Monday, November 13, 2006

Richard Clarke Shares His Views (Part I) – Non-Fiction: “Against All Enemies”

Dick Clarke has served four Presidents – both Republican and Democrat. His frustration with the Bush administration and its War on Terror is palpable in all of his writings and pronouncements – both public and private. In order to state his case and share his personal views of the failures of many of the policies leading up to and subsequent to the events of September 11, 2001, Clarke has opted to deliver an interesting one-two punch combination – a non-fiction account of his life inside the National Security teams of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, and then a novel that projects the potential fallout from the policies currently in place. In this present posting, I will address his best seller, “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror.” In a follow-on posting I will talk about the novel, “The Scorpion’s Gate.”

In the Preface to “Against All Enemies,” Clarke does a clear and cogent job of delineating his premise, the parameters of his argument and the limitations of his subjective point of view:

“As the events of 2003 unfolded, I began to feel an obligation to write what I knew for my fellow citizens and for those who may want to examine this period in the future. This book is the fulfillment of that obligation. It is, however, flawed. It is a first-person account, not an academic history. The book, therefore, tells what one participant saw, thought, and believed from one perspective. Others who were involved in some of these events will, no doubt, recall them differently.” (Page xxv)

“All [American leaders] have sworn to protect that very Constitution ‘against all enemies.’ In this era of threat and change, we must all renew our pledge to protect that Constitution against all foreign enemies that would inflict terrorism against our nation and its people. . . . We must also defend the Constitution against those who would use the terrorist threat to assault the liberties the Constitution enshrines. Those liberties are under assault and, if there is another major, successful terrorist attack in this country there will be further assaults on our rights and civil liberties. Thus, is it essential that we prevent further attacks and that we protect the Constitution. . against all enemies.” (Page xxvii)

Fair enough. Clarke has given us an appropriate “let the reader beware” warning that he is sharing personal recollections and is not a historian. With that caveat firmly in mind, I found myself sharing Clarke’s frustrations as he recounted what went on behind the scenes in the White House as the Bush administration settled into its responsibilities to lead the nation. Despite the best efforts of Clarke and his team to convey the urgent nature of a potential terrorist threat, it took months for Clarke and his cohorts to succeed in scheduling a meeting with Condi Rice for a thorough briefing on the threat. That first meeting occurred on September 4, 2001 – 8 months into the Bush administration, and one week before the Al Qaeda attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.

Clarke paints a picture of decisions being made based on pure ideological bases, rather than on the basis of analysis of facts and credible intelligence findings. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, emerge as the chief ideologues in Clarke’s account.

“On the morning of the 12th, DOD’s focus was already beginning to shift from al Qaeda. CIA was explicit now that al Qaeda was guilty of the attacks, but Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, was not persuaded. It was too sophisticated and complicated an operation, he said, for a terrorist group to have pulled off by itself, without a state sponsor – Iraq must have been helping them.

I had a flashback to Wolfowitz saying the very same thing in April when the administration had finally held its first deputy secretary-level meeting on terrorism. When I had urged action on al Qaeda then, Wolfowitz had harked back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, saying al Qaeda could not have done that alone and must have had help from Iraq. The focus on al Qaeda was wrong, he said in April, we must go after Iraqi-sponsored terrorism. He had rejected my assertion and CIA’s that there had been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the United States since 1993. Now this line of thinking was coming back.

By the afternoon on Wednesday, Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about broadening the objectives of our response and ‘getting Iraq.’ Secretary Powell pushed back, urging a focus on al Qaeda. Relieved to have some support, I thanked Colin Powell and his deputy, Rich Armitage. ‘I thought I was missing something here,’ I vented. ‘Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.’

Powell shook his head. ‘It’s not over yet.’

Indeed, it was not. Later in the day, Secretary Rumsfeld complained that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq, which, he said, had better targets. At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the President did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq.” (Pages 30-31)

Clarke describes several similar scenarios in which those who were responsible for analysis and intelligence reported to Bush and Rumsfeld that there was no credible evidence to tie Iraq to any recent terrorist activity against the U.S. In each case they were told, in essence, “Go back and look again, there must be something there.”

The mindset of the ideologues in the administration, as described in Clarke’s account, reminds me very much of theologians who are guilty of looking for verses in the Bible to buttress positions they have already arrived at, rather than letting the text help them to inform their positions. In technical terms, it is the difference between “exegesis” and “eisegesis.” Let me take a moment to explain. “Exegesis” – “reading out” - is the discipline and art of delving into a text and reading out of the text the substance and intent of the message as it was framed by the original author. “Eisegesis” is “reading into” the text our ideas and prejudices to look for ways to support those pre-formed ideas.

For example, in reading the verse: “I will make you fishers of men,” good exegesis would involve learning how Jesus’ original audience of fishermen, tax collectors and Galilean zealots might have understood his message and applied it to their lives in 1st Century Palestine. Inappropriate eisegesis of the same text would be to use the verse as an advertising slogan to convince 21st Century Americans to buy a new composite fishing rod, or to use it to claim that Jesus must have been opposed to eating red meat!

So, instead of “exegeting” the intelligence findings and analysis of the experts to deduce that al Qaeda - and not Iraq – was culpable for the 9/11 attacks – Rumsfeld and his team seem to have been guilty of “eisegesis” in grasping at straws and looking to pin the blame on Iraq. Such an approach is not only intellectually dishonest, it borders on demagoguery.

Clarke makes a strong case that in going after Iraq instead of concentrating on al Qaeda in our “War on Terror,” we have not only missed the prime target, but have also succeeded in further alienating the rest of the Muslim world – thereby spawning a whole new generation of radicalized terrorists and enemies. He also argues that we have pinned our allies in the Arab world into a tight corner that makes it difficult for them to openly support the United States.

“The new leader of Central Command understands. General John Abizaid told the New York Times that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are ‘involved in a fight against extremists that is crucial to their ability to maintain control. . . It’s a battle of ideas as much as it is a military battle . . . not the type of fight that you’re going to send the 82nd Airborne’ in to handle. Yet Abizaid’s bosses in the Pentagon and the White House do not seem to understand how to fight the battle of ideas or the limits on the ability of our shooters to defeat the al Qaeda ideology.” (Page 263)

As the new Congress - both houses of which will now be controlled by the Democrats – prepares to debate where we go from here with regard to Iraq, these will be crucial deliberations. Let’s hope that political ideology – from either side of the aisle – does not trump reasoned discourse and analysis of what will best serve the long-term interests of our nation and of the world in which we have the burden of remaining standing as the last Super Power.

In this book, Clarke has pulled back the curtain on earlier processes and decisions that were flawed and were driven by personal vendettas and agendas. If his revelations hold to a higher standard those who will be debating our future in Iraq, then he has done our nation a service in the telling of the story from his vantage point, and he will have contributed to forestalling assaults against our way of life . . . "against all enemies."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've spent the last few years reading virtually nothing but works such as Clark's: Ghost Wars, Rise of the Vulcans, Looming Towers, The Arab Mind,Charlie Wilson's War, Clark's own. I went back to Clark's book after reading the others since I had not reacted to it well, and still found it to be self-serving, some credibility problems (very long, directly quoted conversations, for example), and a failure to note enormous lapses in the Reagan, Bush1, and Clinton years, especially Clinton. There was value to be gained in reading it, but it must be read in the context of knowing an awful lot about the subject