Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror

Richard A. Clarke

Review by Donald N. Anderson (a version of this review is on

This book is very well written and contains one key man’s inside impressions of the events of a momentous period.  I’m sure it will be used in the future as a sourcebook for a glimpse at the attitudes of the players during this period.

Mr. Clarke is at his best describing the personal interactions and the discussions with the various players.  From his report it is obvious that President Clinton was very connected and aware of the many terrorist problems but was unable to accept the political fallout from a vigorous military or covert pursuit of these terrorists.  Instead he employed bold talk and a legalistic approach through the courts.  This proved only marginally effective and may actually have encouraged the idea that the U.S. was too morally weak to effectively respond.  I suspect this impression will only disappear when they see the overwhelming strength of our response to the first atomic bombs that they have promised to detonate in the United States.

This book cannot be read in isolation, however, as it is rather selective in what it reports from this period and instead focuses in support of the author’s opposition to the current Iraq war.  Of course no single book provides a comprehensive picture of the Middle East’s problems, but as our counter-terrorism czar, I had hoped this book would provide a brief comprehensive overview of the terrorism problem.  It was not to be.  Perhaps it was a further effect of the 9/11 horror, but Mr. Clarke seems focused on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to the exclusion of any other Islamic terrorists.  His picture seems unnecessarily narrowed.  Perhaps in the counter-terror job with its constant drumbeat of intelligence intercepts with their necessarily current selectivity makes taking a longer term viewpoint almost impossible.

A large number of books spring to mind to expand the readers knowledge beyond Mr. Clarke’s selective focus, but I will only mention a couple of recent ones and a wonderful series of summary columns (TIA Daily, 11 September – 15 September 2006) by Richard Tracinski called “What America Has Learned from the War on Terrorism, Five Years In.”  A very important recent book “Because They Hate” by Brigitte Gabriel provides some seldom discussed history of Lebanon and the rise of the terrrorists there (now the Hezbollah).  It broadens Clarke’s focus past the Iraq,and Afghanistan wars and al Qaeda.  Her personal history is riveting.  A great recent book to put the terrorist effort in its long term historical perspective is Andrew G. Bostom’s “The Legacy of Jihad.”  After reading this book you will never again think of Islam as the religion of peace.

Mr. Clarke served in the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations so some of his omissions seem to fit only a partisan mold since he mentions almost nothing positive about the 3 Republicans and only a little negative about the one Democrat.  The book was written before the 2004 election, but the author swore that he would not accept a position in the Kerry administration so the job promotion aspect seems off-limits.

For example, Mr. Clarke faults Reagan for his non-response to the terrible murders in Lebanon (a Iran/Hezbollah operations) but never mentions his dramatic retribution for the killings in a German Disco.  This retribution plus the 2nd invasion of Iraq may finally have influenced Qadhafi to abandon his WMD and terrorist training programs.

Mr. Clarke changed his story from 2002 when he explained that the Clinton anti-terror initiatives were carried forward with a five-fold increase in funding for the CIA programs -- to this book when he could remember none of this and gave the impression of a President completely disconnected from the terrorist problem.

Mr. Clarke seems to have fallen under the influence of the famous Clinton charm when he describes 8 years of primarily anti-terrorist talk favorably. in contrast to the 8 months in which the 2nd Bush was searching for an initiative that went beyond “swatting flies” and eliminated al Qaeda. 

Mr. Clarke gives reasons for his disagreement with the current President Bush’s reopening of the Iraq war.  They are strong reasons as befits an area where informed disagreement is intellectually respectable.  I disagree, but from his writing am not able to discern why he is less sensitive to the feasibility, and historical-cultural context than I.  I do agree that the other countries of concern are Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia although I would add Syria and the Sudan and move Iran to the top of the list.  Each of these countries, however, requires a different approach as Mr. Clarke is no doubt aware.

I strongly recomend this book for those who have enough background to put it in the full Middle East context.

I wish to thank Mr. Clarke for his many years of hard work in a difficult and frustrating job that is vital to our country’s continued existence and safety.

There are a great many reviews of this book on  Many are quite complimentary probably because the author is very critical about the Iraq war.