Suskind, Ron, The One Percent Doctrine, Deep Inside America’s Pursuit Of Its Enemies Since 9/11, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2006
The One Percent Doctrine, Deep Inside America’s Pursuit Of Its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind was meant to be an insider’s account of America’s War on Terror during the first term of the Bush administration. Suskind argues that while the White House made some considerable strides after 9/11 such as overthrowing the Taliban, rounding up many Al Qaeda members some of its tactics like spying on Americans’ domestic communications and torturing terrorists were questionable. More importantly he believed that President Bush derailed his own campaign by invading Iraq.
The book mostly relies upon CIA and FBI sources so it gives those agencies’ perspectives on what happened after 9/11. First, the book starts with the CIA’s quick response to the September terror attacks. Bush expanded the power of the Agency, increased its funding and also allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor Americans without court orders. The CIA’s plan was to go back to covert actions and kill terrorists, disrupt their operations and cut off their finances. Suskind notes that the U.S. came to rely upon its allies for help, but some of them like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would help with one hand like arrest suspects and then take away with the other by sometimes letting them go quickly. The CIA had a jump on the rest of the government because it had been warning about Al Qeada before most. That allowed it to initially move to the forefront in the War on Terror. Suskind commends these early actions and notes many of its victories.
The One Percent Doctrine also questions whether the ends the White House authorized justified the means. Torture was the major example. One of the earliest Al Qaeda operatives the CIA captured was Abu Zubaydah. Bush called him one of the top terrorists, but it turned out he was not only just a facilitator but many thought he was mentally ill as well. He was the first detainee to be tortured. Suskind goes through the legal arguments made by the White House that allowed for these new interrogation techniques by the likes of John Yoo, and how the CIA felt like it couldn’t wait for the FBI’s more traditional approach to questioning to bear fruit. Zubaydah led to the arrests of Jose Padilla and named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who masterminded 9/11. On the other hand, he claimed that shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear power plants, government buildings, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooking Bridge were all targeted by Al Qaeda. He said bin Laden had a crude nuclear device. This led to many of the terrorist warnings coming out of the government after 9/11 and all of that proved to be nonsense. Zubaydah raised many questions about enhanced interrogation because he only started talking after he was tricked and an officer talked to him about the Quran. Some thought torture had paid off, while others believed it was the conventional means that led to a breakthrough. Later Sheikh Mohammed and another top Al Qaeda member were tortured and never broke. Suskind comes down on the side of those that believed torture was wrong. He questions whether it was all worthwhile. Zubaydah for instance led the U.S. to look for dozens and dozens of attacks that never happened and increased the fear and panic amongst the public. The author cites the FBI that argued torture just gives interrogators what they want to hear.
Suskind writes that the U.S. was having a string of successes with some excesses and then threw everything off track by invading Iraq in 2003. His most poignant point was that when the Bush administration was faced with 9/11 it fell back on what it knew. That was states. It didn’t believe that terrorist groups could sustain themselves without the backing of a nation. It therefore decided to make an example out of Iraq as a warning to those that might support terrorists or want weapons of mass destruction. September 2001 required a strong reaction, and Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all agreed that should be overthrowing Saddam Hussein although they different on the exact reasons why. Their unity of purpose meant that disputes over intelligence on Iraq were ignored like the CIA saying that there was no Iraq-Al Qaeda connection or the specifics over claims about Baghdad’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Bush would later say that he thought it better that the U.S. fight its enemies in Iraq rather than in the homeland, but Suskind wrote that invading Iraq was just throwing gasoline on the fire. It created a whole new generation of terrorists and even more that donated money to the insurgency in Iraq. It would eventually cost CIA Director George Tenet his job as well after no WMD was found. The One Percent Doctrine covers a lot of topics, but this is the best part. It gives one of the more concise reasons why the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Because the book largely presents the CIA’s point of view it has its own problems. It never really deals with the fact that the Agency was completely wrong about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction for instance. That’s a huge gap. On the other hand it does a good job on the early successes and failures of the Agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda. Most importantly it gives a convincing argument for how the White House sticking with states being the real threat to the U.S. not groups like Al Qaeda that led to the invasion of Iraq that set back the entire War on Terror. That’s the main takeaway from The One Percent Doctrine.
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