Given the howling political fire-storm in the US over Richard A. Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, it is surprising how familiar many of his assertions sound, his recitation of pre-9/11 antiterrorism missteps by the US President George W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton administrations echoing earlier books and old newspaper and magazine articles. Had it not appeared during the presidential campaign season, had members of the Bush administration not so vociferously attacked its author, had Clarke not appeared ubiquitously on TV as a whistle-blower, the volume might not have become the incendiary bestseller that it is. \nMany of its most debated charges about the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism have been leveled before. Some have been corroborated or openly acknowledged by other members of the administration. The difference between what Clarke is saying and what earlier accounts have said seems to be largely a matter of inflection, timing and emphasis. \nClarke's accusation that before 9/11 the Bush White House did not address the danger of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda with urgency is echoed by the president's own remarks in Bob Woodward's 2002 book, Bush at War, in which he said he "was not on point" before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. \nWoodward's book, which drew upon extensive interviews with members of the administration and painted a sympathetic portrait of the president as a commanding leader, also presaged Clarke's assertions that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz began pushing the case for war against Iraq in the days immediately after 9/11. \nAs for Clarke's charges that the Bush administration was preoccupied with matters other than terrorism (like China and missile defense) during its first eight months in office, these, too, have been heard before. In 2002, after revelations about intelligence failures, many newspaper and magazine articles said the same thing. \nA Newsweek article that May said: "The attorney general was hardly alone in seeming to de-emphasize terror in the young Bush administration. Over at the Pentagon, new Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elected not to relaunch a Predator drone that had been tracking bin Laden, among other actions." \nThe narrative of Against All Enemies is very much a story in which Clarke depicts himself as the prescient gunslinger trying, often in vain, to rally a bunch of dilatory bureaucrats. This can result in some self-dramatizing moments, as when he describes thrusting his "Secret Service-issued .357 sidearm" into his belt as he dressed to go to work at the White House the day after 9/11. But there is also genuine passion in his descriptions of his fights over three decades with a lumbering, risk-averse federal bureaucracy, hobbled with committees and subcommittees charged with coming up with plans for more initiatives and agendas. \nOne of the things that has opened Clarke to criticism is his "you are there" narrative, which recreates entire scenes, like the day of Sept. 11 at the White House, complete with dialogue. In addition, some of his interpretations of other people's reactions are clearly patronizing and off base. \nClarke -- who worked for the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush -- was known to his colleagues for his hard-driving, take-no-prisoners style, and he describes himself in these pages as an Ahab, obsessively pursuing the white whale of Osama bin Laden. \nOf US Vice President Dick Cheney, Clarke writes that "below that surface calm ran strong, almost extreme beliefs." He describes Bush as looking for "the simple solution, the bumper sticker description of the problem" and asserts that Bush felt a need "to `do something big' to respond to the events of Sept. 11," a need filled by going to war against Iraq. \nHe is scathing about the FBI and its director, Louis Freeh, who he says rarely "did anything eagerly that the White House had asked him to do" during the Clinton administration. And he is weirdly contradictory on the subject of the CIA and George Tenet, its director, complaining that the agency was laggard in its pursuit of al-Qaeda "in sharp contrast" to its director's "personal fixation" on the terrorist group. \nAlthough Clarke chastises the Clinton administration for failing to follow through on its bombing campaign of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, which might have eliminated Osama bin Laden and curtailed al-Qaeda, he suggests that it was more committed to the fight against terrorism than its successor. \nAt the end of this book Clarke argues that the war against Iraq has undermined the war against al-Qaeda and spawned further hatred of the US in the Islamic world. He also argues that the Bush administration should have been paying more attention to four other volatile countries in the region: Afghanistan (where the Taliban is now resurgent), Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. \nIf the US does not grapple with the problems in these countries, he warns, "we face the prospect of the following scenario by 2007: A Taliban-like government in Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons, supporting a similar satellite nation next door in Afghanistan and promoting al-Qaeda-like ideology and terror throughout the world; in the gulf, a nuclear-armed Iran, promoting its own version of Hezbollah-style ideology; and Saudi Arabia after the fall of the House of Saud, creating its own version of a 14th-century theocratic republic." \nThis vision, a reverse image of the democratic domino theory envisioned by some proponents of the Iraq war, may sound like a far-fetched nightmare. But then Clarke's pre-9/11 warning of "a day after a terrorist attack, with hundreds of Americans dead" once seemed like a far-fetched nightmare, too.
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