Against All Enemies

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Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Author: Richard Clarke

(reviewed by -Edverb 11:10, 29 May 2004 (PDT))

Upon finally completing this incredibly insightful and detailed examination of America's efforts against international terrorism, my very first thought was that it's necessary to read this book again.Though Clarke's writing has a way of getting to the heart of matters in digestible and understandable language, the sheer depth of information contained in the book demands a second reading.

The book opens with Richard Clarke's surreal account of managing the 9/11 crisis alongside a half dozen staffers from an evacuated White House; spans three decades of tactics, strategy and evaluation of America's many battles against terrorism; and ends with a comprehensive three pronged plan to make America safer (a task made considerably more challenging by the strategic error of invading Iraq).

Each chapter is filled with surprising candor, revealing the thinking and even the personality quirks of major decisionmakers, and introduces the reader to many key people who garnered less of the spotlight but have been equally vital to the cause of counterterrorism. I'm struck by Clarke's vivid recollection of conversations and events, and his unabashedly hawkish yet pragmatic stance on statecraft in general and defeating terrorism in particular. (Clarke flatly concurs with the decision to walk out on the International Criminal Court treaty, for one example). There are several occasions in the book where a detailed recollection is interrupted for an abruptly terse, almost "short-shrifted" account, perhaps in cases where further details of the events he describes are still classified.

One also gets the sense that Clarke didn't care for neoconservatives like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, who are portrayed (albeit briefly) as captives to an idee fixe in Saddam's Iraq, a geopolitical obsession which survived even after al Queda was responsible for the attacks that "changed everything". Near the book's conclusion he notes the revolving door of highly experienced and competent counterterrorism experts who have walked out on the administration due largely to their single minded focus on Iraq.

The first 34 pages, which detail the crisis management of September 11th from the halls of power, are worth the cover price alone. Don't let the polemics of partisanship fool you into dismissing Richard Clarke -- this tome is required reading for understanding the war on terror, it's successes and failures, it's key players, and an understanding of the enemy we face. Best of all, the book is rife with self-assessment of American counterterrorism policy, from the man who helped shape it for decades. I could not recommend it more highly. It is far and away the best piece I've ever read on the subject.

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