Against All Enemies Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

A thirty-year career in national security, including ten years in the White House, gave Richard A. Clarke an unusually broad perspective on the United States’ efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad. He, like many other government employees, swore an oath to protect the nation “against all enemies.” After ending his Washington career, he wrote Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror to describe the history of American counterterrorism efforts and to espouse his views of how several administrations’ efforts have succeeded and failed.

Clarke says his book is about the handling of terrorism under four presidents: Ronald Reagan, who failed to retaliate for 1983's Marine deaths in Beirut and subsequently ransomed hostages in the Iran-Contra affair; George H. W. Bush, who failed to retaliate for the downing of Pan American flight 103, left Saddam Hussein in power, and left American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia; Clinton, who improved American counterterrorism capabilities but failed to get the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Pentagon, and the FBI to cooperate against the threat; and George W. Bush, who failed to heed warnings and then strengthened radical Islamic terrorists’ efforts by focusing on Iraq instead of terrorist organization al-Qaeda and its leaders.

Clarke warns that his account is incomplete because much relevant information is classified as secret. Many events and key participants are not mentioned, and others receive less attention than their roles deserve. Noting that some people would disagree with him, he says, “The Bush White House leadership in particular have a reputation for taking great offense at criticism by former associates, considering it a violation of loyalty. They are also reportedly adept at revenge, as my friend Joe Wilson discovered and as former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill now knows.”

The evening before Against All Enemies was released, the CBS television show 60 Minutes carried an interview with Clarke, and he testified before the National Commission on Terrorist Acts (better known as the 9-11 Commission) two days after that. The book was in the news for days afterward and sold more than 170,000 copies in less than one week. On the day after that 60 Minutesinterview, the George W. Bush administration ran a defensive media blitz. Half a dozen White House officials vociferously denounced Clarke as a disgruntled former employee and a Democratic partisan. In that one day, they gave more than a dozen interviews on cable news channels, as well as making many radio appearances. Vice President Richard Cheney, on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, said the White House's counterterrorism coordinator “wasn’t in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in turn, contradicted that assertion.

The author writes that President Bush met with him and some aides on September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks on the Pentagon and on New York's World Trade Center. He ordered them to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told that the CIA, the FBI, and the White House staffs had already looked for such a link and had found none. Deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley subsequently denied that such a conversation ever took place, but two people who were present confirmed Clarke's account to a Washington Post reporter.

Clarke also says that as early as the day after the attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan. The administration has denied this, also.

Rice said the Bill Clinton administration did not pass along a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda, as Clarke claims. She also said, “Once advised that there was no evidence that Iraq was responsible for Sept. 11, the president told his National Security Council on Sept. 17 that Iraq was not on the agenda and that the initial U.S. response to Sept. 11 would be to target al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

Against All Enemies was one of several insider books to hound the Bush administration in early 2004. O’Neill's observations were detailed in The Price of Loyalty, released in January of that year. Late April saw both reporter Bob Woodward's Plan...

(The entire section is 1775 words.)