One Thumb Up for Richard A. Clarke

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Amid all the hoopla around Richard Clarke's testimony at the 9/11 commission, less attention has been focused on his actual book. Occasional Reason contributor Chris Lehmann writes in the Wash Post that Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror does good work in "fill[ing] in the considerable gaps in the White House record leading up to Sept. 11."

Beginning with the Reagan administration's financial and military support of the mujaheddin who led the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Clarke shows how Washington's military and intelligence sachems consistently underestimated the threat that a growing global network of Islamic extremists posed to America's interests and security. After the first President Bush left off prosecuting the first Gulf War, Clarke writes, he sent the wrong message to America's "Arab coalition partners and the world in general" by failing to attack Hussein's Republican Guard. What's more, Clarke writes, this "moral outrage" in turn forced the United States "to keep forces in Saudi Arabia to defend against a renewed strike on Kuwait by a reconstituted Republican Guard"—and the ongoing presence of the American military in Saudi Arabia, most especially near the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, was what prompted Osama bin Laden to break definitively with the Saudis and declare holy war on the United States.

Clarke also revisits the "staccato drumroll" of 11 high-profile terrorist attacks that occurred under Bill Clinton, and the still haphazard official grasp on where the threat originated. By the time Clinton advisers had a clear fix on al Qaeda and bin Laden, with the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. intelligence repeatedly failed to pin down the network, while the domestic scandal of the president's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky invited cynical "wag the dog" charges when Clinton ordered anti-al Qaeda bombing attacks in Afghanistan and the Sudan.

Whole thing here.

David Frum has a different take in his "diary," writing that "while I began reading it with disapproval, I ended with dismay." That's one more thing for which Clarke can apologize.

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  1. Not sure if I understand.

    Does this passage imply that our Arab coalition partners (and the world in general) wanted us to attack the Republican Guard?

    And was Bush I supposed to know that leaving troops in Saudi Arabia would set off terrorist attacks?

  2. Not sure if I understand.

    Is “diary” in quote marks because it’s not really a diary?

  3. Even if Bush I removed the troops from Saudi Arabia, the removal of them by Bush II has not caused bin Laden to stop. It was a convenient excuse for bin Laden to terrorize.

  4. Liberty Lover,

    Terrorizing the US for having troops in Saudi Arabia is stupid and vile regardless. But that we haven’t placated OBL by removing our troops there after conquering and occupying Iraq hardly proves that not putting troops there in the first place might have prevented the Islamist movement from growing into what it did. Not saying I know it would have prevented said growth, just saying the one doesn’t prove the other. Anyway, I don’t know how Bush I could have been expected to have foreseen that, at least not based on this passage. Did Clarke warn him such a move would be courting trouble?

  5. The big problem I have with Clarke is with his new political persona.

    The old Clarke was an anti-terrorist warrior who was rightly critical of the Clinton administration for lapses in judgement and failure of nerve to go after the terrorists. For eight years, Clinton did essentially nothing while al-Qaida continually attacked the U.S. Clinton did nothing while the Taliban turned Afghanistan into a terrorist training camp. Clinton treated terrorism like a crime problem, sending the FBI after individual terrorists while leaving the infrastructure of state financing and support untouched.

    Clearly, no matter what failings the current administration had before 9/11, a serious heaping of blame should fall on the Clinton administration. But the new Clarke is having none of that. To hear him tell it now, Clinton was a hardline anti-terrorist who was busy dismantling al-Qaida, and Bush came along and scrapped it all. This is patent nonsense.

    The real issue, which is being buried under all the partisan hoopla, is that there was no political will to go after terrorists before 9/11, by Clinton, Bush, or the American people. Clinton took enough heat for launching a few missiles at a camp. Can you imagine the uproar in the U.S. and around the world if he or Bush had decided to overthrow the Taliban before 9/11? It simply could not have happened.

  6. I haven’t read the book, Dan, but I’m told that it actually contains many criticisms of the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration.

  7. Jesse Walker,

    It does; it specifically criticizes Clinton for not bombing the camps in Afghanistan.

  8. history didn’t start with reagan – you have to back to the fall of the ottoman empire and WWI to find the roots of today’s problems in the middle east.

  9. Jeff,

    I think the problems really started when we came down out of the trees.

    Steve

    🙂

  10. FYI: I went to my local Barnes & Noble to browse the book, and it had already been sold out. And this is in a decidedly pro-Bush (I am pro-Bush, just not George Bush) town.

    🙂

  11. Yeah, OBL was “prompted…to break definitively with the Saudis and declare holy war on the United States” because we were in Saudi Arabia. Not, you know, because he’s an evil wack job. I tend to think guys like OBL will find a way to become evil mass-murderers no matter what the United States does.

  12. Bush I, Clinton, and now Bush II did nothing about these threats because they are all in on the Jesuit counter-reformation conspiricy to bring about the New World Order and place the Pope on the throne of Jeruselum as absolute world ruler.

  13. Sounds like the message is “when you start something, finish it”. I think we’re doing that now, finally.

  14. > Clarke writes, he sent the wrong message to America’s “Arab coalition partners and the world in general” by failing to attack Hussein’s Republican guard what’s more Clarke writes, this “moral outrage” in turn forced the United States “to keep forces in Saudi Arabia …and the ongoing presence of the American military in Saudi Arabia…was what prompted Osama bin Laden to break definitively with the Saudis and declare holy war on the United States.

  15. > I think the problems really started when we came down out of the trees.—Steve

    I figure we came down because we were tossed out.

  16. > I went to my local Barnes & Noble to browse the book, and it had already been sold out.

  17. I’ve heard many Ds attack the 1998 Rs for accusing Clinton of wagging the dog, but I’ve heard no one blame Clinton for putting himself in a scandal situation, where any military action was suspect. I thought the Rs went overboard on the Lewinsky thing, but I’m starting to change my mind. Maybe lying about sex with interns should be an impeachable offense.

  18. ” For eight years, Clinton did essentially nothing while al-Qaida continually attacked the U.S. Clinton did nothing while the Taliban turned Afghanistan into a terrorist training camp.”

    I keep reading accusations to that effect. The first major action of al Qaeda was in August of 1998.

  19. > their appeals met with “months of delay” from the Bush team’s defense and foreign policy hands.

  20. Who thinks we are safe from terrorism today?

    Does anyone think prior to 911, The US would have accepted
    all these homeland defense loss of civil liberties?

    Does anyone think that our security measures before 911
    would have been sufficent to prevent 911,
    that our new spies would have penetrated al Qaeda?
    Planes would have flown into buildings.

    Are the trains being protected today?
    Are the subways and tunnels NOW protected?
    Are the 10,000 critical rail and road bridges NOW protected?
    Are the municipal water supplies NOW protected?
    Are cruise ships NOW protected?
    Are the giant river barges NOW safe?
    Are the chemical plants NOW moved to rural Nevada?
    Are pipelines from Texas to the northeast NOW patrolled?
    Are the powerlines and substations NOW guarded?
    Are commercial airlines NOW safe from shoulder rockets?
    Has the Federal government in DC been dispersed?

    Will Congress someday meet again, and another Clarke testify
    that he told Bush or Kerry or both to take guard of _____?

    Terrorism is as real, as possible anywhere, anytime, here,
    as is a missle strike on a mountain cave
    or a tank crushing a home in Palestine
    or a bomb being on a bus or in a square in Israel.

    We must learn to live with terrorism as we fight it.
    We will see it less of a danger than driving down the highway.
    The migrating African herd goes to the watering hold,
    and we will chance the hidden menace and live each day.

    Life doesn’t have to be this way, but it is,
    and we will go on come what may.
    The us against them, always divided politic of this land
    bothers me everyday of the week, and twice on Sunday.

  21. And leave it to David Frum to misconstrue the title in such a perverse manner. No, Clarke doesn’t think the Bush administration is an Enemy of the US, and only a propagandist would come up with such a construct.

    Howerver, The Nation’s Finest News Source has had ongoing coverage of the phenomenon to which “Against All Enemies” actually refers. In fact, their coverage goes back into the Clinton Administration.

    http://www.theonion.com/onion3734/us_vows_to_defeat_whoever.html
    http://www.theonion.com/onion3911/us_forms_own_un.html
    http://www.theonion.com/onion3836/bush_seeks_un_support.html
    http://www.theonion.com/onion3412/enemytryouts.html

  22. amr

    lying about sex with interns is an impeachable offense. Clinton was impeached, remember?
    Most people seemed to think it wasnt worth it. Maybe thats what you are reconsidering.

  23. fyodor

    “Does this passage imply that our Arab coalition partners (and the world in general) wanted us to attack the Republican Guard?”

    As I recall (and I followed events quite closely) the consensus was that once Iraqui troops were out of Kuwait it was over. The only voices urging further action were viewed as extremists.

    However certain factions within Iraq were led to believe that it would certainly be A-OK if they acted to overthrow Saddam, and they were betrayed because the Bush Adminstration thought that his overthrow might de-stabilize the region. However, in the north Gen. Garner had a great deal of success getting autonomy for the Kurds (with the help of “no-fly” zones”).

    “And was Bush I supposed to know that leaving troops in Saudi Arabia would set off terrorist attacks?”

    Considering the number of warnings he had to that effect, YES.

  24. alma hadayn

    “The first major action of al Qaeda was in August of 1998”

    That is the first major action attributed to al Qaeda. It is widely aknowleged that “al Qaeda” is not actually an organization as we in the west would recognize it. That is to say actions of al Qaeda are not necessarily top-down actions.

    It would appear, for example, that the embassy bombings and 911 were, in fact, proposed by “freelancers” who proposed such a “great idea” that they won funding from the center.

    That leaves us wondering “What will they come up with next?” This, by the way, is the goal of a terrorist organization (ie, leaving us wondering).

  25. alma hadayn

    “The first major action of al Qaeda was in August of 1998”

    That is the first major action attributed to al Qaeda. It is widely aknowleged that “al Qaeda” is not actually an organization as we in the west would recognize it. That is to say actions of al Qaeda are not necessarily top-down actions.

    It would appear, for example, that the embassy bombings and 911 were, in fact, proposed by “freelancers” who proposed such a “great idea” that they won funding from the center.

    That leaves us wondering “What will they come up with next?” This, by the way, is the goal of a terrorist organization (ie, leaving us wondering).

  26. All this folderal about R. Clarke and 911 and whatever… first of all, I can’t even follow it, and second of all, who cares.

    The main question is: has Bush had sex with interns? NO HE HAS NOT.

    Case closed, end of story.

  27. joe,

    Chalabi’s efforts were ludicrous and not-credible (as the U.S. military quickly discerned). The man is pompous windbag.

  28. Well, he would have had sex with an intern, but he’s too busy screwing everyone else.

  29. Isaac Bertram,

    “As I recall (and I followed events quite closely) the consensus was that once Iraqui troops were out of Kuwait it was over. The only voices urging further action were viewed as extremists.”

    The issue was somewhat more complicated than that at the time; in my mind, at least from what preparations I knew about, there was a distinct possibility of a push towards the capital. Admittedly, if we had actually invaded and occupied Iraq, well, in my mind at least, we were even less prepared for that than was the case in the 2003 Gulf War (meaning an occupation itself).

  30. JB, there was a credible domestic resistance in 1991; that strikes me as being at least as important as the “preparations” made by the Pentagon and State.

    This time, in the War of Iraqi Liberation, the potential domestic resistance, that could have established the credibility of the war for the Iraqi people and kept order in the aftermath, were told that they would be treated as hostile forces by our military (ka-BOOOOOOOOM!!!!!) if they appeared armed near a battle zone, while Ahmed Chalabi’s American-funded and -commanded militia was brought in to march into cities once Saddam’s military was driven out. And people wonder why a spontaneous domestic order didn’t spring up unbidden as the regime was rolled up.

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