Insights from the Inside

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Review of 'Against All Enemies', Richard Clarke, Simon and Schuster £18.99 and 'Plan of Attack', Bob Woodward, Simon and Schuster £18.99

Occasionally the ruling class lets the cat out of the bag, and these books have caused one hell of a political row inside the Bush administration. In part this is because they reveal how the Bush administration was determined to use the attacks on 11 September 2001 to justify a war on Iraq regardless of the lack of evidence linking Saddam Hussein with the hijackers, but in part also because, particularly as Clarke shows, Bush and the coterie around him completely ignored the possibility the attack could have happened in the first place, and the warnings that were coming from inside the government.

Clarke's book begins at a cracking pace - it's like being thrown into some sort of action movie or political thriller. Clarke was appointed counter-terrorism tsar by the Clinton administration in May 1998. He continued in the position when Bush was elected. As a result when the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre he was one of the men in charge of the government's response. So from the beginning we are in the White House as the emergency kicks in. There is an air of complete panic, fear and paranoia all rolled into one - what to do with the president and where to hide him, how many more attacks will there be, will chemical weapons be used, shall the major cities be evacuated, in short, what the hell is happening?

Clarke then proceeds to use the rest of the book to try to come to grips with the so called 'war on terror'. In this he has a clear agenda in mind - firstly to expose the fact that the Bush administration was intent to use the attack to invade Iraq come what may. He recalls the meeting immediately after 11 September where Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz all urged him to find the evidence that Saddam was responsible. So he recalls Bush saying to him, '"See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way." I was once again taken aback, incredulous... "But Mr President, Al Qaida did this." "I know, I know [said Bush], but see if Saddam was involved. I want to know any shred... look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us.'

That the Bush administration had a plan to invade Iraq just after they came to power is supported by Bob Woodward. This account also claims that Blair knew about this, despite his denials to the British people. Woodward's account is also particularly uncomfortable for Blair because it discloses that Bush offered him the option of the US going to war without British troops. He also reveals that the Bush administration thought that the Blair government would fall because of the anti-war feeling in this country.

Clarke, however, has a somewhat different agenda. He has obviously been involved in a number of battles between the various intelligence agencies and security services that are charged with preventing attacks on the US. And so we get a huge amount of detail about the various meetings, training sessions, disputes and negotiations that take place between these departments. It is at this point that the book begins to sag. Yet it does give some insight into the complete paranoia that pervades the US government, and also their total inability to understand why the US is so unpopular with large swathes of the world's population.

Make no mistake, Clarke is a nasty piece of work. He takes pride in the fact that he was one of those during the Clinton administration who urged the government to attack Sudan and Afghanistan, and he is disappointed that the government refused to heed his advice to attack greater numbers of targets. He is proud of the fact that he was made a co-mayor of Diego Garcia, the small island in the Indian Ocean, because he got permission for the US 'to add a little' to the island so they could fly B52s from there to attack foreign countries.

Yet he is at his most interesting and revealing at the end of the book when he tries to understand why the US was attacked: 'When colleagues in the White House urged me what to read to understand the problem after 11 September, I urged them instead to get an old black and white film, The Battle of Algiers. In it French counterterrorism authorities round up all the "known terrorist managers" and leaders (sound familiar?) but lose the war with the terrorists because they did not address the ideological underpinnings. After the known terrorist leaders were arrested, time passed, and new, unknown terrorists emerged. We are likely to face the same situation again with Al Qaida.'

Wise words indeed from someone on the other side.