Just finished Clarke's book.
The press has focused on the book being about "What the Bush administration didn't do to prevent 9/11." The predictable response from the right has been "Well, Clinton was President for 8 years and he didn't prevent it either, so he's more at fault."
But that isn't what the book is about. What the book is about is much more supportive of Clinton and much more damning of Bush than the preceding silly argument:
1. The book is about Osama bin Laden, Al Quada and the CIA and FBI failure to identify him and his organization until 1996, even though he was involved in numerous terrorist acts before then, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The book is about the bureaucratic, institutional ineptitude and intransigence of these agencies, as well as the Pentagon, that resulted in this sad state of affairs.
2. The book is about the Clinton administration's recognition of terrorism as the next big threat to the US at the end of the Cold War, and their efforts to do something about it. The book documents the speeches Clinton made, the high priority he and Gore put on the topic, and the legislation and funding he introduced and mostly managed to pass into law. The book is about his efforts to kill bin Laden using both overt and covert methods; documenting the numerous memos and directives that were sent to the above mentioned agencies that made White house policy crystal clear: kill or capture bin Laden, and dismantle al Quada.
3. The book is about the incessant attacks from Clinton's political enemies-many of whom worked at the FBI, CIA and Pentagon, that made the job of fighting terrorism harder: the accusations of "wag the dog", the weakening of money laundering legislation, the blatant disregard for instructions that would maximize the chances of success in a covert operation, the constant lies about Clinton being "unwilling to use force" when in fact the opposite was true.
4. The book is about the Bush administration coming into office with a different set of priorities: China, ABM testing, withdrawal from treaties, Iraq. Terrorism didn't make the first tier. Clarke's frustration at his specialty being downgraded by the new administration is clear, but this only takes up a few pages of the book.
5. Clarke reserves his greatest outrage for what the Bush administration did after
9/11; to fixate on Iraq as the true culprit, while treating bin Laden and Al Quada as a minor, easily solved problem. The US went into Afghanistan with a woefully inadequate force that was heavily dependent on the local alliances for success: bin Laden's and Omar's escape was practically guaranteed. The main battle force was being reserved and prepared for Iraq. Bush was told repeatedly by multiple sources that Iraq was not involved with 9/11, but the focus remained there. Clarke is convinced that the US invasion of Iraq played directly into bin Laden's hands: we have created a reason for Jihad that millions of young muslim men will buy into. Three years ago, al Quada was a tough, but manageable problem. Today that problem has multiplied a thousand times due to our "pre-emptive" (oops) war with Iraq.
The book is about how US security from terror has been truly hosed by this fixated and irresponsible president, and how responsibility for every terrorist bomb that kills Americans in the years to come--and there will be many more than there would have been otherwise--can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush.