Against All Enemies,
Political and Otherwise

 

Class of ’72 | This is not the first time that Richard A. Clarke C’72 has seen his government undertake a war he considered tragically ill-advised. Having been an undergraduate at Penn during the Vietnam War, his worldview and choice of careers were shaped by what he calls the “very obvious and gross mistakes” of American foreign policy.

“I was active in the antiwar movement on campus,” Clarke said in a recent telephone interview. “It sounds arrogant, but part of my motivation for getting involved with government was to begin to populate the government with people who would prevent the kind of folly that Vietnam was.”

How, he often asked himself, could the government have made such blatant, avoidable errors? One reason was that “the kind of people [then] involved in national security were all the same,” he concluded, and were thus prone to making the same kinds of errors, over and over. “I felt we needed to attract more critical, analytical people to the national-security process and profession.”

A year after graduating from Penn, Clarke embarked on a 30-year career in national security, which culminated in his becoming the national coordinator for counterterrorism in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He recounts his obsessive efforts to fight terrorism, especially the growing threat of Al Qaeda, in his riveting memoir, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror [“All Things Ornamental,” May/June]. There he argues forcefully that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has strengthened the hand of Al Qaeda and damaged America’s antiterrorism efforts. And it happened despite the warnings of
himself and others in government that Iraq was not behind 9/11 and did not pose a threat to the United States.

“That’s one of the reasons why the Iraq war is so painful,” he said, “because after spending 30 years trying to bring a political approach to the use of force by the U.S. government, I now see a totally different thing going on. This administration has decided to go into war—not just the use of force but a war—based not on analysis and reason but on divine inspiration and received wisdom. It’s been a major mistake—and it’s going to hurt us for a very long time.”

When he set out to write Against All Enemies, he couldn’t have known exactly what effect it would have on the nation. But he did know that he had to write it.

“Personally, it’s been a cathartic experience,” he said. “Now I think it’s been a cathartic experience to the nation as well.”

Though not everybody shares that sense of catharsis, it was almost palpable when Clarke spoke to an overflow crowd at the Free Library of Philadelphia in April. Several members of the audience praised him for his patriotism in writing a book that, among other things, changed the perceptions of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“If you look at just the polling data, it indicates that two of the things I was saying —which seemed controversial when I said them—have now become accepted by the majority of the American people,” Clarke told the Gazette. “One is that the Bush administration was doing little or nothing on terrorism before 9/11. Most people now believe that. Most people now believe that going into Iraq was a mistake and has hurt the war on terrorism. Obviously the book and my media appearances were not the only reason that things have shifted, but they contributed to the shift.”

Clarke was not surprised by the Bush administration’s attempts to discredit him. “I know this administration and the way they act,” he says, “and I expected them to do what they did. Which, by the way, I think was counterproductive from their perspective.”

Clarke is now chairman of a small consulting firm called Good Harbor Consulting, which provides a “range of strategic advice” for some 20 clients ranging from information-technology companies to electric-power grids to accounting firms to systems integrators. It’s been “tremendously successful” in its first year, he says. And no, he doesn’t long for those high-stress, 18-hour days of national-security service.

“I don’t need excitement,” he said in April. “I served the federal government for 30 years. Nothing has happened in the 14 months since I’ve been out which has caused me to say, ‘Boy, I wish I were back there so I could fix this.’”—S.H.

2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 07/01/04




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