Saturday, October 15, 2005

Richard Clarke

Recently read Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies. The prose style is atrocious, even for a hastily written "instant bestseller." The badly-written "remembered" dialogue strains credulity. He recreates detail that makes him into an omniscient narrator. For example, he reads Condi Rice's mind and strongly implies she was utterly ignorant about Al Qaeda. That's more than a tiny bit presumptuous.

It also would help if just once, in his memoir, he didn't claim that he had made every call correctly. If it had been written in Lincoln's time, there would have been a passage where he writes, "I strongly opposed the choice of Ford's Theater, as the strong sentiment of the southern actors was well known. Unfortunately, my warning fell on deaf ears."

His treatment of Clinton's Mogadishu omits key facts that he must be aware of. It's utterly dishonest to say that Clinton is criticized for the deaths of 18 American soldiers. Rather, the criticism is that Clinton's response was to say, "Absolutely no more casualties. Let's formally recognized the man we were trying to arrest -- pick him up in a limousine instead of chains." Whether or not that criticism is fair, the reader deserves to hear it stated correctly before it can be rejected or accepted.

His treatment of the Millennium plot ignores the fact that NONE of his preparedness exercises were responsible for catching the LAX bomber -- it was a complete fluke, a customs official at the border deciding to pull a nervous guy out of the line, a man who then panicked and fled. Had he played it cool, LAX would have been bombed. Interestingly, Clarke's hero Sandy Berger was just convicted of illegal removing and destroying the after-action reports on the Millennium plot. A wild guess is that they painted Berger and Clarke's efforts as insufficient.

Clarke is never bothers to meet his opponents objections. He mischaracterizes arguments about the Iraq terrorism connection (arguments that he himself is on record making in the late 90's, when he claimed that the al-Shifa plant in the Sudan was making chem weapons with much help from the Iraqis). He gratuitously slanders Laurie Mylroie by totally misstating her theory about an Iraq connection to the first WTC bombing.

You'd have to go back to the Nixon Administration and its aftermath to find someone so intent on covering his ass and denying the obvious fact about his legacy.

Clarke depicts himself consistently as the smartest guy in the room in any situation. A small ego he does not have. No mean feat, considering he failed in his main responsibility for 9 years.

On the positive side, you do get an occasionally interesting behind-the-scenes look at U.S. counter-terrorism policy.
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