March 30, 2004

Against All Enemies

I'm halfway through the book so far. Three main takeaways to date: 1) Clarke thinks (erroneously, I believe) that decisive blows were dealt Iran and Iraq by the Clinton Administration that deterred said states from pursuing terrorism against the U.S., 2) he is highly partisan, and 3) his ego, even by Washington standards, is healthy.

Given time constraints, I want to mostly focus on Point 1 above just now.

I'll have more on the other points (and the rest of the book) soon.

My post yesterday elucidates why Clarke believes that Iraq had been dealt a blow that would deter it, going forward, from any troublemaking against the U.S. And why, particularly given the changed strategic environment post 9/11, I don't find his argument particularly persuasive.

On Iran, Clarke writes how, post-Khobar towers, an anti-Iranian "intelligence operation" was mounted by the Clinton team.

But as even Clarke concedes: "(u)nfortunately, it would take months to put CIA assets in place to choreograph a more or less simultaneous series of intelligence actions around the world."

And regardless, we are left wondering what those actions really consisted of as Clarke doesn't provide much by way of detail.

The post-Khobar Iran discussion part of the book is quite telling as it helps showcase my three main take-aways to date, namely, Clarke's outsize ego (much ado about his key role), partisanship (attacks on Louis Freeh), and (I would argue) worrisome sanguinity re: state sponsors of terrorism.

Recall that the U.S. held Iran responsible for the bombing of the Khobar towers.

The Saudis (for a variety of reasons) dragged their feet, very significantly, on cooperating with the U.S. investigation.

Clarke puts much of the blame at then FBI Director Louis Freeh's feet--painting him as something of a provincial Keystone Cop in over his head in the complex world of international relations.

"Bandar [the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.] facilitated meetings in Saudi Arabia for Freeh, who went there to coordinate the investigation personally. John O'Neill accompanied Freeh to the Kingdom. O'Neill told me he was struck by the contrast between the fawning protocol the Saudis showed to Freeh and their mendacity whenever the conversation got around to the investigation. Freeh, according to O'Neill, did not seem to detect the duplicity."

While Freeh was getting bamboozled by the Saudis (or acting like he was in the pocket of Congressional Republicans), Clarke's account goes, the White House was getting ready for war with Iran.

Bill Clinton declaimed: "I don't want any pissant half-measures."

Enter Clarke to save the day with robust (yet sane) measures:

"What about the old nuclear strategy concept of escalation dominance," I asked, "where you hit the guy the first time so hard, where he loses some things he really values, and then you tell him if he responds, he will lose everything else he values?"

From this the myriad "intelligence actions around the world" unfurled.

Clarke then states that because of this (and unspecified "other reasons") Iran "ceased terrorism against the U.S."

Just like that, Clarke's story goes, Iran was no longer a real threat to the U.S.

But is this really true?

As even Clarke's book states, Iranian security services continued to allow "al Qaeda safe passage and other support."

Given how Clarke views al-Qaeda as the strategic peril to the U.S.--wouldn't a state that still supported al-Q manifestly still be a real threat to the U.S. (even if its security forces weren't supporting specific terror actions like Khobar)?

And, rather than al-Qaeda using Bosnia as a beachhead to export Islamic fundamentalism (and speaking as someone was was on the ground in the Balkans for two years and later worked on the "train and equip" program for the Bosnian Federation military) it was likely more Iran that sought to infiltrate the "train and equip" program and generally scuttle U.S. objectives in the region.

For these couple of reasons alone (among others), I disagree with Clarke that Iran was sufficiently deterred by the U.S. So, put differently, didn't Clarke's (and Clinton's) policy actually fail then?

Note, of course, that this is a similar point that people like Richard Perle, even per Josh Marshall, are making in judicious, non-ad hominem manner.

Finally, a couple more points.

As this book review makes clear, parts of Clarke's memoirs make for riveting reading.

The problem is, however, that Clarke appears to over-dramatize his role.

Others are now disputing parts of his (somewhat self-aggrandizing) account of the events surrounding 9/11.

I'll have more on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at March 30, 2004 08:23 AM
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