Walter Pincus and Dana Milbanks, two of the Post's most experienced reporters, write
that independent reviews of Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies
have largely corroborated his accounts of events -- despite White House efforts to say otherwise. In general, the Post story says that Clarke's accounts are accurate, subject to minor variations and defects in memory that don't affect the truth of any of assertions -- only the exact details of events, conversations and other minutiae.
... the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred. My final report on Clarke's book
In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.
: I just finished Dick Clarke's book Against All Enemies
, and have only a couple of things to add to my earlier thoughts
. In general, I was somewhat disappointed with the book after all the hype that has surrounded it. The most valuable part of the book, for me, was the look that it gave me into the inner workings of the National Security Council and the national security process generally. The extent to which personality affected policy and process really surprised me; so did the power of professional public servants in relation to their political masters.
But as for the final chapters, which supposedly damn the Bush Administration's for its terrorism policy and policy towards Iraq, I was unconvinced by Mr. Clarke's writing. I have immersed myself in the world of anti-terrorism and the law during the past two years, and I was not convinced by a lot of what he said with respect to the legal and financial strategies against terrorism. My experience and research has showed me that these fights have been quite aggressive indeed -- perhaps too aggressive in some quarters.
As for Mr. Clarke's argument regarding Iraq, I closed his book without having been persuaded by his argument. He did not marshal enough evidence to persuade me that the Bush Administration had deceived the American public to march towards war, or that it had considered (and disregarded) all of the strategic costs of the war. That's not to say that these things aren't true -- only that Mr. Clarke's book didn't do a good job of making these arguments. Similarly, I was unimpressed by Mr. Clarke's argument that the war in Iraq has been a distraction from the war on terrorism. With his knowledge of this issue, I expected a detailed breakdown of all the ways that the war in Iraq took away resources, political capital, and focus from the domestic and foreign war on terrorism. I found that argument to be lacking as well. He did not, for example, discuss how intelligence assets devoted to finding Iraqi WMD might have been devoted to finding Al Qaeda personnel and equipment. Nor did look at the resource-allocation problem with his NSC-trained eye, in order to make the argument the billions spent on Iraq might have been otherwise programmed for homeland security.
Ultimately, I recommend this book for anyone interested in terrorism and national security policy. It does contain a great deal of background information on the way things get done on the National Security Council, and those parts of the book are quite valuable. However, Mr. Clarke's larger point really comes back to himself. He makes a great effort to blame others for their failings in the war on terrorism -- the FBI for being too focused on law enforcement; the CIA for being too risk-averse, and too constrained by a lack of HUMINT capabilities; the military for also being risk-averse, and for jealously guarding its financial pot. If we take all of these criticisms as true, then the real blame belongs to the White House.
My understanding of the national security process is that that the NSC has the job of coordinating its separate agencies, to make sure everyone's playing off the same sheet of music, and everyone's working for the same boss. The failure to harmonize CIA and FBI and DoD performance with White House strategy seems to indicate a breakdown at the NSC and OMB level. If the FBI refuses to invest in information technology or commit agents to anti-terrorism work, then it's the White House's job (including NSC and OMB) to make them do their job. Similarly, if the CIA doesn't want to arm Predators to hunt for Al Qaeda's top leaders, but the White House does, who should win that fight? I'm unconvinced by any White House account that lays blame on subordinate agencies, at least where I don't also see concrete evidence (e.g. the firing of a cabinet secretary) to show that the White House really exercised some leadership. Maybe the White House needs to bring back President Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" sign
and make it a permanent fixture in the Oval Office?Bottom Line
-- what Mr. Clarke describes in his book is a breakdown in leadership. And this breakdown is common to both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, because the faults that Mr. Clarke describes start in the 1990s and continue through the election of 2000, all the way to the present day. Mr. Clarke's book may be best known to the public as a criticism of the Bush Administration's war with Iraq. But to me, it was more about allocating blame to other people in Washington. Ironically, by pointing fingers at so many different agencies, Mr. Clarke is really pointing the finger back at himself, because it was his job to coordinate those agencies on the critical issue of terrorism. Ultimately, such blame belongs to the men who sit in the Oval Office, not to any political or professional public servant on the National Security Council. Nonetheless, I got the sense from Against All Enemies that the NSC deserved at least part of the blame here for not managing and coordinating U.S. policy on this issue during the ascendance of Al Qaeda.Next book
: In the Company of Soldiers
by Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter who was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The book was slammed
in the WP's book review as being a book about officers, not soldiers, but praised
in the NYT book review. Regardless, I'm looking forward to it, because of the caliber of Mr. Atkinson's previous work.