April 2004

Against All Enemies mini-review

First of all, let me say that this is a very important book, and that's why I'm writing a full review on it. This book is clearly not what some Bush-supporters would have you believe; it is not a nasty attack on Bush in order to make sure he doesn't get re-elected. But it certainly won't hurt the cause, either.

As the book states on the cover, it takes you “Inside America's War on Terror.” Nothing more, nothing less. Clarke admits that, on many accounts, he goes by memory and on his own, subjective impressions of certain meetings and conversations (unlike the more precise Suskind book on Paul O'Neil).

This book takes us from the first Bush administration through Clinton and into the current government. The central theme is terrorism and the bureaucratic attempts at recognizing and combating the threats. This is what the whole book is about, and it's a fascinating read. It provides insight into how certain operations were molded, how some got close but were never executed, and the clash of opinions within administrators.

All left-right politics aside, this book – to everyone – will convey a deep sense of worry, of alarm (something The Cell also does). Systems such as the CIA, FBI, the White House, and the whole leadership scheme as a whole simply don't work the way we would like to think they do. Sometimes they simply don't work at all. Inter-agency squabbling, political party bashing, etc. Each group within the government is worried about its own personal ass, even if that means Americans are less safe because of it. Clarke explains it all, telling the reader why that is, historically. It's understandable, but still incredible worrisome.

But of course, all this recent historical background isn't why this book is a best-seller, and it's certainly not why I bought it. Yes, Clarke claims that president Bush didn't heed the warnings nor did he take them seriously. Can we really blame Bush? Maybe, maybe not. But before 9-11 there was only a very small group of dedicated, passionate people that were taking it seriously, and none of those in Bush's inner circle was one of them. This is why Bush didn't give it the urgency that Clarke and others believed – and rightly so, we would discover – that it merited. Again, the system is broken because someone did know and nothing was done about it.

But it is unproductive to say or insinuate that 9-11 is Bush's fault. I find that illogical. It was a mistake that many others would've made, not focusing on al-Qaeda as much. FBI and CIA could've deterred these attacks regardless of what Bush did or didn't do, but they didn't function in a way that wouldn't allowed them to. It isn't a people problem, it's a systematic bureaucracy problem. As Clarke comments, 9-11 was a chance to change all that, to take advantage of a horrible situation in order to achieve change for the better. And in this, Bush definitely botched it.

It's interesting to note two mentions of Paul O'Neil in the book. One claims that O'Neil was “lukewarm at best” towards seizing terrorist funds. So Clarke doesn't see O'Neil as a great ally with respects to his crusade of getting the terrorists. Then later he notes how O'Neil (in the Suskind book) also claims that the Bush administration's priority was Iraq, not al-Qaeda. Which is, after sifting through the evidence, true. This is the saddest part of the Bush administration's decision-making. The deceit and the manipulation that was carried out, not even for a common good, but instead to achieve their own personal goals which had no factual evidence to support them.

Clarke has some ideas as to why Iraq was so important to this administration despite the more present dangers that existed (and still do) like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, etc. None of them exonerate Bush from what he's done.

The book will set off alarms in people's minds, not only from the discovery that al-Qaeda is stronger than ever but also ant the realization of how many blunders have been permitted to Bush under the fervor of “patriotism”. Just don't get all wrapped up in the left versus right arguments, there is enough of that in the presidential campaigns.

This book, along with the Suskind book, are – in my opinion – very important. First, they give us an insider's look into how the system works, from people whose job it was to function and get things done (or at least try to) within said system. In other words, it lets us take a peek inside to see what it's really like. Call it “reality politics” if you will. Second, these two guys (O'Neil and Clarke) no longer work for Bush and aren't worried about seeming “disloyal” to the president, which is what hinders many from speaking their mind while on the job. While many would like to lose these two books amidst the Dems versus Cons eternal, annoying, pathetic struggle, they deserve to be given closer attention due to the value of the information they contain.



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