Against All Enemies
(2004), by former US head advisor for counterterrorism Richard A. Clarke, takes its title from the oath of office recited by state officials to uphold the Constitution. The book is primarily a critique of presidential policies and their impact on the United States’ proclaimed “war on terrorism” that resulted in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and a perpetual military presence lasting into the present day. The book focuses most of its criticism on former President George W. Bush, claiming that he did not take action to defend the country in the calamitous period before the September 11 terrorist attack in New York City. He also criticizes the imperative behind the 2003 Iraq invasion, which he believes exacerbated the political condition of the Middle East and the United States’ capability to connect with its struggling states. The book is thus a rebuttal
against the sentiment that the United States government successfully upheld its collective oath to defend “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Clarke begins the book in the midst of the domestic political turmoil in the years leading up to the September 11 attacks. He states that he urgently and frequently petitioned the CIA and several other intelligence communities to form a strategy to respond to the U.S.’s multiplying signals of domestic and international terrorist activity. The primary piece of evidence he focuses on is his effort to convince then-CIA director George Tenet to include details about Al-Qaeda in daily intelligence briefings. These studies demonstrated a record level of terrorist chatter, or volume of network activity correlated with agents connected to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. He thus suggests that 9/11 was potentially an avoidable catastrophe had the intelligence community merely acknowledged numerous warnings.
Clarke argues that, in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. deliberately fashioned a military response that furthered certain leaders’ political agendas, rather than responding strategically to the complexities of the actual terrorist threats. He accuses Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of bombing Iraq despite a lack of evidence for its involvement, simply because Iraq had a higher volume of identified threats that were easier to take out to generate signals of progress for mass media coverage. He alleges that Rumsfeld valued fabricating a sense of American optimism over defending against confirmed perpetrators of terrorist acts. Clarke uses various case studies of terrorist figures to demonstrate that the real threat was more or less contained in Iraq’s neighbor, Afghanistan.
After excoriating the intelligence community’s key leaders for inaction, Clarke reinforces his argument by recalling September 12, 2001, when President Bush recruited him to gather proof that Saddam Hussein was connected to the attacks. He argues that he realized there was systemic opposition to finding an accurate narrative of the forces leading up to the attack once he submitted a report concluding that there was no evidence whatsoever of the involvement of Iraq. After getting the report undersigned by the relevant intelligence agencies, it was immediately rejected by the President’s advisors without even having been examined by Bush himself.
Clarke then recalls a conference with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who indicated resistance to the idea that Osama bin Laden could have organized the September 11 attacks without the support of the state of Iraq, and therefore, Saddam Hussein. Clarke alleges that Wolfowitz cared little about the evidence, connecting Hussein to the first, lesser bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, using a widely debunked theory advocated by conspiracy theorist Laurie Mylroie.
The height of Clarke’s disparaging of the US administration’s actions during the War on Terror is in his general critique that there has been no reasonable, strategic, or evidence-backed effort to respond to radicalized terrorist groups in the Middle East. He states that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 actually strengthened Osama bin Laden’s power, allowing him to validate certain theories that the U.S. desired to invade Iraq in order to occupy and exploit its oil reserves. As this narrative seemed more plausible, the volume of new terrorist recruits also skyrocketed.
Clarke concludes his political exposé arguing that the war has sapped resources from the larger, more crucial fight of stopping Al-Qaeda, which is still propagating its power inside and outside Afghanistan. He argues that if his advice had been heeded when it was so urgently presented, Al-Qaeda could have been virtually eliminated by the time of his writing. Instead, he observes that Al Qaeda continues to grow in political and geographical reach, and has further radicalized other terrorist groups to the point of criticality.
Meant as a counterpart to, and explication of, his highly publicized, nearly twenty-hour-long testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Clarke’s book is a polarizing excoriation, albeit one that has been (at least partially) corroborated by many of his political contemporaries who were inside the US government during the proclaimed War on Terror. Clarke’s account attempts to expose the U.S. for the ethical atrocity of knowingly scapegoating other, sometimes innocent, political agents in order to control its media narrative and distort its national history.