Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Book review: Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke

Okay, so I'm a little late with this one. But at least I read it, and all the way through; bought it on eBay for $15 and you couldn't have done that six months ago.

It's a good book. It opens with a description of what Clarke was doing on September 11, and it is riveting. It's exciting to hear what was going on at the White House: "They did what? What else can they do? Shut down this! Close that! Scramble the fighters!" Very cool stuff.

Clarke is clearly a Clinton fan. I was at Goodwill a few weeks ago and picked up George Stephanopoulos' autobiography, so I've read two sympathetic books in the last few weeks, and my opinion of Clinton has gone up a lot. I always thought he was a good president due to his domestic agenda, the balancing of the budget, and the roaring economy, but I was at least willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and say that he's done an okay job against terrorism. When the Iraq war started, I was on-the-fence to negative, thinking that the war would probably do no more harm than good. The utter incompetence at the peace process, however, has pretty much turned me into an Anyone-But-Bush'er.

According to Clarke, however, Bush has totally screwed up the war against terrorism as well. Starting with the lack of planning that allowed 9/11 to happen, followed by an indecisive response in Afghanistan, and of course the leap to conclusions that started the Iraq war, Clarke shreds the Bush administration top to bottom. I can't say for sure that it deserves to be shredded, from my own knowledge; more reading is needed here.

That's the big talking point of the book, of course. We've all seen the headlines: "Former Bush aide writes tell-all!" The fact is, though, the Bush administration is covered pretty quickly in the last couple of chapters. The meat of the book is about the Clinton administration, and the claim that Clarke makes that I'm surprised didn't get a lot of airplay, was the claim that Clinton did a darn good job against terrorism. Clarke blames bureaucracy and the intelligence services for the failures on the Clinton watch.

So is it true? I can't say it is for sure. But what I do know is that 9/11 happened under the Bush administration, which is demonstrably incompetent at so many things, and it sure wouldn't surprise me to find that "Preventing Major Terrorist Attacks" is another area where Bush gets a failing grade.