 questions, the Secretary of State provided me with a personal color commentary whispered 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..." [p. 69] At the time, Clarke was a career senior staffer in the State Department and obviously not an intimate of Baker. Regardless of what you think of Baker, he is the ultimate political professional and a man of tremendous self-control. Do you think he would be so wildly reckless as to whisper such remarks in Clarke's ear? Maybe, but I greatly doubt it.

Clarke writes of a meeting that occurred during the elder Bush's administration in the days before the first Gulf War. Attending the meeting were Brent Scowcroft as National Security Adviser, Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Clarke, and others. The topic turned to WMD and the implications for the war. It comes Powell's turn to speak, and Clarke quotes him saying "I just think chemical weapons are goofy." [p. 162] Powell always takes pains to appear dignified, which is understandable considering he is a black man who came of age when Jim Crow was alive and discriminating. Do you really think that he would make such a statement in that company just as a huge war was about to start? Maybe, but I greatly doubt it.
Clarke begins his book with a lengthy account of his actions on 9-11. Unfortunately, he has read too many bad novels and he attempts to depict himself as a man of action, dashing hither and thither, pulling it all together, the man to whom everybody turns in the moment of crisis. As a result, his account is utterly devoid of substantive analysis. He again provides us with plenty of his dubious quotes. You will learn nothing from the chapter.
After this foray into pulp fiction, Clarke writes at length about America's confrontation with al Qaeda as it developed during the 90s. He provides few insights and little new information. His analysis is flyweight. A rented hack could produce a better account doing no more than clipping from the New York Times and pasting where appropriate.

Clarke thinks that Clinton did a lot to stop al Qaeda and Bush did nothing. Scattered through the book is a series of statements that, when put together, reveal a very different picture. Clarke details Saddam's attempt to assassinate ex-President Bush in Kuwait in 1993. He says that Iraqi intelligence placed a bomb in a Land Cruiser, a bomb large enough to kill "everything up to four hundred yards away." By plain dumb luck the bomb was discovered by a Kuwaiti cop, and Clinton had to decide what to do about it. Clark writes that "[Secretary of State] Christopher argued strongly on legal grounds that the [target] list be limited to one facility, the Iraqi intelligence headquarters. He also wanted it hit on Saturday night, to minimize casualties. Christopher won." [pp. 80-81]

In 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed, and the culprits turned out to be a